Here is the complete interview. Thanks to Franklin Abbott-
How did you become a musician?
I never really thought about doing anything other than being a musician. I always loved listening to records and reading the credits for info about all of my favorite music. I spent lots of time as a kid at the library at Lincoln Center reading books about my favorite musical artists and show business characters.
Why did you choose the piano as your main instrument?
There was a gold painted uprite piano in the living room of the apt. I grew up in with a couple fake books on it. I naturally gravitated towards it and learned to play chords and get through some songs around age 6 and eventually started lessons, first with my Mom’s cousin Bee Walker who I called Aunt Bee.i took singing lessons with her and we worked on show tunes. My favorites were “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy” from Carousel.A few years later when I started getting more into Rock I went to a teacher named Steve on 200th Street. We worked on reading lead sheets of songs by Leon Russell and Elton John who I got to see perform in concert at The Fillmore East. I was 10. Elton was the opening act. My brother and I saw so many amazing shows at the Fillmore when I was 10 and 11.
I just always loved the piano and things always seem to be okay in the world for me when I am playing one.
Who were your early inspirations?
My earliest musical inspirations were Harpo and Chico Marx.There was something about the space they created during the musical interludes in those madcap films that really got to me. I was also influenced by my father who worked in radio when I was growing up and the D.J.’s on the stations he was affiliated with. Around the age of 12 I started taking Jazz piano lessons with Mike Schiffer in Lenox. Ma. and used to love listening to him play standards at different venues around The Berkshires. He taught me jazz history, shared his record collection and knowledge and inspired and influenced me in so many ways as did my other teachers out west Art Lande and W.A. Mathieu. Other early piano influences are George Duke, Bill Evans,Thelonious Monk, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John Sauer,and Tommy Mars
What are some of the special moments from your musical career?
Most recently a very special moment was a gig at The Apple House in Decatur which was a reunion of our family band. Both of our kids make us so proud as human beings as well as musicians. Bill(30) is a jazz pianist/composer/and teacher and Janna(26) is a New York based drummer,songwriter,and teacher, She also has a great band in Brooklyn called The Unified Field Orchestra. For the reunion concert we played interpretations of rare Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music that they grew up on in our house and it was such a blast. We didn’t get to do all the songs we had planned but we hope to do it again next year.
One of my favorite sessions I’ve been a part of was in 2010 when I played with original Beach Boy David Marks for his "Live on Sunset" album which was recorded at the site of the legendary Western Studios in Hollywood. I also loved the gigs with David Marks and The Summertime Blues Band that we played at Eddies Attic and at The Endless Summer Quarterly Pet Sounds Safari near Charlotte in 2009. I have also enjoyed several collaborations with Poet and Beach Boys/Motown Lyricist Stephen Kalinich and I’m still blown away at how effortlessly our song “Surrender” came together, He sent me the lyrics and the song just materialized right away, I’d always wanted to write a song for Francine and it means so much to me to hear her sing it.
I had recorded a solo piano tribute to the music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys in 2004 and although the album was never officially released it remains my proudest solo piano recording and finally in 2016 I released one of the songs as a digital single.
When I was 28 I spent a good part of the first week of October 1987 auditioning and spending some time with one of my musical heroes Frank Zappa.His humanity, musical direction,laughter, kindness,and advice are some of my most treasured moments and I have never met a more down to earth person than him in the music biz other than Bruce Hampton who we would meet soon in our new home of Atlanta where my wife Mindy and I relocated to from Los Angeles in 1988 to raise our new family.
I feel extremely grateful to have been a working musician for all these years and Atlanta has been the greatest place to live and create. In the late 90’s I began to collaborate with Ramon Pooser and Mike Hinton as “The Trio” we played a long running gig at The Martini Club where we developed arrangements in the jazz trio format of music by Prince, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Jack Bruce and James Taylor as well as traditional jazz repertoire. We recorded our CD “Thursday” in 1998. The Trio still play together whenever we can. In 2003 I released “Monday” a live album with Bill Hatcher and Joel Morris. We covered “Hejira" by Joni Mitchell and created some extended medleys based on The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” I’m real proud of both Trio’s. Compositionally I think some of my best stuff is on my 2000 release “Restrooms For Restaurant Customers Only” featuring Reed master Sam Skelton, Berkshire piano legend John Sauer, and my cousin the great New York drummer Peter Grant
For songwriting and singing My 1st album “Lovebrain" and my last “Lovebrain 2" sum up who I am the best. They include some improv too and I play a bunch of instruments on them.
