Graham Collier, 1937 – 2011
Portrait of the artist in Papa Hemingway mode, relaxing on a pier in the middle of a mangrove swamp on the mighty rio Guayaquil, Ecuador, Christmas 2009, after a week sailing around the Galápagos islands
Jazz composer Graham Collier, born James Graham Collier in Tynemouth, northern England, on 21 February 1937, named James after a grandfather but known throughout his life as Graham because his mother feared the prospect of people abbreviating him to “Jimmy”, died suddenly on Friday 9 September 2011, of heart failure in the general hospital of Hania, on Crete, where we were on holiday.
As his life partner of 35 years, I can at least say that it was very quick, he was unconscious and in no pain, and I was with him. If some external agency had told me I had to choose a way for him to go, I would choose something like that.
I have been overwhelmed but also buoyed by the messages of affection for Graham that started arriving mere hours after he died. The idea for this impromptu re-arrangement of Graham’s web site is to post an informal note of his death, and to begin collating the many tributes to him that are still appearing.
The cliché that “the music lives on” gains some validity from the fact that two of Graham’s earlier albums, Symphony of Scorpions (1977) and The Day of the Dead (1978), are being re-released in remastered form as a double CD by BGO Records in October. (Graham would have laughed out loud at the gruesome coincidence of the latter title and fickle fate.) A concert Graham gave in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in February 2011 with an ensemble led by the Canadian bandleader, composer and saxophonist Paul Cram was recorded and there are plans to release it this year as a CD and possibly DVD. Graham left a fairly lengthy list of unreleased projects, old and new, which if circumstances allow will also be released at some point in the not too distant future.
harbours seen for the first time...*
A small but pleasingly international group of Graham’s friends – from Australia, England, Greece, Holland, Ireland and the USA – buried him in a short secular ceremony at the lovely churchyard above Skopelos town at noon on Monday 26 September. The sun shone, the churchyard has views of the surrounding mountains, and we clinked a glass, or coffee cup, on the paralia, seafront, afterwards. His grave now carries a tribute in the language of the people who welcomed us into their community over four years ago.
*[The title, from ’Ithaka’, by Cavafy (click the word for the English translation), one of Graham’s favourite poets, didn’t make it on to the plaque, although the penultimate stanza of the poem, which takes Calypso’s advice to the departing Odysseus in The Odyssey as a metaphor for a life well lived, did. The inscription translates as follows:
composer, musician, writer
“Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
\She has nothing left to give you now.”’
– from ‘Ithaka’, C. P. Cavafy.”
– although as I wrote on the back cover of the booklet to the “Relook” CD he would have been amused to discover that the middle line moree accurately translates as “Without her you would not have gone on the road.”]
I am posting links to the published obituaries below, and will be adding more as they appear.
The writer and critic Duncan Heining had already agreed to Graham’s request that he take on the heroic task of musical executor, and will be assembling an archive of his scores and other materials for which we hope we might find a home in some accessible academic setting. Duncan has also written a book on the history of British jazz in which Graham will feature.
With the help of Graham’s friends and executors, I hope to keep his 19 albums and those of his six books still in print available for the foreseeable future, and will, after some maintenance hiccups, be maintaining the online sales of his works.
I would like to use Graham’s web site to thank all those friends of his and ours whose kind words about Graham have been a great comfort since his death. I also need to apologise to those I have so far been unable to contact, a job that was delayed by the fact that I had to remain on Crete to deal with official paperwork and was only able to return to our home on Skopelos three days ago. I can say, however, that I was tremendously heartened by the sympathy and kindness I met at every turn on Crete, which was equalled by the sympathy and kindness of our friends, Greek and otherwise, here on Skopelos. Proof that the Greek quality of filoxenia, friendliness to strangers, endures.
As an amusement for our new, small, friend, John Morton, whose father Brian’s emails kept me sane while on Crete and later, I am including below this little-seen curio from the Collier-Gill archive. It is of us, one rainy afternoon on the island of Santa Cruz, with a Galápagos tortoise. At first, John thought that “the tortoise men” were either disturbingly small human beings, or that their “pet” was perhaps disturbingly large. (And these tortoises are indeed disturbingly large; in their annual circle between feeding and mating grounds, they manage to move no more than a few hundred yards, although at that speed everything probably looks brand new by the time they amble past again.)
