Graham Dechter’s jazz-guitar sound is right out of the ’30s and ’40s, a musical era that he can have heard only on disc — Dechter is in his early 20s. Dechter’s phrasing is hip, confident, and the asides — meaning the little afterthoughts he plays following a main lick — are slick and interesting. He favors a modified arch-top guitar that generates a fat, warm tone, and he plays with emotions out of the Billy Strayhorn songbook. As a jazz guitarist, Dechter makes no wrong turns.
A Los Angelino, Dechter was a child musician with skills to land him a seat at the Idyllwild Arts Academy in California. His first instrument was violin, but at Idyllwild he heard jazz and traded classical music for guitar. He studied with Marshall Hawkins, a bassist and a straight-ahead jazz musician. Dechter’s talents were palpable and doors opened; at 19 he was tapped to join Clayton/Hamilton. Some of the members of that band backed Dechter on his debut CD, last year’s Right on Time.
Modern jazz guitar is a small fraternity: like Bob DeVos, Dechter has that knack for pulling (rather than always plucking) notes from his guitar, and he has the intuition and melodic instincts of a Tony Romano. And the list of jazz luminaries who have utilized Dechter’s skills is staggering: Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Gilbert Castellanos, Les McCann, Benny Golson, James Moody, and others. He’s played the nation’s major jazz festivals as well, from Playboy to Lincoln Center. This is how traditional jazz survives, on the backs of young players who like old music and then learn to play it better.