A native of the Czech Republic, George Mraz was born in 1944. He began his musical studies on violin at age seven and started playing jazz in high school on alto saxophone. He attended the Prague Conservatory in 1961 studying bass violin and graduating in 1966. It is likely that his early exposure to these melodic instruments contributed to his mature lyric gifts as a bassist, an instrument he came to rather late in the game. "I was playing some weekend big band jobs," Mraz recalls, "and this bass player wasn't very good. Either that or he was a genius," he laughs, because he seemed to always play the wrong notes. Every now and then you'd think he must play some of the right notes, just by accident. But, no. So I picked up the bass on a break and tried to find the notes. I thought, 'It's not that difficult.' So I got a bass and began playing a little bit. Next thing I knew, I was in the Prague Conservatory."
While studying at the Prague Conservatory Mraz was deeply moved by the Voice Of America radio broadcasts of Willis Conover, who was his connection to a vast new world of possibilities across the ocean. "The first jazz I ever heard was actually Louis Armstrong when I was about twelve years old. They had an hour of his music on one Sunday in between all these light operettas and stuff they played on the radio in the Czech republic (then Czechoslovakia). Then the strange voice of Satchmo singing was quite a shock. 'How can he get away with a voice like that?' I thought. But by the time the hour was over I decided I liked it better than anything I heard that day, so I started looking into jazz”.
"The Voice Of America came on midnight for an hour or so, and my listening equipment wasn't so great, and it was hard to make out the bass. So I was listening to all the instruments, and how it all worked together, rather than just focusing on the bass. I've really been influenced by everything I've heard, but of course I paid special attention to Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, and Ron Carter." Mraz just naturally gravitated towards the music, and became a seasoned veteran of the clubs where he could perform the music that consumed his imagination almost every night. "By some miracle I finished with school, and I began working in Munich with people like Benny Bailey and Mal Waldron. Meanwhile, I'd received a scholarship to Berklee, and when the Soviet tanks entered Prague, it seemed like the ideal time to use it."
During that time he was performing with the top jazz groups in Prague. After finishing his studies George went to Munich and played clubs and concerts throughout Germany and Middle Europe with Benny Bailey, Carmel Jones, Leo Wright, Mal Waldron, Hampton Hawes, Jan Hammer and others.
In 1968 George Mraz came to Boston on a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music and played at Lennie's on the Turnpike and the Jazz Workshop with such artists as Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Joe Williams and Carmen McRae.
In the winter of 1969 George got a call from Dizzy Gillespie to join his group in New York. After a few weeks with Dizzy, George went on the road with Oscar Peterson for about two years. After that he worked with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra for the next six years. In the late seventies George worked with Stan Getz, New York Jazz Quartet, Zoot Sims, Bill Evans, John Abercrombie and for over ten years with Tommy Flanagan.
George Mraz has a profound gift for the acoustic bass. And while this musician's musician has been a stalwart presence on the modern jazz scene practically from the moment he first landed on these shores from his native Czechoslovakia, in the eyes of the general public his work is still somewhat undervalued. Perhaps because the self-effacing qualities he brings to the bandstand mirror the quiet character of the man stage left-onstage or off, he eschews the spotlight.
With his customary selflessness, Mraz allows as how he never demurred from approaching projects as a leader. "I always wanted to do some kind of projects on my own," Mraz insists, "I just never got around to it." And given the who's who of jazz masters who've made him their first call bassist for three decades (including the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, Clark Terry, Stan Getz, Slide Hampton, Elvin Jones, Joe Henderson, and Joe Lovano among many others), that's hardly surprising. "After I left Tommy Flanagan in 1992 I had a lot more time to do things," George smiles, adding that "I wouldn't mind doing a few more."
After leaving Flanagan, George went on to work with Joe Henderson, Hank Jones, Grand Slam (Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, Lewis Nash), DIM (Directions In Music with Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove), Mc Coy Tyner, Joe Lovano and Hank Jones Quartet, Manhattan Trinity.
He also has lead his own quartet with pianist Richie Beirach, drummer Billy Hart, and the lyrically riveting tenor man Rich Perry. (The quartet may be heard on Mraz's Milestone debut Jazz; Beirach and Hart are on the trio date My Foolish Heart, and Perry on Bottom Lines, the 1997 Mraz session featuring favorite works by fellow bassists Jaco Pastorius, Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, Charles Mingus, Buster Williams, and Steve Swallow, plus George himself.)
"George always plays the exact right note you want to hear," says Beirach, "and he plays the bass as though he invented it." But Mraz does so without drawing attention to himself, and while he is hardly an invisible presence, his sense of what's appropriate is so sure, he can make himself positively translucent. "Even when he's doing nothing more than walking four to the bar, his choice of notes is so perfect, it's like he's telling a little story in back of the soloist," enthuses his producer Todd Barkan.
