After a show-stopping set at this year’s Bakersfield Jazz Festival, Norwegian-born Haakon Graf and his group, Grafitti, will return Tuesday evening to perform for the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop.
Graf, a keyboardist and composer, will bring his group of top session and side men to the workshop for a one-hour show, followed by a question-and-answer session with student musicians, as part of the workshop’s annual scholarship fundraiser. Graf said the workshop’s Laura Booker approached him immediately after his festival performance last April.
“She’s the hippest lady,” Graf said. “She came up to me and asked if it would be possible for the band to come up and do a special feature, and I said sure.”
Graf began his career in Norway and expanded quickly into the European jazz and pop scene with such performers as Phil Collins, Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Jack Dejohnette, Frank Gambale and many others. He won a European Grammy award for his work with drummer Paal Thowsen. Graf has been based in Los Angeles for about 14 years, ever since arriving to the Southland on a grant from a composer group in Norway.
“I decided it would be good to have my base in L.A.,” Graf said.
Graf said since his arrival, he has been able to connect and perform with many of the top players in the jazz and pop fields, enabling him to assemble a killer band that includes saxophonist Doug Webb (who played with Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard and Kyle Eastwood, among others); bassist Rob McDonald (alumnus of Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder groups and more); drummer Rayford Griffin (Anita Baker, Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty); and percussionist Munyungo Jackson (Miles Davis, Wonder, Sting, Herbie Hancock).
“We met randomly in L.A.,” Graf said. “I didn’t know who they were or who they played with.”
“I don’t care as long as we click and play great.”
What unites these players is Graf who, as both keyboardist and composer, brings a set of “new” music to Tuesday’s show.
“What is ‘new’ under the sun?” Graf asked. “What we’re doing is playing out of a template that’s a combination of intelligence, sensuality and fun grooves.”
Graf went on to explain that listeners will recognize the musical elements that he uses, and connect to that, even though he injects those familiar elements with original ideas and multiple cultural influences.
“Easy to understand, fun, funky,” Graf said. “You have to play something the people will love, which means you have to play something they already know.”
“I can compose around a genre that is already known.”
Graf said he expects the students in the audience to ask a lot of questions about something he already knows — how to make a living, how to get gigs. Whatever practical advice he may give them, Graf said he will also be sharing the philosophy that has guided his own life and career.
“Follow your heart; don’t listen to what other people tell you to do,” Graf said.
Graf acknowledged that a musician’s life isn’t for everyone as the demands on one’s time to learn the craft of being a musician are enormous.
“You have to have passion, and you have to be able to put in the 10,000 hours practicing,” Graf said.
“You have to learn your craft.”