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Graham Collier: Forging Ahead

By Published: April 22, 2007
One chapter is called "Duke the Compiler (after a comment made to him by Laurence Brown), where I discuss the fact that he compiled his music from what the musicians gave him—even their tunes at times—as well as his ability to draw out their essence into his voicings, attributes which Gil Evans had, particularly in the way he "wrote in the last period of his life. I also speak of Miles' [Davis] comment, "why do you want to repeat it, didn't we do it right the first time?

AAJ: Right from the time of your earliest documents on record your bands have been blessed with some stellar soloists. In view of this, has knowing who's going to be performing the music had some kind of influence on your writing process?

GC: Yes, as we've already discussed. But there's also the thing of leaving enough space (another lesson from Miles) so they can be themselves. Trusting that they'll find the right thing to do when the time comes instead of being over-prescriptive. And that approach works—if the music is loose enough—even if the musicians are new to me (as most of the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra were, or the Australian band [The Australian band was The Collective, with whom Collier recorded 2001's Bread and Circuses for the Jazzprint label])

AAJ: By a similar token, has the fact that you no longer play a role as an instrumentalist in your bands exerted any kind of influence on your music? Do you hear it differently?

GC: You do hear it differently from the front and I have more freedom to control what's happening. One Canadian musician said he felt like a color in a paint box, and a friend of a friend at the 2004 LFJ [The London Jazz Festival in Great Britain] concert said it was like I was directing fourteen Jackson Pollocks! I was praised in a review of something recently for being a good orchestrator and what irritated me was that what I do was explained in the notes (which also referred to another record where the same music could be heard, but performed differently). I can orchestrate well, but choose not to at this time.

Geoff Warren wrote, after hearing the tapes of the LJF concert, and said I was in danger of being praised once again for my good orchestration and the funny thing was that the comment would be right. Which is somewhat complicated but I take that as a compliment from someone who knows how I work.

AAJ: Your musical relationship with trumpet/flugelhorn player Harry Beckett is a long one—he apparently started working with you back in 1963. In a recent interview [Jazz Journal International (February, 2007)] he referred to the fact that he tries to play a piece of your music as if it was his own. Do relationships like that make the work especially worthwhile?

GrahamGC: Very much so. It's very much a matter of trust again—and loyalty from both sides. Harry. Art Themen (reeds), Ed Speight (guitar), Roger Dean (piano) and John Marshall (drums), have added immeasurably to my music—as indeed did the up-and-coming saxophonist James Allsopp on the LJF gigs. I would do a world tour with them and others like Geoff Warren (reeds) and Steve Waterman (trumpet) if I ever won the lottery.

AAJ: Finally, I gather there's to be a premiere of your new composition with Beckett as the soloist later on in the year [The concert took place in the Main Hall of the Assembly Rooms in Derby, England on March 26, 2007]?

GC: The Derby Jazz Festival has commissioned me to do a new piece for Harry as guest with the East Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra (many of whose players are apparently studying at RAM [The Royal Academy Of Music in London]—which is where I met James Allsopp). Harry was in my band twenty-five years ago when we did the first gig for Derby Jazz, which has blossomed into what it is now. The gig is at the end of this five-week tour around northern Europe. I'm in Holland, Germany, Sweden and England, all working with other bands but that's a very enjoyable way to start my eighth decade!

Selected Discography

Graham Collier, Hoarded Dreams (Cuneiform, 2007)
Graham Collier, Workpoints (Cuneiform, 2005)
Graham Collier, Portraits (Disconforme, 2000)
Graham Collier, Mosaics (Disconforme, 1971)

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Graham Collier

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