Mosaics: The Life and Works of Graham Collier

Duncan Heining By

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The following is an excerpt is from "Chapter 9: The Eighties or Graham Collier -The Wilderness Years" of Mosaics: The Life and Works of Graham Collier by Duncan Heining (Equinox Publishing, 2018). All Rights Reserved.

The late Graham Collier was a bandleader, a composer and a jazz educator. As far as this latter role was concerned he was arguably one of the most significant figures in jazz education, a point supported by the many awards he received in this respect.

AAJ writer Duncan Heining's detailed and insightful biography, Mosaics: The Life and Work of Graham Collier, succeeds in revealing and even celebrating the complexities of his subject. In many ways, Collier was an outsider in a 'music outside,' to use trumpeter-author Ian Carr's telling phrase. Collier emerges as a contradictory figure falling between several different camps. He was never an out-and-out musical, cultural or political radical but rather an individualist continually forced to confront the contradictions in his own position—a musical outsider working within a marginalised area of cultural activity; a gay man operating in a very male area of the music business and within heterosexist culture in general; a man of working class origins stepping outside traditionally prescribed class boundaries; and a musician-composer seeking individual solutions to collective problems of aesthetic and ethical value.

The edited extract that we publish here will hopefully reveal Collier's commitment to the music and to jazz education, as well as highlighting his often combative personality and frustrations with the music business and jazz press . It tells of Collier's involvement in the birth of Loose Tubes, one of the most intriguing and anarchic big bands to emerge in the 1980s, as well as discussing one of Collier's most important works, Hoarded Dreams (Cuneiform).

In his private life, Collier seems to have been very settled in this period. In 1980, he and John Gill had moved out of Earl's Court and bought a Victorian house in Shell Road in Lewisham. They entertained regularly and film director/producer David Cohen, who visited them at their home on several occasions in the 1990s, described it as a 'kind of slightly chaotic, comfortable, very middle-class home. They were always very hospitable.'

Collier and Gill were, by all accounts, very happy there and this was their home until 2000, when they moved to Ronda in Andalucía. In 1983, they began taking holidays on Paxos, Greece. There they made friends with another British citizen, who had a house on the island. When the friend died, they left Collier a half-share on the property, and for many years, Collier and Gill would spend at least a few weeks annually on Paxos.

Reading Collier's papers and talking to friends, one gets the impression that there was often a gap in Collier's emotional world between the private satisfactions of home and relationships and the public dissatisfactions of career. Some of this may be explained by the nature of the artistic life itself. To a degree, this could only be fully lived in the act of creativity—that is, writing or making music itself—or at least engaging with music in some other way, such as teaching. One does get the sense that Collier was a person who never quite relaxed, and perhaps it was at those times of inactivity, enforced or simply the result of circumstances, that the doubts crept in.

The feeling that somehow he was not receiving his due persisted for Collier and would even be amplified by changing fortunes in British jazz. In the 1980s, jazz in Britain saw a resurgence. Even major record labels such as Columbia, EMI (through the relaunched Blue Note imprint), Polygram and RCA suddenly began to take an interest in music that they had promoted so abysmally just a decade and a half earlier. Of course, the extent of that interest depended on who one was and how one looked, as much as the actual music. With the exception of veteran Stan Tracey, whose contract was briefly picked up by Blue Note, the musicians who signed on the line were young, good-looking and image-conscious, a situation that reflected similar happenings in the USA.

These labels were, of course, international companies and required sales not just in Britain but across Europe and in the USA as well. In the case of essentially North American concerns such as EMI/Capitol/Blue Note, Columbia and RCA, a further problem arose with British artists signed to these labels. They and their music did not travel to the USA—physically or metaphorically.


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