His interest in jazz began as a child when his father took him to a Count Basie concert, and soon after they also saw Erroll Garner perform at Carnegie Hall.
He went on to study at Tufts University with a major in philosophy, but his interest in music remained. After he left Tufts, Grolnick remained in Boston and teamed up with his boyhood friend Stuart Shulman on bass and guitarist Ken Melville to form the jazz rock band Fire & Ice.
They opened for bands such as B.B. King, The Jeff Beck Group and the Velvet Underground at Boston clubs like the Boston Tea Party and The Ark. This was Grolnick’s first foray into rock and blues as a performer, and he began to write within the medium as well.
As a session musician/pop pianist/composer/arranger he became most noteworthy for his work with artists such as Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Steely Dan, David Sanborn, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Billy Cobham, JD Souther, Marcus Miller, Bob Mintzer, Dave Holland and Bette Midler.
Grolnick moved back to New York in 1969 where he joined Melville in the jazz fusion band “D” (1969-1971), which also provided backup for Andy Warhol superstar Ultra Violet. He also played on albums by the Brecker Brothers and Ten Wheel Drive. He was a member of the groups Steps Ahead and Dreams, both with Michael Brecker.(1975)
Even though Grolnick played in rock bands and blues groups while a teenager, he was always interested in jazz. He worked with the Brecker Brothers (starting in 1975), and in the early ’80s with Steps Ahead. He had long been a busy session musician often utilized by pop singers. In the 1980s, Grolnick appeared in many settings including with Joe Farrell, George Benson, Peter Erskine, David Sanborn, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and the Bob Mintzer big band. Don Grolnick is heard at his best on his Hip Pocket debut Hearts and Numbers (1986), and on his two Blue Note albums, which have been reissued as a double-CD.
Don Grolnick was a subtle and rather underrated pianist throughout his career, but his flexibility and talents were well known to his fellow musicians.
Grolnick died on June 1, 1996 from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He was 48 years old.