If it was our “pet”, I would have suggested we call it “Sweetpea”. Alas, it wasn’t, but don’t tell John that.
The “tortoise men” with “Sweetpea”, the pet that got away – very slowly…
[late edit: this image has now gone mildly viral on the net, provoking some mirth about which figures in the above image are “normal” sized. John’s sister Alice “inclines” to the theory that the tortoise is “normal” sized, which must make the tortoise men at least, ooh, 18 inches high...]
Obituaries & appreciations
A recent but very welcome addition to the continuing tributes to Graham came in October, with the publication of his friend Claudio Bonomi’s article, “Graham Collier, compositore di mosaici”, in the Italian jazz magazine, All About Jazz, which you can read, in Italian, here
The very first obituary appeared in The Times on Tuesday 13 September, unsigned in the paper’s tradition of running anonymous obituaries, but written, as he has allowed me permission to “suggest” that he wrote it, by Alyn Shipton. The Times operates an online “paywall”, but you can read Alyn’s excellent appreciation in the “Times obituary” link in the menu at the top of this page, or at the Times web site here
The Guardian followed a few days later with an obituary by John Fordham, which can be read here
The Independent published Brian Morton’s magnificent consideration of Graham’s life and work on Monday 19 September, and you can read it here
The Spanish jazz magazine, Cuadernos de Jazz, in my opinion the finest jazz magazine in the world, ran a splendid appreciation of Graham’s work, here, although you will need to be able to read Spanish (and, if you do, their attribution to me of svengali-like powers in Graham’s later career rather over-embellishes what in fact was the far humbler role of partner and, lately, latter-day Mrs Miniver).
Britain’s Jazzwise print/web magazine ran one of the first jazz media obits, which can be read here
The LondonJazz site was one of the earliest British net media to run an appreciation, with comment from friends and colleagues, including Django Bates, Ann Cotterrell, editorial director of Northway Books, who published Graham’s 2009 book the jazz composer - moving music off the paper, and our Skopelitian friend, Mike Burton-Pye, among others, which can be seen here
The US jazz web site Rifftides, written by Doug Ramsey, was the first norteamericano site to run an appreciation, which can be read here
Promptly followed by the US print/web magazine, JazzTimes
There was also a short but very moving note by Patrick Jarenwattananon on the web site of National Public Radio in the USA, with links to other comments, here
Graham’s email pings mere minutes before this is posted with a Google Alert for his name and news that the AllAboutJazz web site has an open thread with comments by friends and fans here
And it pinged again 30 minutes later with news that The Telegraph had also just run an obituary, in its Sunday 18 September issue, here
An obituary that touched on Graham’s ability – nay, impulse! – to provoke controversy over the aesthetics of jazz was penned by the writer Peter Hum in the Ottawa Citizen, suggesting that Graham may still be igniting incendiary devices in the jazz agora long after he has gone. One might go off quite soon if Peter Hum follows up his review of Graham’s book the jazz composer on his blog as he says he will.
Alyn Shipton has written to say that the excellent Jazz Library radio programme he made with Graham, discussing musical favourites and Graham’s own compositions, first broadcast on 5 December 2009, will be broadcast again at midnight on 1 October 2011 on BBC Radio 3, with extra material in a tribute to Graham. For internet listeners in the UK, it is also available as a stream at the Jazz Library web site archive at any time.
As well as Duncan Heining’s jazz history, I should also mention that the writer and Austin, Texas, jazz broadcaster Clifford Allen has been preparing a long interview with Graham, effectively the last ever major interview, for the online music magazine, Paris Transatlantic, which appeared in the December issue. I have to declare an interest in that my own byline has appeared in it, but I can still say that Paris Trans is a unique repository for millions of words on all manner of contemporary music, and well worth visiting.
There are further obituaries and appreciations in the pipeline, including Jazz Journal, coincidentally also written by Brian Morton. These and others will be added here when they appear, along with any others that I find.
Σας ευχαριστούμε σε όλους σας, thank you to everyone
John Gill, Skopelos, February 2012