Take Five With Graham Clark
Meet Graham Clark: Graham Clark has been playing jazz on violin professionally since 1982. While living in Bristol and London in the 1980s, he played with Keith Tippett and Andy Sheppard. From 1988-1992 he was a member of cult psychedelic jazz-rock band Gong, touring extensively in Italy, France and the UK, and recording several albums.
Based in NW England since 1996, Graham is a regular player on the thriving Manchester jazz scene. In 2003, Graham did a solo improvisation tour supporting the American No-Neck Blues Band (Paris, Amsterdam, London). He also performed with Bryan Glancy, supporting David Gray, amongst many others. Graham also plays with Toolshed, an experimental fusion of techno and big band jazz led by Graham Massey of 808 State.
In 2004 he performed with Toolshed for a Radio Three broadcast from Belfast, as part of the BBC Music Live festival. He has also been seen with Lamb, Elbow, La Timbala, Salsa Pa Gozar, and Liz Fletcher, amongst others.
Graham continues to give both solo and collaborative improvised performances. Current projects include a free improvising string quartet, and improvising solo accompaniments to silent movies.
In October 2004, Graham recorded a series of improvised duets with US violinist Mark Feldman. These were broadcast in February 2005 on Radio 3's Mixing It. Most recently, Graham was the solo electric violinist for the Jean-Claude Vannier concert at the Barbican on October 21, 2006, with Big Jim Sullivan, Vic Flick, Herbie Flowers and Dougie Wright, as well as the BBC Concert Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus.
Teachers and/or influences? Teachers (whether they knew it or not): Jack Goldzweig, Peter Ind, Eddie Harvey, Andy Sheppard, Mike Britton, Theresa Staniak, Roay Gazdar, Daevid Allen, Dick Crouch, Stan Sulzman, Graham Massey, Didier Malherbe.
Influences: Jan Gabarek, Michael Brecker, Eric Dolphy, Allan Holdsworth, Ralph Towner, George Clinton, Nathan Milstein, Fritz Kreisler, Dexter Gordon, but so many more as well.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I couldn't imagine doing anything else
Your sound and approach to music: I have always felt we could create good coherent music on the spot: it could groove and have harmonic and melodic integrity right away, just as our conversations in language make sense. So I have always had, as a basis for my work, a sense that improvisation wasn't just about breaking the rules, it was about exploring how we have internalized the rules.
On top of that, I love the violin. Its sound moves me, and I enjoy its physicality. So my sound comes from a deep interest in the instrument, and how it can deliver what I hear. That means listening hard to it in practice, and developing the sound through concentration; building the sound in my head then getting it out of the instrument.
All the same, I look to players other than violinists in the music. I get inspired by the musical approaches of players like Eric Dolphy, Mike Brecker, McCoy Tyner, Jon Christensen, and Chick Corea (and there are too many more to list). At this level, the instrument is not the focus, it is what the musician is using the instrument to do: what are their musical ideas?
Your teaching approach: Provide a good theoretical and technical foundation, and encourage exploration.
Your dream band: Oh, it would be wonderful to play with Ralph Towner as a duo. His sense of harmony and time has been a great inspiration to me, and I love his tunes. I like his sense of space. Yes, if Oregon ever want a violinist, I'm their man!
Another guitarist I would love to play with is Bill Frisell.
But there are so many great piano players, bass players, drummers! I would love to play with them all! I think it would depend on what the music was to be. I mean, I would love to play in Parliament! Or with Joey Baron and Marc Johnson (no piano).
Favorite venue: My appearance at the Barbican (London) in October, 2006 was probably the best organized date I have done. Material sent well ahead of time, three days proper rehearsal, good hotel, pd's, drivers, everything and everyone was totally sympat, as the French say. Sound was great on stage (and out front, I was told). Lovely.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I have a very personal approach to playing the violin. Most violinists in jazz have crossed over from another genre, be it classical or country or folk. I started out as an improvising violinist, and found genres that I could play in. I never took the Hot Club route (though I have played with such guitarists).
In terms of my free playing, I always want to keep what I do melodic and rhythmic; to the extent that listeners often think what I am doing is based on a composition. When I play standards or other pieces, I keep that free approach, but just mould it to the structures I am working within.
CDs you are listening to now: Right now I am taking a listening break. My ears are full.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? In England, we need to draw in younger listeners. Not just by making the music more accessible by using singers, but by getting the music into the clubs and bars. When they hear the music, they like it, especially if they aren't told it's jazz. Jazz can be a dirty word, but then again, it is supposed to be!
We need to make sure we play music that is not just about showing off our chops, mental or physical. We have to involve listeners with our music. Too often people say, "I don't understand modern jazz." Or, stranger, I have heard, "I don't normally like jazz (or violin), but I liked that."
We need to address the question, "What are we doing to turn people off?" And ask the question, "What should we do to turn them on?"
Soon, as well as college courses on playing jazz, there will be (as in English literature) courses on how to listen to it: Jazz Appreciation. You shouldn't need a degree to enjoy jazz.
What is in the near future? I want to get my improvising string quartet out and gigging more. It is an unusual band, but people like it. I am also trying to get more work fronting local rhythm sections playing standards.