Lovebrain2 also features guest appearances by our kids Bill and Janna, David Marks, and Bobby Robles and Victor Bisetti in a virtual reunion of our 80’s L.A.power pop band “The Now" https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/jezgraham2
You have worked with many wonderful musicians including Francine Reed and Col. Bruce Hampton. Can you share a few memories?
I first played with Francine in 95 and She is a dear friend of our family, we love her and her family so much and are grateful for our time together. The gigs we do at Eddies Attic every February for Black History Month have always been highlights, I think I’ve only missed one year. It’d be hard to top playing with her at her induction to the 2014 Georgia Music Hall Of Fame but that same year she sang “Surrender” in concert with The Delkab Symphony Orchestra along with my Trio and our daughter Janna on percussion.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xu4ICRaMy8&list=PL77DBE9AD7F638514
It’s hard to pick just one or 2 moments with Bruce, More than anything it was everyday moments. Our friendship goes back to the late 80’s but it was around 2008 that we started our weekly Tuesday lunches which soon became legendary. We miss him so much but he is always with us and around us and it’s important to keep practicing the lessons he taught us one of which is “Every gig is Carnegie Hall"
Some of my favorite gigs with Bruce were in New York. The Brooklyn Bowl with Lew Soloff was a highlight and the following year at B.B. Kings with David Marks sitting in with the band along with Nels Cline and Warren Haynes thus guitar representation from The Beach Boys, Wilco and The Allman Brothers as well as Bruce and the great A.J. Ghent.Peter Grant was also on that gig. Of course I’ll never forgot the time we played on Elvis’s porch in Tupelo Mi.
My Job with Bruce was to play left hand bass and piano, then there was a fun gig in Athens at The Georgia Theater with 3 drummers and I was playing only key bass as I passed the piano torch to our good friend and lunch mate Jazz piano legend Johnny Knapp. I’m not a dancer but the grooves on "Feeling Good" and "There Was a Time" always got me moving.So many great times , St. Paul, San Francisco,Atlanta, Music On Main (MOMS) in Lilburn was always a gas. Another of my favorite shows was in Nashville for the show Music City Roots.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QCfaeMVlKY&t=17s
What challenges/inspires you now?
The challenge is also the thing that keeps us on out toes and in the moment. To create something from nothing is such an awesome gift and responsibility. So to answer your question what challenges/inspires me now, it's the moment of creation at the piano. I’m challenged every time I play to go a little further and explore different places. I get so much inspiration from my family and from everyone I have the opportunity to play music for at every gig and I am also inspired by all of the piano players at the airport and all of the great musicians on wonderful Atlanta music scene. I am challenged when I practice at home which I’ve been doing more of in the last 4 years. Mainly Bach and Mozart. Since I’m not classically trained i always said that when I got older I would spend time working on that aspect and now as I look towards age 60 I’m starting to make a bit of progress in that direction.
What can your audience expect from Friday night's concert?
The other day while playing at the airport I had the thought that to hear what I do on Concourse A you need to be either getting ready to fly or returning so with that in mind I thought I would give a taste of my airport inspired music and play some extended improvised pieces , of course I won’t know what themes will present themselves until they do.I do know that I'll include some of my original music inspired by my muse and the love of my life Mindy. All of the music I grew up with and love is always floating around my brain and I don’t differentiate between styles so on any given day it could include music by The Beatles, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, George Gershwin,Billy Cobham, Bacharach/David,Herbie Hancock,Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington,Joni Mitchell,Miles Davis, Randy Newman, The Beach Boys,Shuggie Otis,Todd Rundgren,Jimmy Webb,Bronislau Kaper,The Grateful Dead Richard Rodgers,Prince,Paul Simon, Nat King Cole,Frank Loesser, Irving Berlin, Marvin Gaye,Joe Zawinul,,Frank Zappa,The Marx. Bros. Ya never know and I never know but it’s always a fun adventure.
What projects are you working on now?
In the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure to work with some wonderful artists and bands. Gwen Hughes and The Hitmakers, Theresa Hightower, Fairfax and 3rd, and my duo with Adam Wolfe. I an grateful to all of them and look forward to much more music.
These days as I spend more and more time with the piano both at gigs and at home I have started documenting some of the ongoing arrangement and ideas that have been presenting themselves. Some of these are on my youtube channel.
I appeared recently on the T.V. show "The Resident" as what else, A piano player.
I am now playing at Hartsfield Jackson Airport-Sunday,Tuesday, and Thursday 4-8 p.m. Concourse A
Brand new solo piano videos below-
We had a wonderful Graham family band reunion on July 6th 2018
New video-March 17th-2018 I got inspired recently to learn this classic song by NRBQ. It includes a nod to Harpo as well. I feel this is one of the greatest love songs ever written and I was glad I got to sing it to the woman I love.
