Friday, August 5, 2011

Rein de Graaff – Dutch Jazz Master

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

This look at the music of Rein de Graaff was actually occasioned by the issuance of a new CD that celebrates Dutch tenor saxophonist Ferdinand Povel’s being honored in 2008 with Holland’s Boy Edgar Award.

The CD is entitled Good Bait - Live at the Bimhuis Amsterdam and features Ferdinand along with tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and Rein’s long time rhythm sections mates, Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums.

Mp3 downloads of the CD are available through Amazon [Timeless CDSJP 484].

The VPRO/Boy Edgar Award, is an annual award given to a Dutch jazz musician, composer, or bandleader who has made major contributions to the Dutch jazz scene over a significant period of time. The award is a sculpture by Dutch fine artist Jan Wolkers and a cash prize of 12,500 euros. It is widely regarded as the Netherlands' most prestigious and honorable jazz award. The award is given under the auspices of the VPRO [a broadcasting organization] and Music Center the Netherlands [an organization that promotes and archives Dutch professional music].

The VPRO/Boy Edgar award has been given since 1963 and pianist-composer-arranger Rein de Graaff was the recipient of the award in 1980.

Rein was born in 1942 in Groningen and raised in nearby Veendam. Both are situated in northern Holland.

Although he did have some piano training as a young boy, Rein is largely self-taught.

Listening to records and the radio in post-World War II Holland brought the music of Charlie Parker into his life and Rein has remained true to his bebop leanings ever since.

These listening experiences also helped to develop his ability to play by ear and led to his being asked to play in his high school Jazz band even though his ability to read music was poor.

And while many of his classmates were falling under the spell of the West Coast Jazz “cool school,” thanks to a French/Belgian radio program hosted by DJ Carlos de Radetzky, Rein discovered the likes of Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean and Sonny Rollins and became “a hard bop man.”

“After seeing Sonny Rollins on TV, I borrowed some money from my grandfather, drove to Groningen on my scooter and bought Sonny’s At The Vanguard LP. None of my music friends liked it. They listened more to Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. Some said: ‘This man an cannot play and there’s not even a pianist!’ But many of them gradually came around and we all learned many new concepts as a result of this music.”

“I was obsessed with Jazz and listened to any Jazz program on radio, including many foreign broadcasts. In my youth, Jazz was the music of the young. It was everywhere.

In 1964, Rein moved to Amsterdam and was a regular visitor to Scheherazade [Holland’s equivalent of Birdland in New York or Ronnie Scott’s Club in London]. While there he met saxophonist Dick Vennik and they formed a quartet that played together for over 25 years.

Through club dates, radio and TV appearances Rein earned a living playing Jazz although, like many of his stateside counterparts, he also worked a day gig.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Rein began to earn a reputation as “one of the best accompanist” for American Jazz musicians traveling in Europe.

As Mike Zwerin, who for many years was the noted Jazz columnist for The International Herald Tribune observed: “[After the Second World War, but especially in the 1960s,] …  Jazz went to Europe to live.”

In the decade of the 1960s, Jazz lost its relationship with the greater American public for a variety of reasons.  Many musicians who wished to continue earning a living playing Jazz traveled to Europe where the music still had a large following.

Due to economic factors, the clubs and concert promoters in Europe would bring a horn player over from the States as a featured attraction and assign a local rhythm section.

In this way, Rein got to work and/or tour with alto saxophonists Bud Shank, Charles McPherson and Gary Foster; tenor saxophonists such as Arnett Cobb, Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, Al Cohn, Teddy Edwards, and Von Freeman; baritone saxophonists including Nick Brignola, Ronnie Cuber and Cecil Payne.

In the 1980s, with interest in Jazz now beginning to wane in Europe, too, many promoters began to back out of scheduling tours of Europe by American Jazz musicians so Rein stepped in directly to arrange these overseas tours.

He went to New York, got in touch with Charlie Rouse, the tenor saxophonist who played so many years with Thelonious Monk. Charlie wanted to do a tour of The Netherlands so Rein set-up a series of club dates, concert venues and radio and TV broadcasts for him, including some appearances in his hometown of Veendam.

Rouse was followed by Eddie ‘Lockjaw” Davis, Billy Mitchell and Frank Foster, Bob Cooper, Conte Candoli and many others.

“These tours really put little Veendam on the map,” said Rein.

In 1987, the Vredenburg Concert Hall in Utrecht, Holland, asked Rein to do a series of four, lecture and musical programs under the banner: “Stoomcursus Bebop,” which I think translates to something like a “Crash Course in Bebop.”

Here again, prominent American Jazz musicians were highlighted in Vredenburg's unamplified setting as well as Dutch Jazz performers. 

Rein is “not pianists oriented,” although he is a fan of certain pianists such as Bud Powell – “all modern piano Jazz comes from him” - Barry Harris, Wynton Kelly and Hampton Hawes. He prefers “… listening to horn players,” and this is certainly reflects in his playing, particularly in his phrasing.

Among today’s young players, he is a fan of Eric Alexander, James Carter and Joshua Redman.

As he approaches his seventieth birthday, Rein de Graaff continues on as “the keeper of the flame in Dutch Jazz;” an exponent of bebop, hard bop and straight-ahead Jazz.

You can samplings Rein’s work in a video tribute to the music of Gigi Gryce that features Rein along with John Marshall on trumpet and Herb Geller on alto saxophone on Gigi’s Minority..  On the video, Rein and the horn players are joined by Marius Beets on bass and Eric Ineke on drums.