Graham Collier – Words and Music

Ray’s hosted a talk by one of ’s great composers yesterday, Mr. Graham Collier. Hectic was right at the front to make sure he didn’t miss anything

Paul of Ray’s Jazz introduced Graham Collier as “the free version of Charles Mingus”. Just how cool is that?

So how do you cover a 40-year career in 30 minutes? He started by saying that he wasn’t going to start, “I’m Graham Collier, born February 1937, and by 1938 I was one.”

At 70, this guy is still the hip dude who started for real on ‘Aberdeen Angus‘ from 1969. This track is from an album Down Another Road by the Graham Collier Sextet. He told us he picked out this track as it had turned up on a by Babyshambles, Back to the Bus. Now how did that happen? Apparently, the Babyshambles’ drummer, Adam Ficek, was taking lessons from John Marshall (who has worked with all the top jazzman like, Neil Ardley, Ian Carr’s Nucleus and Soft Machine to name just a few) and it was a favorite of the group when they were on the tour bus. Their reason? ‘Aberdeen Angus’ was recorded: “before jazz went ‘middle class’ and ‘tame’”. Collier expressed a similar sentiment, “we just did it because we thought it was right.”
While the young kids like Doherty’s group (I suppose he could be including under this bracket with the Impressed albums), he asked, “Why aren’t they buying the new stuff on Jazzprint?” and perhaps he’ll be invited back in a few years time “when people have caught up.”
But back at the start of his career, he said it was when he joined the army at 16 that he got into music and travelling. In 1961, he won a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music. More recently Zim Ngqawana and Tim Meier have attended the famous school but when Graham was there, it was a ‘golden age’ as his contemporaries were Gary Burton, Mike Gibbs and Sado Watanabe.
In 1967, he was the first jazz musician to get an Arts Council grant and he used the cash wisely. He got together the Graham Collier’s Dozen to record Workpoints with John Surman, Kenny Wheeler (70 himself last year), Harry Beckett, multi-instrumentalist Karl Jenkins (also Nucleus and Soft Machine) with John Marshall. He recalled that jazz musician and journalist Benny Green (of the more popular type) gave it the worst review ever at the time (the album was re-issued on Cuneiform a couple of years ago)
Such criticism at the time didn’t put him off and I’d recommend the Graham Collier Music CD Symphony Of Scorpions (Recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s in 1976), Deep Dark Blue Center and Charles River Fragments for starters at least.
The reason he was at Ray’s was because Cuneiform have now released for the first time Hoarded Dreams, which was recorded live at the 1983 Bracknell Jazz festival. With an all-star international band including Ted Curson, John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Tomasz Stanko and Art Themen. He stopped his talk to play an excerpt from the first track. Jazzwise have hailed it as “a masterpiece” and it does sound very good indeed.
Returning to his talk, he says that he gave up the bass to concentrate on being a conductor. As a conductor, he likes to keep control “but you’ve got to let the musicians do their thing” and he’s a believer that “jazz happens in real time, ONCE!” He says that on his lecture tours, he likes to compare two versions of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’, one for the big band and one for solo piano as an example of how “Jazz is not meant to survive.” He is also a firm believer in Ellington’s adage, “The band is the instrument.” He also told us, that along with Ellington, his other favourite is the popular Soviet classical composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.
After his talk, I asked him to sign a copy of the strangely entitled Charles River Fragments (one of the Jazzprint releases) and I told him that the previous day I had been behind a bloke in Reckless Records who bought a vinyl copy of Down Another Road. Even at half price, he said, “that was more than it cost to put the original session together!” And it was the title track of that album that The Octet’s did a cover of on their Seven’s & Eight’s last year. He told me, “Ben did a great job on that, he’s very talented” — see Hectic’s Ben Lamdin interview.
Even now, Collier is keeping busy as he’s working on a book about composing and writing some new sax pieces based on the work of Jackson Pollack(!) He’s been approached to tour in the summer and in the autumn but he’s very philosophical about these things, “it would be nice to go but if they don’t happen, it’s very nice in Spain.”
While we’re in Ray’s, it’s worth noting that the shop was once on its last legs as it was closing down altogether when it shut down the original shop in Shaftesbury Avenue due to rising shop rental rates a few years ago. Unlike the much missed Mole Jazz, the shop found a last minute saviour in Foyle’s Book Shop and Ray’s Jazz now shares part of the first floor with a café.
Paul was telling me that they keep these live sessions that they run in the shop limited to half an hour as the musicians are often playing a gig in town later that day. If they are half as entertaining and enjoyable as Mr. Collier’s talk, they are well worth the effort and there’s another two coming up later this month (see below)
Links: the website of Graham Collier.
Ray’s Jazz at Foyles Bookshop, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB with a poem by John Hegley called Praise for Ray’s
John Hegley and Equator, Thursday 22 March 8pm-1am at House, Kings Cross
TUESDAY 27th March — 6.00-6.30pm — TOM CAWLEY piano ‘Acoustic Ladyland’ keyboardist will be delving into material from his new CURIOS trio album. Presented as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations for the UK’s premier jazz magazine Jazzwise.
THURSDAY 29th March — 6.00-6.30pm — DOMINIC LASH — double bass, PETE MCPHAIL — alto saxophone, flute, etc. Two great Oxford improvisers from different generations present thoughtful but passionate music. The above events are free and unticketed. The piano at Ray’s Jazz is kindly supplied by Markson Pianos. Food and drinks are available at the excellent cafe. Enquiries: 020 7440 3205; Also check…
Charles River Fragments
Winter Oranges Graham Collier & the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra Jazzprint, 2002 CD £12.99
Graham Collier Workpoints (Cuneiform) [RUNE 213/214] 2005