RIP Graham Collier (1937-2011)

Graham Collier
UPDATE 20th September. John Gill, the late Graham Collier’s partner, has updated the Jazz Continuum site with the obituaries and tributes
Composer/bassist/educator/author/polemicist Graham Collier died suddenly in Greece on Friday night at the age of 74. There is a full biography on the Graham Collier website Collier was the first British student at Berklee, he founded the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music, was an instigator behind the formation of Loose Tubes, and leaves a substantial legcy of compositions and an important book, The Jazz Composer.

Django Bates has written:

I am eternally grateful to Graham for choosing the young musicians, organising the rehearsal space, finding the funding, and starting the workshop band which went on to become Loose Tubes. Graham had sensed there was something exciting in the air and, in the spirit of great improvisation, he captured the moment.

Ann Cotterrell, publisher, has written:
The sudden death of Graham Collier has shocked his many friends and admirers. Graham was a highly significant composer and his writing about jazz is clear, articulate, frank and courageous.

He had praise to offer to composers working to extend the parameters of jazz composition while still retaining its traditions and believed strongly in jazz improvisation (his interpretation of this is complex but includes both collective and individual aspects) and, more simply, in giving soloists space. As he put it, ‘jazz happens in real time, once.’ He has left a body of recorded music that is challenging in its breadth and originality.

Collier achieved international recognition for his music at some cost to himself. He left the UK with his long-standing partner John Gill in 1999 to live in Spain, before they moved to Greece in 2008. Although he lived in the beautiful town of Ronda, and later on a small island off the coast of Greece, his motivation for the move was at least in part financial. He explained this to my partner, Roger Cotterrell and myself when we visited him in Spain, and the same view was expressed in an interview with Duncan Heining.

It was our loss in Britain that such an innovative musician had to move abroad to find the time and space for his composing, but move he did and his output continued to grow.

From these homes he travelled widely, giving talks, supervising workshops, and conducting new music. In February this year he was in New York for a discussion of his book, the jazz composer – moving music off the paper, at Columbia Univerisity and then he went on to Halifax, Nova Scotia to conduct performances of his compositions. (Link to recent reviews)

Graham’s talents extended through his music to his teaching, his books and his always engaging conversation. His recognition of the connection between early jazz and free jazz is recorded in his book and interviews. So perhaps, when he visited us and we talked about jazz styles, we should not have been surprised to find that he sat enraptured listening to a recording by Pee Wee Russell. Graham wrote about C-Jam Blues as ‘the epitome of the perfect jazz composition’ but believed that jazz compositions should always be reworked in performance.

The subtleties and enigmas in Collier’s work should provide scope for much discussion in the future. His insistence on lower case for the title of his book the jazz composer is perhaps typical of the man and his view of his work ; he was concerned to show that the book was not just about him as The Jazz Composer but about the identity and role of the jazz composer more generally. He used punctuation and formatting of his work as a poet, or perhaps as a musician. His approaches posed challenges but also opportunities for those working with him and his roles of composer, educator, writer and musician were in the end as intertwined as the artistic themes in his compositions.

Graham will be greatly missed by his fans but especially by the musicians with whom he worked.

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Jazz education in the UK owes an enormous amount to Graham Collier (alongside Eddie Harvey and Lionel Grigson) without whom our current positions and extent of provision would been considerably harder to achieve.

    As well as being an instigator of projects for young jazz musicians, Graham was an articulate and politically astute advocate for the music within the academic world, at a time when degree courses did not exist within the conservatoire sector. To initiate and establish a course at the Royal Academy was no mean feat in those days and assisted us in all institutions.

    Unfortunately I didn't know Graham well but he was always generous and supportive to me, never assuming a protective position regarding his host institution or his own position as Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy. Instead he actively encouraged vigorous debate and even criticism of his own work.

    Jazz Education in the UK has lost a pioneer, advocate and supporter.

    Simon Purcell
    Head of Jazz
    Trinity-Laban Conservatoire

  2. I worked on the S.S.Oxfordshire, a ship carrying troops to Hong Kong at the time Graham served with the army there. and although I've read numerous articles and tributes I've not read how he travelled to the far east. For my own interest, and hopefully others, the information would add one more piece to the picture.

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