|Kenny Graham - the composer...|
|Kenny Graham's Afro-Cubists (c1951/2).....Musicians include Dickie Devere (drums) and Jo Hunter (trumpet). |
In 1953 the writer and musician Steve Race wrote of Kenny Graham : "Kenny is the nearest thing we have to a real composer...in embryo perhaps a great one. If only he, too, will remember that fact he may well make an international mark on jazz before very long."
Kenny Graham's first serious composing and arranging was for the Afro-Cubists, a group he formed in 1951. While playing in dance bands he discovered that his type of post-Mintons phrasing fitted well to the patterns of Latin American percussion.
Esquie Records quickly started to record the unusual group. His unique rhythm section with some fine African born percussionists plus Dickie Devere's exceptional drumming formed a rhythm section livelier than any other on the UK scene. Added to this was Graham's skills in composing, arranging and the craft of bandleaading.
From February, 1951 the band recorded regularly and Graham continued to refine his instrumentation and modify his approach until in 1953 he wrote his first large scale composition The Caribbean Suite. In composing this work that lasts for 23 minutes, Graham faced a considerable test and one that he passed with much credit. Each movement has it's own character yet all eight are clearly related, and not just because of the percussion instruments and the continuity of colours and rhythmic formulas associated with them. The whole work demonstrates Graham's desire both to unify each performance and to mitigate the unthinking theme-solos-theme routine of so much jazz. Throughout the suite Graham and Hunter solo at their best and the work was issued as a 10" LP. The longest movement in the suite "Afro Kadabra" was issued earlier as one side of a 10" LP. This track sees Hunter and Graham at their absolute best in what are perhaps the most inspired improvisations they ever recorded.
In 1956 Graham recorded the Moondog and Suncat Suites with a hand picked group of musicians including Stan Tracey and Danny Moss. Moondog was Graham's cover of the primitive percussive sound of the US street musician known as Moondog and the Suncat Suite was Graham's own complimentary compositions. The result was nothing like Graham's Afro-Cubist music. With a host of strange instruments this was a unique cocktail of sound and musical vision, an exotic, ethereal and timeless recording that will inspire, haunt and charm for years to come.
Following illness Kenny Graham quit playing the saxophone in 1958 and began to work with Humphrey Lyttelton's talented eight piece band, forming a friendship with Lyttelton that lasted until Graham's death.
His best known work for the Lyttelton band was One day I met an African. It was an atmospheric piece, first recorded in 1959 but it had a life of it's own. First abandoned when the octet broke up it became in demand on a BBC world Service request programme in 1980, and Lyttelton was compelled to record another version which Graham re-arranged for his current band. It was in 1980 that Graham contributed two more of his most potent works to the band, deeply felt ballads written for specific musicians, Adagio for David for John Barnes and Ladyless and Lachrymose for Roy Williams.
Some of the music he wrote for Ted Heath Orchestra had Ellingtonian proportions and his Beaulie Festival Suite recorded by Heath in 1959, was a masterpiece. Other major works for Heath included the Australian Suite. Ellington himself would have been proud to have written The Abbey, an atmospheric piece of writng unmatched by a British composer for many years.
Kenny Graham was fired throughout his life by the music of Duke Ellington, and he became the most original and effective of British composers and in 1960 was paid a unique tribute when he was commissioned to write a collection of compositions for the musicians from Ellington's band. These were then recorded by Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Ray Nance and Sam Woodyard amongst others.
Graham wrote music for film and later experimented with electronic keyboards. His work included an orchestral suite, The Labours of Heracles", commissioned by the BBC and given one performance on radio before disappearing for ever. By 1979 when he was working as a caretaker in a block of flats in south west London he had lost his inspiration and wrote music only rarely and the only at Lyttelton's inspiration.
Kenny Graham biography and discography...
the early classic records...
The Afro-Cubists and the Melody Maker...
Kenny Graham the composer...