Monday, October 24, 2011

Graham Collier, 1937-2011

Graham Collier

Composer, bassist and bandleader Graham Collier left town on Friday, September 9,, 2011. He was holidaying with his partner, John, in Crete, when a sudden heart failure took his final breath. It was quick, relatively painless but unexpected. We all felt sure Graham had too much sparkle, too much music in him to go so soon.

His career, indeed his life, was shaped by music. Collier grew up in Luton, Bedfordshire—reason enough to leave home at 16 to join the army and become a band boy. In his early twenties, he won a scholarship to Berklee School becoming its first British graduate in 1963. His fellow students at the time included Rhodesian-born trombonist Mike Gibbs and a precocious vibraphonist by the name of Gary Burton, while the school's Herb Pomeroy was an important early influence.

Collier remained in the States post-graduation but suffered injury in a car crash whilst on tour in Wyoming with the Tommy Dorsey ghost band. Returning to Britain in the mid-sixties, Collier formed his own band and by the early seventies had released a handful of records that remain amongst the finest examples of small group jazz. Songs For My Father, with Alan Skidmore on tenor and Phil Lee on guitar, comes highly recommended, but Mosaics is even greater, revealing an approach to composition and performance that Graham would continue to develop and refine for the rest of his life.

Reissued recently by BGO records, these albums reveal a rare talent able to fuse a British pastoral compositional sensibility with something far more rambunctiously funky that stemmed from an admiration for Charles Mingus. Even more importantly, BGO included amongst the reissues an alternative and very different recording of Mosaics, as well as a stereo version of Deep Dark Blue Centre. The first two BGO sets are indispensable, while the third is perhaps merely necessary.


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