His work holds the promise of liberating the music and our classrooms like nothing I have encountered in print.

The problem is that those who could really benefit from Collier's visions ... will be the last to be open to conceptions such as creativity, new ways of thinking and responsibility.

The first quote above, from a review of Interaction, Opening Up the Jazz Ensemble by Lee Berk in the Jazz Educators’ Journal, has, not surprisingly, failed to happen, proving in its own way the truth behind the second comment from an article about Graham’s work by Danish trombonist and critic Erling Kroner.

Graham 04
‘My work in jazz is as a composer/director and as an educator, and these are inextricably linked. In each case, I use the individual voices of the musicians as improvisers, and explore how those voices can be combined into textures, both written and improvised, to create music which is only fully realised in performance. The performance is the result of a continuous three-way process between the composer/director, the musicians and the given material.

Graham Collier has lectured on jazz and jazz composition at colleges and conferences around the world, has written six books, as well as articles and reviews and for seven years was co-editor of Jazz Changes, the magazine of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. As can be seen in the list of his jazz compositions, he has taken his influences and inspiration from literature – particularly the work of Malcolm Lowry and William Faulkner – and art, where he has paid tribute to Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, and, in two recent suites for saxophone quartet, Paul Klee and Jackson Pollock. He has also written music for radio, television, film and stage.
In all of these activities he has recognised the potential of jazz – its ability to be different, while still presenting the best of the individual and of the collective space in which he or she operates.

Graham Collier 07
‘Collier's methods included giving members of the band parameters within which to improvise behind soloists… Even the way the band was set up, with the tenor saxophones interspersed with some of the trumpets and trombones, seemed to aid flexibility and contribute to textural diversity. His compositions had an accommodating looseness to encourage adventurousness on the part of the players.’
John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald

‘Your visit last year did much to inspire… some of the final arrangements from the students used a lot of your ideas.’

Jens ‘Chappe’ Jensen, Director of Jazz, Århus Conservatory, Denmark

‘Thank you very much for your inspirational workshop. It actually helped to fit the band together much better now, even for the ‘normal’ big band music like Basie or Thad Jones.’
Volker Deglmann, a student on a workshop in Mannheim, Germany

‘Big bands offer the most exciting possibilities in the business for firing up the blood. And … Graham Collier made more of these possibilities than any of us in the packed auditorium thought possible.’
Stephen Pedersen, Halifax Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia, Canada

How it works

These examples from The Third Colour, commissioned by The London Jazz Festival for three performances by The Jazz Ensemble, show the music which the musicians are presented with as the starting point
Third Colour Groove Manuscript

As played by The Jazz Ensemble on the first performance


As played by big band of the Rhythmic Conservatory, Copenhagen during a European Conservatories tour.


The instructions given to the musicians include
1) Play the lines as written. In the earlier passes just the line given to your own section, then later, any of the lines.
2) Play fragments of any of the lines.
3) Play, and colour, the pedals. (The last note of each section is the underlying pedal of the next section.)
4) Thicken the melody by playing the rhythm of any of the fragments, but with your own notes.
5) Join in when you feel you should.

Alternate versions of several other Graham Collier compositions are listed in Recordings and More.

GC & Harry
Commissions to write new music using these ideas are welcomed.
From Acorns..., commissioned in 2007 by Derby Jazz for the East Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra and Harry Beckett, was such a piece and can be heard on YouTube. It was subsequently performed at The Barbican as part of the 2007 London Jazz Festival, when Festival Director John Cumming said:
‘Your piece made a very big contribution to changing the way that young bands play.