With More Help from My Friends
Any player who earns the respect and admiration of a lot of musician friends and can enjoy the process and fruits of their added value contributions with humbleness and enthusiastic satiation has to have a very special persona. Indeed, there is unanimity regarding the transcendental appeal and superb performance elements of master trumpeter George Graham. Musicians light up a torch of enthusiasm when speaking about Graham. Impressed with his wherewithal in merging playing lead and jazz trumpet, he is praised as a complete trumpeter with eloquence in both domains. 'I had always been a jazz player,' says Graham. 'Then over the years my lead chops developed.' Jazz educator/trumpeter Fred Berry, and director of the Stanford University Band, is moved by the quality of Graham's sound, accuracy and consistency. 'He's a lead trumpeters' lead trumpeter. George does not miss. Most lead players aren't good jazz players, but George plays jazz excellently. He calls himself a 'melody player.' There's nothing he can't do on the horn.' Two key FRIENDS who have given much help to Graham's recordings ('With A Lot Of Help From My Friends' on SeaBreeze Records, and this sequel CD on the Pippo Avenue label), are the gifted composer-arrangers pianist Bob Florence and tenor saxophonist Tom Kubis. Florence, who has received laurels for his own orchestra's numerous superior recordings speaks about the ambient recording mood of this CD: 'I came into George's date after my two-day sessions [recording 'Serendipity 18,' which won a Grammy]in the same studio with about six of us who were on mine and were on George's, too. It was like a big party! It was so much fun and relaxed and easy---we did it all in a day, mostly first takes. The band was first class---George's top choices---players Wayne Bergeron, Warren Luening, Rick Baptist, Sal Lozano, Terry Harrington, Don Shelton, Chauncey Welsch, Alex Iles, Bob McChesney and the rhythm section of Trey Henry, Gregg Field and myself.' Speaking of George's natural aptitudes and exactitude in conception, Florence adds: 'George is a marksman up high on those 'Superman' trumpet solos and he's got a flair for the dramatic, too.' Regarding Tom Kubis' writing, 'He gets such a great sound out of a large ensemble,' Florence says. 'Tom is special. He knows particularly what to do with a band like this.' As for Kubis' charts, Graham points out, 'Tom had previously written some of the charts and I had him write several just for this album.' As for his and Kubis' jazz playing, Graham says 'We're playful players and I love doing it! We refer to it as a 'playful romp.'' This characteristic is self-evident on this CD---a total statement of his musical demeanor and chops. An ideal harbinger for the slate of tunes is the opener 'Peanut Face,' which is warmed up by it's great fanfare type of clarion call in Kubis' chart. Tom's wife, Carol Jolin, composed it. 'Caravan' is a fresh up-tempo trip which pumps up with more heat than the opener, as planned. 'It's a sequel to Tom's chart of 'Cherokee' on my previous CD. We had done fours with the band and the band played this ridiculously hard thing. Tom wrote more tough fours to add to 'Caravan' in the middle,' describes Graham. 'There's a neat sax soli after the to and fro between the band and the horns.' Dropping to a ballad---'But Beautiful' is simply beautiful! Graham has a knack of seizing one's attention. Little wonder his melodicism prompted him to be labeled 'Mr. Melodic.' And listen to his downright impressive pinpoint accuracy. Be alert, too, to Florence's piano when the band is playing---dig his signature 'bell' tones. As Graham submits: 'Bob stays out of your way.' Graham expresses with appreciation for Florence's sensitive restraint and his dependable wonderful taste. Resurrected from Florence's cumulative dormant reserve archives, the samba-driven 'Scraping the Top of the Barrel' and the bossa nova, 'Pretty,' get their leases via Graham's well-shaped solos and bottomless lungs. Lyricism and sunny warmth reign as Graham shares solo space with Bob McChesney's trombone on 'Kinda 2 Kinda 3.' Next, a get down dirty, mean blues tailored for Graham by Florence, 'Graham Crackers' spotlights Graham's swinging cup and plunger mute work, recalling some of the style's historic forebears and building up to his high end inferno. Trey Henry and Gregg Field attack with fury and taste, too. Clearly of special and personal significance, Graham named Ramon Flores' sketch in tribute to his wife; also arranged by Flores, 'My Marilyn' embraces a pool of appealing colors amidst much musicality. Shifting to a spirited Dixie journey reminiscent of a Bob Crosby Bobcats/Paducah Patrol approach which builds up incrementally and winds up in a wailing big band sphere, 'I Found A New Baby' is logically arranged by Kubis who has long been a Dixie devotee. Likewise, 'I've always liked Dixieland,' offers Graham. After a titanic nod to 'My Heart Will Go On'---a challenging piece to play, another samba comes in the stretch. Steve Allen's cleverly titled 'Samba Dee Else' reveals the rhythm section's capacious ease in floating in the middle. And Graham rips open the clouds! Lastly, 'In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning' is a song Graham has always wanted to do and Bob Florence responded majestically. Florence told the recording engineer: 'I want George to start outside at a distance, and when the band enters in the middle, they should all be inside in front of the fireplace.' This imagery is strategically helpful to absorb the sensibilities and savoir faire involved. And it is sheer undiluted beauty---George, the band and Bob's chart. What could follow it? What a way to close 'With More Help From My Friends.' This performance illuminates what Graham has declared: 'I just want to be a 'perfect me!'' As a post-script---the music is a body of work articulating Graham's personal idiom as he revels in melodic charm and elasticity. With his definitive power, tenacious control and unerring accuracy, he soars and never muses about where he lands. George Graham has emerged boldly as his fully formed trumpet identity in it's natural carriage and his very own brand of seductive artistry. Dr. Herb Wong Jazz Educators Journal KJAZ-FM Alumni, San Francisco March 1999.