George Mraz has recorded with Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, Hank Jones, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, NYJQ, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Toshiko Akioshi, Kenny Drew, Barry Harris, Tete Montoliu, Jimmy Rowles, Larry Willis, Richie Beirach, McCoy Tyner, Adam Makowicz, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Pepper Adams, Art Pepper, Warne Marshe, Phil Woods, Grover Washington Jr., Archie Shepp, Dave Leibman, Joe Lovano, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Kenny Burrell, Larry Coryell, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Jon Faddis, Jimmy Knepper, Bob Brookmeyer, Jon Hendricks, Carmen McRae, Helen Merrill, Elvin Jones and many others.
His albums as a leader include: "Catching Up" on ALFA Records Jazz", "My Foolish Heart", "Bottom Lines”, "Duke’s Place” and "Morava”, all on Milestone Records and ”Moravian Gems” and ”Unison” on Cube-Metier. Other releases incude George MRAZ QUARTET “Jazz at Prague Castle” on Multisonic (2012) and the soon to be released George Mraz and David Hazeltine CD “Your Story”on Cube-Metier.
Emil started to play piano in quite early age. His grandfather Victor Wiklitzky had brought from Vienna concert grand piano “Hoffbauer” as a wedding gift for his musically gifted bride. Emil was born in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), where in 1971 he graduated from Palacky University with a degree in mathematics. While a student he devoted much time to playing jazz piano. In 1974, he was awarded the prize for best soloist at the Czechoslovak Amateur Jazz Festival, and that same year he joined Karel Velebny's SHQ ensemble. In 1976, he was a prizewinner at the jazz improvisation competition in Lyon, and his composition “Green Satin” (Zeleny saten) earned him first prize in the music conservatory competition in Monaco, where in 1985 his “Cacharel” won second prize in the same competition.
In 1977 Emil was awarded a 4 year's scholarship to study composition and arrangement with Herb Pomeroy at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He then continued his composition studies with Jarmo Sermila, George Crumb and Vaclav Kucera. Since his return to Prague he has been directing his own ensembles (primarily quartets and quintets), composing and arranging music and - since the death of Karel Velebny - working as director of the Summer Jazz Workshops in Frydlant. He has also lectured at a similar workshop event in Glamorgan, Wales. Between 1991 and 1995 Viklicky was President of the Czech Jazz Society, and since 1994 he has worked with the Ad lib Moravia ensemble, whose performances combine elements of Moravian folk music, modern jazz and contemporary serious music. In 1996 the ALM ensemble undertook a highly successful concert tour of Mexico and the United States.
As a pianist, Emil often performs in international ensembles alongside musicians from the U.S. and other European countries. Back in 1983-89 Emil worked with the Lou Blackburn International Quartet, the Benny Bailey Quintet, and American multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson. He has made frequent appearances in Finland (with the Finnczech Quartet and in particular with Jarmo Sermila) and Norway (with the Czech-Norwegian Big Band and Harald Gundhus) and has performed in the USA, Japan, Mexico, Israel, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands (at the North Sea Festival) and elsewhere. The editor of Rolling Stone Jan Wenner wrote of Emil that “It was a delightful surprise to see such first-class, top-of-the-line jazz in Prague.”
Emil has become noted for his unique synthesis of the melodicism and tonalities of Moravian folk song with modern jazz. As English critic Euan Dixon wrote in 2005 “ Emil Viklicky is one of those European jazz pianists who successfully incorporated elements of his indigenous folk culture into jazz”.
As composer Viklicky has attracted attention abroad primarily for having created a synthesis of the expressive elements of modern jazz with the melodicism and tonalities of Moravian folk song that is distinctly individual in contemporary jazz. Besides this, however, he also composes 'straight-ahead' modern jazz as well as chamber and orchestral works that utilize certain elements of the New Music, and at times his music requires a combination of classical and jazz performers.
Emil also composes incidental and film music and has produced scores for several full-length feature films and television series. Throughout the 1990s he has devoted an increasing amount of time to the composition of contemporary classical music for a great variety of instrumental combinations ranging from small chamber ensembles and electronic instruments to symphony orchestras and choruses. Viklicky's work has gained him quite a number of prestigious awards. These include second prize in the 1985 Monaco jazz composition competition (for "Cacharel"), the 1991 Film and Television Association prize for music for animated films, second prize at the 1994 Marimolin contemporary music competition in Boston (for "Tristana"), a 1996 Prague award for electroacoustic music (for "Paradise Park"), a 1996 Czech Music Fund prize for use of folk music in art music, and first prize in a 2000 international OPERA composition competition in Prague (for the opera Phaedra).