Graham Dechter - Bio


Friday, September 11th, 2009
     An accomplished guitarist, composer and arranger, Graham Dechter plays with the kind of swinging authority and seasoned maturity that belies his young age. The 28-year-old Los Angeles native, a member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra since he was 19, shows a deep reverence for the jazz guitar tradition in his warm-toned renditions of ballads, bossas, bebop and blues. A formidable soloist and consummate accompanist, he imbues standards with rare enthusiasm and an inherent bluesiness while carving out his own path with several affecting original compositions.
     While most contemporary jazz guitarists today are coming out of the six-string trinity of John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell or heavily emulating modern day guitar stars like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dechter’s tastes are firmly rooted in a different aesthetic. A talent deserving of wider recognition, Dechter follows in the lineage of his guitar heroes like Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Grant Green and Herb Ellis. “I tend to veer towards the real swinging stuff,” says Dechter. “I love listening to and appreciate many different styles of music, both within and out of the jazz idiom. But in terms of my own conception, I really live in that swinging realm. Guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel, as well as other instrumentalists like Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ben Webster -- all of those musicians have been a huge influence on my playing.”
     Traces of the Kessel and Ellis influence can be heard on Dechter’s debut as a leader, 2009’s soulfully swinging Right On Time (Capri), which featured the all-world rhythm section of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra in pianist Tamir Hendelman, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. Those three stellar talents are back on board for the guitarist’s 2012 follow up, Takin’ It There (Capri). Dechter’s sophomore outing bristles with exhilarating energy while exuding the same magical chemistry demonstrated on his auspicious debut. “John, Jeff and Tamir are not only huge mentors, they’re also my musical heroes. I grew up around those guys musically, having played with them in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra for the past six years. They’re so responsive and supportive musically. On top of that, they're all heavy duty leaders who tour regularly with their own groups. The way they conceive of their music -- the very tightly-knit, well thought-out arrangements -- has had a huge influence on what I do with my own group. So it’s just a natural thing making music with them."
     On Takin’ It There, a distinct Barney Kessel influence can be heard on Dechter’s deft take on Kessel’s buoyantly swinging signature tune, “Be Deedle Dee Do” while Herb Ellis’ influence is apparent in Graham’s string-bending prowess on Clayton’s blues-soaked “Grease for Graham.” Says the guitarist, “I asked John to write a tune for the new recording, and when I saw the title I cracked up. I tried to do the title justice and I put my best B.B. King hat on for that one.” The gospel-tinged title track, written three years ago by Dechter’s close friend, pianist-composer Josh Nelson, is what actually triggered the impetus for the guitarist’s second recording project. “Josh wrote the tune as a feature for me with my sound in mind, which was a huge compliment,” says Graham. “I kind of drew from it, conceptually and musically as well. There’s a definite vibe to it and I wanted the rest of the tunes to share a similar feel.”
     Elsewhere on Takin’ It There, Dechter embraces Antonio Carlos Jobim’s alluring bossa nova “Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)” with a gentle touch then burns a blue streak on an uptempo romp through Lee Morgan’s hard bop staple, “Hocus Pocus.” His stellar crew puts a funky boogaloo spin on Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song” and turns in a relaxed, swinging rendition of the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer standard “Come Rain or Come Shine.” George Coleman’s “Father” is a showcase for Hamilton’s brilliant brushwork while Dechter’s gorgeous ballad “Together & Apart” highlights Clayton’s unparalleled arco work on the upright bass.
     Takin’ It There closes with the beautifully introspective solo guitar piece “Amanda,” which neatly segues to an exquisite rendition of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” bringing Dechter’s sophomore outing to a poignant conclusion.
     Born into a musical family -- his mother Maureen came from a musical theater tradition while his father Brad is a renowned orchestrator and composer who has worked on over 250 film scores and arranged for artists such as Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand. “My dad’s first passion was jazz,” Graham recalls. “When I was a little kid he would play me all these great recordings by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and  Nat King Cole.  So growing up, I became very accustomed to that sound and vibe." Originally a classical violinist and composer, Dechter had an eye-opening experience in high school while taking an improvisation class with bassist Marshall Hawkins at California’s Idyllwild Arts Academy. As he told Just Jazz Guitar magazine: “Marshall is the real thing. He’s played with everyone from Miles Davis to Shirley Horn and Phineas Newborn, Jr. So getting the opportunity to study with someone who was that close to the history of the music was life-changing for me. If it weren't for Marshall, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today.”
     In 2005, after completing his first year at the Eastman School of Music, Dechter was invited to join the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at age 19. He subsequently returned to Los Angeles, where he began studying with Larry Koonse. Here is what Koonse, a respected and in-demand Los Angeles-based jazz and studio guitarist, had to say about Dechter: “It’s hard to fathom how someone at his age can possess so much knowledge and ability on the instrument. He has it all -- chops, harmonic depth, deep swing, melodic inventiveness and serious arranging skills. He is only at the beginning of his journey in becoming a major force in the global jazz community. I look forward to watching his journey unfold.”
     Over the past eight years, Dechter has toured worldwide with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra appearing at major festivals in North America, Asia and Europe. In 2011, he played on Michael Bublé’s best-selling Christmas album and made followup television appearances backing the popular singer on The Today Show, Regis & Kelly, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting and on Michael Buble’s NBC Christmas special. Currently, he is the guitarist for Brazilian jazz pianist and vocal sensation, Eliane Elias. Dechter’s burgeoning list of credits also includes work with saxophonists Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Frank Wess, Charles McPherson and James Moody, guitarists John Pizzarelli, Bucky Pizzarelli, Mundell Lowe and Russell Malone, organists Larry Goldings and Atsuko Hashimoto, singers Jon Hendricks, Nancy Wilson and Kurt Elling, violinist Regina Carter, pianists Billy Taylor, Freddie Cole, Benny Green and Bill Charlap, clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, trombonists Curtis Fuller and Wycliffe Gordon and trumpeters Terell Stafford, Clark Terry, Snooky Young and Wynton Marsalis.
     As John Clayton wrote in the liner notes to Right On Time of this promising new talent: “Graham Dechter's playing is not only a joy to hear, it is a joy to be a part of. Personally, I love a warm guitar sound. Better: I love HIS warm guitar sound. Combine that with some serious swinging, clean arrangements, a high level of intensity and a dose of beautiful lines, and you've got a guitar player that is exciting to play with. The other good part of all of this is that he's still so young. There's just no telling to what wonderful places he will take us.”