Award-winning blues singer Francine Reed performs in Conyers

Atlanta-based blues singer Francine Reed will perform a concert with pianist Jez Graham on April 12 at Unity Church and Spiritual Center of Rockdale.

Atlanta-based blues singer Francine Reed will perform a concert with pianist Jez Graham on April 12 at Unity Church and Spiritual Center of Rockdale.

In 1988, after years of living and working with some of the music industry's most gifted artists in Los Angeles, Jez Graham packed up his piano and moved to Atlanta, a decision he's never regretted.

"I'd always missed the East Coast and so did my wife, Mindy, and when we decided to have a family we wanted to go somewhere else and just make a fresh start," said Graham, a New York native who has recorded and performed with David Marks, a founding member of the Beach Boys; cult legend Shuggie Otis; former Frank Zappa sidemen Ed Mann, Tommy Mars and Terry Bozzio; and pop chanteuses Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector and Martha Reeves, to name a few.

"We just kind of wound up here," he said. "L.A. gave me a lot of great experiences and I got to meet so many people, but Atlanta is a great place to live and work as a musician. I wouldn't live anywhere else."

These days, Graham has a pretty full musical plate, leading his own band (called The Trio, with bassist Ramon Pooser and drummer Mike Hinton) in a host of engagements and recording sessions in and around Atlanta, serving as musical director at Unity Church and Spiritual Center of Rockdale and accompanying a couple of musical legends, Francine Reed and Col. Bruce Hampton, for selected dates and tours.

On Friday, April 12, Graham will join the award-winning Reed for a concert at Unity Church, renewing a collaboration the two have had for nearly 20 years.

"Francine is an amazing singer and we have a very strong connection," Graham said. "We've played together on and off since 1996 and we've done a lot of work together. I did a cross-country tour with her in 1996 and we just kept working together."

Reed is, of course, Atlanta's best-known blues singer, a veteran of the music world whose collaborators include Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson and the late Roy Orbison. Reed's most recent CD is a live recording in concert with The Trio. Friday's performance will feature Reed, backed by Graham on the piano.

"This concert will just be the two of us, and it's a very intimate evening where Francine gets to do songs that she really loves, songs from the Great American Songbook like 'The Man Who Got Away' and 'I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues,'" said Graham.

"She'll do some of her blues material and will do some of the tunes from her new CD that we recorded with her at Eddie's Attic. She just does some great songs on it, and one of my favorites is Stevie Wonder's 'Love is in Need of Love Today.' She has her own version of it that's just so powerful. I think it should be nominated for a Grammy -- I think it's that good."

Graham added that Reed also plans to perform a number he co-wrote (with poet/lyricist Stephen Kalinich, who contributed lyrics to several Beach Boys songs) called "Surrender."

"I co-wrote the song specifically for Francine," said Graham, whose children -- Billy (piano, bass, drums) and Janna (drums) -- often play with him on Sunday mornings at Unity Church. "And she just knocks it out of the park. It's really inspiring to hear her sing that one."

Reed has performed several times in Conyers (perhaps most notably at the funeral for former Rockdale Commission Chairman Randy Poynter), so Graham said it wasn't difficult to talk her into returning.

"The church has had this great concert series going that's been very successful," he said. "It's a beautiful room with a great feeling in there. I talked to Francine about it and she said, 'Let's do it,' and we decided to do it just as a duo because of the connection we have musically."We've done a lot of gigs that way and it can really go in any direction. I never know what songs we're going to do -- she'll get the feel and the vibe of the evening and she'll call for some tunes and sometimes she'll take requests and sometimes she'll tell stories about her life and her family."It's a variety of great music. Sometimes she'll sing a capella and I'll just sit and listen. She's a powerhouse vocalist."

A suggested love offering for the concert is $10. For more information, visit www.unitychurchofrockdale.org.

If you go

What: Blues singer Francine Reed in concert with pianist Jez Graham

When: 7 p.m. on April 12

Where: Unity Church and Spiritual Center of Rockdale, 933 Commercial St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: A love offering of $10 is suggested.