Updated January 2018
Happy New Year to all. The link above is a solo piano video I did towards the end of 2017. I came across this rare Gershwin song at a recording session and parts of the melody and chords were so familar to me and hanuted me for days until I made this recording.
In 2018 I plan on playing much more solo piano in public as well as continuing my ongoing solo piano workshop video series on youtube. I have some exciting gis coming up in Jan and Feb with Francine Reed and my trio as well as new duo gigs with Adam Wolfe. Check gigs for further updates.
Below are the updated sites of our musical offspring. Lot's of good music that makes us proud-
Updated 8/31/17 Here's a little clip I did last night of one of my all time favorite Todd Rundgren songs.
My new duo with Adam Wolfe-T.U.F.O. The Freedom Unlimited Orchestra
Updated June 26th 2017
More new beginings are in store. I am rejuvenated in my creativity thanks to a road trip that Mindy and I took to deliver our daughter's drums to her in New York. Along the way we met up with friends new and old,reconnected with family members in our home towns and wound the trip up in The Berkshires where i came of age as a musician back in the early and mid 70's. As an extra treat I got to play a gig in Pittfield Ma. just blocks from where my Father's radio station used to be. Thanks To Fran Tokarz and Aaron Dean for inviting me. Playing music in The Berkshires reminded me of the creative spark that has driven me for all these years and that night at The Rainbow in Pittsfield, I have never felt more free and in tune with the muse. I am ready to carry this forward into some exciting summer gigs here in the ATL. Stay tuned for updates!
I've participated in some really exciting recording projects this year and am thrilled with the results of 2 particular ones.
I also had a blast in mid April playing on a brand new surf instrumental by Miami Dan and Friends featuring David Marks. It will be released in time for summer. David and I have also started an exciting new recording project for release later this year.
On a sad note, we said goodbye to our dear friend Col. Bruce Hampton on May 1st
He will always live on in our hearts and we are grateful for many years of friendship and music.
Bruce Hampton, Johnny Knapp and me-ihop daze
I have released a digital single of my solo piano version of the classic Brian Wilson waltz Solar System. To order or just to listen, here is the link-Solar System
Updated June 6th 2016-
I have added many new solo piano clips and other musical adventures captured on video to my You Tube Channel
Updated June 2015- Click the link below to listen to my soundcloud stream which includes my original jazz and pop music as well as some standards and a couple selection's from the Feb 8th 2015 Francine Reed and The Jez Graham Trio performance at Eddies Attic. jamesjezsoundcloud
I had the honor of recording at East West Studio's formerly Western Studio's in Hollywood Ca. for this project by David Marks in 2010. It was released in 2015 and features jamming and improv on Beach Boy's classics and original David Marks songs. My favorite was the early Beach Boy's instrumental Boogie Woodie. You can check out the album,liner notes and pix here-
September 14 2014 LOVEBRAIN 2 has been officialy released. 14 original songs recorded solo along with appearences by family and friends. You can purchase or download at my page on cdbaby. Meanwhile here are the liner notes
I am happy to announce the name of the new band. We are called 3 out of 4. This is our family band-
Jez Graham-Keys, Vocals,Bass, Guitar,drums Bill Graham-Bass, Keys, Guitar,Vocals Janna Graham-Drums,Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Ukelele,Vocals
And #4-Mindy who is our silent partner,manager and guiding light!
Our debut gig is July 27th at The Family Dog. We will also be opening for Francine Reed at Eddie Owen Presents The Red Clay Theater on Sept. 27th
Here is all the news on the new album by Col. Bruce Hampton. We had a great time writing and recording this project and I'm proud to be part of the Zambie continuum. The album is now available on Grammy winning record company Ropeadope Records. Check out all the infoHERE
I am humbled by this review of my 10 year old unreleased solo piano tribute to Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys by music and Beach Boys historian Peter Reum. Thank You Peter- You can listen to some of those tracks here.
Francine Reed and The Jez Graham Trio played a special free concert with The Dekalb Symphony Orchestra on Jan 12th 2014 for details click- HERE- To see a video of us performing 'Surrender" clickHERE
Updated Nov 21-2013- This just in-The album I recorded with Col. Bruce Hampton will be released in early 2014 onRopedope records- On the album I co wrote a number of the songs and played-Acoustic Piano, Bass, Electric Piano, Left hand Bass, Guitar and Electric Sitar.
