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Graham Dent is a regular player on the Northants jazz circuit and has been so for many years.
Starting piano at the age of 6, he followed the traditional path with a classical training “but my sight reading was weak and I often ended up busking through the tricky bits,” he explains with a laugh. “Unlike many players, I wasn’t driven by my parents, and although my mother played the piano, it was all on my own initiative.”
Come the early 1960s, he converted to electric guitar (“one I made myself!”). It was the era of the Beatles and he played in a school group named the Bootles. At this time, he was also picking up R & B influences from such major players as John Mayall and Eric Clapton. The improvisational aspects of their music interested him. “It was the blues which formed the launching pad for developing my own skills on guitar, moving progressively into folk music and then into jazz.
“It was at university that I was first exposed to proper jazz.” He says. “I was still playing guitar but I became fascinated by the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet, and Dick Morrissey and Tubby Hayes. I began to listen to a wide range of jazz players, particularly at Ronnie Scott’s. Some were avant garde for the time - Archie Shepp and Roland Kirk, I particularly remember.
“My main influences on guitar were Barney Kessel who, for me, swung like the clappers, and I was also intrigued by the adventurousness of John McLaughlin.”
He moved over to piano in the mid-1980s. “I bought a Yamaha electric piano, and simply applied guitar principles to the piano. I suppose my main influences have been Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, and, of course, Miles Davis (one of his favourite recordings is Miles Smiles). Of the modern pianists, I particularly like the refreshing style of John Law.”
He does not claim to occupy any particular category of jazz piano. “I’m not at all at home with ‘trad’ jazz, but, beyond that, I’m comfortable with mainstream to modern styles, including latin and funk. I’m a great fan of the treasured standard melodies, particularly those of Gershwin and Porter, but I’m always trying to develop a more open, freer style to my own playing.
“Some of today’s younger players are very gifted in terms of their technicality and technique, and play their own compositions in wide ranges of style. Personally, I like compositions with a tune that I can always sing to myself; sometimes modern compositions can be very abstract. With my own composing, which I’ve been doing since the 1970s, I always strive for a strong melodic impact backed up by an interesting harmonic foundation.”
Speaking of the younger generation, one of his major concerns is the apparent lack of interest in jazz by younger listeners. He puts this down to “unfavourable media influences which dumb down interest in instrumental music, particularly anything which challenges the listener, like jazz improvisation.”
Moving on to current projects, one of his principal commitments is his band Jucamaya which recently released its second CD Curious Terrain on which many on his own compositions are featured. “Unfortunately, we don’t play together as often as I’d like,” he explains, “ideally, we’d like a residency, but the recession is making regular venues hard to find.”
He also wants to develop more frequent associations with jazz vocalists - he’s accompanied Roy Forbes, another regular artiste on the Northants jazz circuit, for some 15 years. “Providing a sympathetic accompaniment for a jazz vocalist is a specific skill which I enjoy and feel I do well.”
His latest project has been a recording, Grateful Hands, a duet with a talented guitarist, David Williams, from Leicester, and he’s also ‘dipping a toe in the water’ in teaching jazz piano which he started last year. He’s a busy man!
More information and many sound tracks can be found at www.grahamdent.com