Big Band Jazz: It's Not Just for Guys Anymore
Besides being a great trumpeter, Graham was a great guy as well, down to earth and fun to hang with. I first met him in South Carolina, and my opening remark was, "You look like Jack Sheldon." No, he replied, I'm not Jack Sheldon but I just recorded an album with him, by the Tom Kubis Big Band. "Tom who?" I asked. "I'll send you a copy," he said. Several weeks later, a package arrived in the mail; in it were an LP by GrahamAll the Right Stuff (Outstanding Records, 1995) and one of the most spectacular big-band CDs I'd ever heard, Slightly Off the Ground, (Sea Breeze, 1991) by none other than the Tom Kubis Big Band, featuring Jack Sheldon on vocals ("Play It Again Sam") and trumpet ("Who Can I Turn To," "Which Craft?"), and George Graham leading an awesome trumpet section (Wayne Bergeron, Dan McGurn, Stan Martin, Charlie Peterson). It was one of the nicest gifts I'd ever received, and continues to hold a place of honor in my ever-expanding big-band CD library.
Besides the LP, Graham recorded three CDs under his own name: With a Lot of Help from My Friends (1994), With More Help from My Friends (1999) and How About Me? (2001), and they are definitely worth checking out. The first two shouldn't be hard to find, as they are on Sea Breeze Records; How About Me? was recorded on Graham's own label, Pippo Avenue, but with the same great lineup of sidemen and special guests (Bob Florence, Bob and Calabria McChesney, Trey Henry, Ray Brinker) accompanied by Tom Kubis and His Electric Orchestra (and no solos by Graham who plays only lead). There have been many outstanding lead trumpeters in the long history of jazz, and there's no doubt that George Graham's name belongs near the top of any such list. As Kubis said of him: "When the name George Graham comes up as it relates to my music, I think it's gonna be musical; it's gonna be intense; it's gonna sound better than I could have ever expected; it's going to be performed by a consummate professional who takes pride in every note and phrase that he plays."
In closing, a few words from my review of With More Help from My Friends: "The first thing one notices about trumpeter George Graham is his absolutely gorgeous tone; the second is that no matter how small or elusive the musical target, he never misses; the third is that this consummate lead trumpeter is also a remarkably sure-fingered and persuasive jazz soloist." George Graham was all that and more. He will be greatly missed, as will Frank Foster. RIP, guys.
An Embarrassment of Riches?
The Los Angeles Jazz Institute, which has already lined up almost thirty groups and individuals to take part in its next Jazz Festival, "Modern Sounds: Celebrating the West Coast Big Band Sound," October 20-23 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel, has added an extra day of big-band jazz October 24 to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Stan Kenton, featuring an array of Kenton alumni and others taking part in concerts and panel discussions, plus rare films and a special "meet the alumni" reception. There will be three concerts in all, two by an all-star alumni band directed by Bill Holman, Bill Mathieu and Bob Curnow, the other by the Collegiate Neophonic Orchestra of Southern California directed by its founder, Jack Wheaton. Kenton alumni slated to take part include Howard Rumsey, Peter Erskine, Carl Saunders, Steve Huffsteter, Bill Trujillo, Joel Kaye, Al Yankee, Dave Stone, Larry McGuire and John Mitchell. And as if that weren't enough . . .
"Modern Sounds" promises to be another spectacular event, with twenty-eight concerts in four days in addition to the usual films, panels and special presentations ("Sleepy Stein and the Birth of Jazz Radio," "The Contemporary Records Story," "the Pacific Jazz Records Story"). Concerts will celebrate the music of Kenton, Holman, Shorty Rogers, Woody Herman, Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Richards, Jimmy Giuffre, Shelly Manne, Pete Rugolo, Marty Paich, Spud Murphy, Don Fagerquist, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Chet Baker, Jack Montrose, John Graas and Clifford Brown, among others. There'll be ensembles led by Holman, Russ Garcia, Johnny Mandel, Terry Gibbs, Bobby Shew and Dave Pell, plus vocals by Sue Raney. Wow! For tickets and information, phone 562-200-5477 or go online to www.lajazzinstitute, org
New CD Benefits Japanese Earthquake / Tsunami Victims