Work is continuing and nearing completion on my new album Lovebrain 2 which is the sequel to my debut album that was released 20 years ago. I have been working hard in Pine Groove studios putting down, Guitar, Bass,Drums,Vocals and Keyboard parts, finishing the songs that make this record a continuation of my first and most personal album. Many wonderful collaborators are involved and some new music has been written that brings the project into focus and has allowed me the clarity to see it through. Thanks to Janna Graham-Percussion,Mandolin, Bill Graham-Drums,Rhodes,Co-Writer(Mind Gangsters), David Marks-Guitar, Bob Robles-Guitar, Victor Bisetti-Drums and Percussion, Stephen Kalinich-Lyrics-(Surrender), David Beard-Lyrics-(Mind Gangsters), Del Baroni-Bass, Mike Haid-Drums, and a special thanks to Terry Vinyard-Drums,Percussion,Engineering,and Co-Production(No E Studios) who has gone beyond the call of duty in helping me complete this project.Release date is scheduled for Sept. 2014 on Pine Groove records.
I co-wrote and co-produced the song "Tweet" along with David Beard and Gary Griffin for an album and group called "The Bamboo Trading Co." The song features a lead vocal by Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean along with some fabulous singers and instrumentalists who have worked with The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson. I play on a couple tracks as well. Highly reccomended for Beach Boys and Sunshine Pop fans! The Bamboo Trading Co.
I am proud to play on the new new David Marks cd "The Circle Continues" it is his collaboration with Stephen Kalinich and also features David's fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, along with Alan Boyd, and Drummers,Dennis Diken Drummer and Eric Kalb. It's a very interesting album that merges Stevies words with David's unique Guitar voicings, soulful singing and eclectic style, ranging from Beach Boys vibe rockers and introspective layers with flamenco and jazz undertones and even electric Miles tinged tracks merged with Stevies always passionate recitations. Here is David's new site-
Francine Reed and The Jez Graham Trio-Live at Eddies Attic-CD has been released. To get a copy come to one of our gigs or go to cdbaby/francine reed
Below is a clip from Col. Bruce Hampton and The Realms of Ventilation as we were known in summer 2011. In the middle of this 20 minute clip is my version of The Lucky Old Sun as well as some serious jamming between Steel master-A.J. Ghent, Col. Hampton, Ben (Sunknee) Williams and myself at The Dog Star Tavern in Fernandina Beach Fl.
Highlights of 2012 and 2013 include some memorabnle gigs in San Francisco, New York, and many places in between with The legendary Col. Bruce Hampton ret. We co wrote and recorded an album which is slated for a 2014 release, in addition to keyboards I also played some guitar, bass and even some electric sitar on a special country tune we wrote with lyrics by Bruce and Billy Bob Thorton. A special highlight of 2012 was The Magnolia fest in Live Oak Fl where we had Paul Barrere of Little Feat sit in. Another treat was playing in New York with our very special guest Lew Soloff and my cousin Peter Grant on drums, as well as our shows with Gov't Mule in Athens and Atlanta and our return to New York in March 2013 where we played B.B. Kings club after The Allman Brothers show at the Beacon. For that show we had on guitar, David Marks, Warren Haynes, Nels Cline and of course A.J. Ghent.
Realms of Venilation Featuring Col. Bruce Hampton played a special show in Nashvile for a show called Music City Roots on July 18th. The video is from the encore jam with a great bunch of musicians and singers. Check out the video page for more clips including another special Jam from June in St. Paul featuring Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi.
My solo piano version of the song "Rainbows" written by Dennis Wilson, Stephen Kalinich and Carl Wilson has just been released on the vinyl version of The Stephen Kalinich and Friends Album-California Feeling, For ordering info click here.
Dec 27 2011-
All of the sudden my single '1968 homecoming Queen Rides Again is getting some interest in Japan. I wrote the song about my wife's sister in 1982 and though I played with the facts a little, It is a true story. We recorded the song at a studio in North Hollywood where me and Drummer/Percussionist Victor Bisetti had just recorded an album for Darlene Love who we both had recently played with. With the help of Fitzhugh Jenkins on Electric bass and our engineer Woody, We recorded what is very much musically, my tribute to Brian Wilson although there are no harmonies. The 45 R.P.M. was released in 1985 by Rockaway Records. the B side is an upbeat Power Pop song called "No Violins" that features Tommy Dunbar of "The Rubinoos" on Guitar.
Updated Spring 2010-
The new Francine Reed downloadable single "Surrender" written by Stephen Kalinich and myself and featuring David Marks on Guitar is now available here-Surrender
Updated Fall 2009-
I played some memorable gigs and continued recording with original Beach Boy David Marks, one of the highlights of the year was our performance at The Endless Summer Quarterly Endless Summer Quarterly Pet Sounds Safari.(video is up on the video page)