Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks
A player with an amazing ability to absorb a lot of the modern and progressive influences of his jazz generation - but all without succumbing to the same indulgences as them. A fact which resulted in a razor-sharp style that forged some of the freshest jazz ever to come out of the UK.
(As the introduction to this
biography was written by Graham some time before his death
and was intended to encapsulate his composing philosophy,
it has been left in the first-person present
The phrase ‘directing 14 Jackson Pollocks’ was used by an artist friend of a friend to describe my approach to performing, which, indeed, is my approach to jazz composing. Not normally a jazz fan, and attending a concert of mine for the first time, she intuitively appreciated that I try to live the two truths of jazz: that it is about individuals, a lesson demonstrated long ago by Duke Ellington, and that, as Miles Davis and many others constantly showed, it happens in real time, once. The extract below is from a letter she wrote after the event.
‘He appeared to stroll casually around the stage, giving directions to these fantastic musicians by hand signals.... Quite how much he was controlling everything I’m not sure, but individuals went into apparent freefall only to be “rounded in” to the whole phenomena... It was a complete texture of sound - massive sound... How the hell does he write this? Or how much does he write and how much is improvisation?’
The subheading quote is from Ron Atkins in JazzUK, the
first main quote is from Dusty Groove, a record retailer in
Chicago. Both serve as a reminder that although his
generation included such composers as the three Mikes,
Westbrook, Garrick and Gibbs, as well as Chris McGregor and
John Surman, Graham Collier’s radicalism and
achievements were, and are, often
A shorter version of Graham Collier’s Biography and some photographs at 300ips can be found here
Graham Collier's career spanned four decades of innovation at the forefront of British jazz. He was the first British graduate of the Berklee School of Jazz, Boston, and the first jazz composer to receive a commission from the Arts Council of Great Britain. During this time composition, conducting, education and journalism took him around the world.
He was born in Tynemouth, England, in 1937. On leaving school he joined the British Army as a musician, spending three years in Hong Kong. He subsequently won a DownBeat magazine scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, studying with Herb Pomeroy and becoming its first British graduate in 1963.
Returning to Britain, he formed the first of many line-ups known as Graham Collier Music, dedicated to performing his own compositions. One critic called his bands a ‘nursery for British jazz talent’, and over the years his line-ups have featured almost every British jazz musician of note, among them James Allsopp, Harry Beckett, Chris Biscoe, Geoff Castle, Roger Dean, Mike Gibbs, Mick Hutton, Pete Hurt, Karl Jenkins, Mark Lockheart, Henry Lowther, John Marshall, Oren Marshall, Dick Pearce, Alan Skidmore, Ed Speight, Stan Sulzmann, John Surman, Art Themen, Derek Wadsworth, Alan Wakeman, Steve Waterman, and Kenny Wheeler.
In 1984, driven by his concern that young musicians in England were not getting efficient big band exposure, he formed a workshop big band which later metamorphised into Loose Tubes. This multifaceted orchestra was to produce such talents as Julian Arguelles, Django Bates and Eddie Parker.
The international bands Collier has assembled for various special projects around the world have boasted the likes of Johanni Aaltonen, Ted Curson, Hugh Fraser, Palle Mikkelborg, Karlheinz Miklin, Terje Rypdal, Ed Sarath, Manfred Schoof, Harry Sokal, Tomasz Stanko and Eje Thelin.
Over a career spanning more than forty years he was commissioned to write for big bands such as the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and the NDR Big Band and for ensembles ranging from saxophone quartet to symphony orchestra.
He released 19 albums and CDs of his own, as well as being part of compilations from such as Gilles Peterson, Babyshambles, Jazztronik and Masanori Morita. He recorded with the Australian contemporary music group The Collective, the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and contributed to recordings by artists ranging from Ted Curson to Tom Robinson.
For more information see Recordings.
His last group was the ad hoc big band The Jazz Ensemble - the italics stress an improvising factor Collier feels has been mislaid by certain superstars and didacts in the field - featuring a roster of regular collaborators, guests from Europe and America, and up-and-coming stars of the European jazz scene. The Jazz Ensemble recorded two critically acclaimed CDs, Charles River Fragments and The Third Colour. It is hoped that The Jazz Ensemble will be re-united to record the last two suites he wrote, The Blue Suite, based on the ideas (but not the music) behind Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and Luminosity, a suite of pieces inspired by the works of painter Hans Hofmann, in 2012.
He worked in a wide range of other media: on stage plays and musicals, on documentary and fiction film, and on a variety of radio drama productions, including a highly praised version of Josef Skvorecky's novella, The Bass Saxophone, which won a Sony Radio Award, and an adaptation of Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano, both for the BBC.
He was equally well-known as an author and educator, having written six books on jazz, jazz history, compositional technique and education. Interaction, Opening Up the Jazz Ensemble was published in 1995 to fulsome praise in the jazz press. The latest book the jazz composer, moving music off the paper, 2009, Northway Books, has also been highly praised.
For more information click on the titles.
In the early 1980s, he developed the six-year jazz degree course at the Sibelius Institute in Helsinki, Finland and in 1986 he launched the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz course. The first graduates were awarded their degrees in 1989, and he remained artistic director until resigning in 1999.
He also taught seminars, lectures and workshops throughout Europe, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.
For more information see Concerts and Workshops.
In 1989, he was among the group of international jazz educators who formed the International Association of Schools of Jazz. He was Secretary of the IASJ’s Daily Board for nine years, and in 1994 his Winston Churchill Fellowship report Jazz Education in America launched the IASJ journal, Jazz Changes, which he co-edited for seven years.
He was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987. He left his full-time post as artistic director of the jazz course at the Royal Academy in 1999 to concentrate on composition. After eight years living in Ronda, in the mountains of Andalucia, southern Spain, in 2008 he moved with his long-time partner, John Gill, to a small Aegean island, Skopelos, where he continued to compose, travelling from there to present concerts and workshops around the world, until his death of heart failure while on holiday in Crete on 9 September 2011. You can read the obituaries and appreciations at his alternate website, jazzcontinuum, here.