Claude Bolling: Renowned French jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and occasional actor.
Claude Bolling, a pianist, composer, arranger, and a conductor of jazz, entertainment and film music, is certainly one of the world’s most famous French musicians of his generation–known as the “Father of Modern Jazz”.
His musical heritage stretches back to the reign of Napoleon III: Bolling’s great-great-aunt was a court pianist. Young Claude discovered the piano at age 11. His father, an auto parts salesman in Cannes, and his mother divorced when he was 7. At that time Claude had little interest in music, but his maternal grandmother, Marguerite Chabellard, was an accomplished pianist. She made sure Claude had the best piano teachers on the Riviera. By the time Claude was 15 he had quit school and moved to Paris to pursue music with the likes of Rex Stewart and Sidney Bechet. Wearing short pants and propped up on telephone books, he would pound the keys in jazz clubs. “I was,” he admits, “the curiosity of the Left Bank.” Within three years he was the leader of a seven-man Dixieland group titled Bolling and His Hot Seven. Then, after playing his way through military service as a slide trombonist in French army bands, he jammed and performed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Earl Hines. “They taught me a lot,” says Bolling.1
In 1959 he married Irene Dervize, then a reporter for Paris Match. Outside the church a jazz band serenaded the newlyweds, and after that auspicious beginning the Bollings settled into a pattern of musical domesticity in the Parisian suburb of Garches. Irene mothers their two sons, David, 12, and Alexandre, 9, and works for the TV magazine Télé 7 Jours. Claude composes at home, stopping occasionally to play with his model train collection or to fastidiously rearrange their three-story house. “I dread losing time,” he says. “So instead of doing nothing, I organize.” As for his classical-jazz fusion, he shrugs, “I didn’t want to create a new musical system; yet now I’m the prisoner of it.”2
With an almost acrobatic schedule as a musician in the jazz world, Claude Bolling appeared in numerous concerts and recordings with some of greatest artists : Rex Stewart, Buck Clayton, Lionel Hampton, Albert Nicholas, Roy Eldridge. His friend, Boris Vian, placed Claude in charge of the jazz, art direction, and song writing departments in a new large recording studio. While there, Claude orchestrated Boris Vian’s first songs as an author and singer and recorded various themes for the “Chansons Possibles et Impossibles“. These works further advance Claude’s career and he becomes “the” fashionable arranger, for Sacha Distel, Jacqueline François, Juliette Gréco, Henri Salvador, Brigitte Bardot and many others. Then, Dario Moreno asks him to write the music of a film he is starring in, and René Clément, (after having asked him write a back theme for a for Stuart Witman in “Le Jour et l’Heure” (Michel Piccoli, Simone Signoret)), asks Claude to compose the entire score for the film.
Claude next goes on to emcee several famous French TV shows (“Age tendre et Tête de bois” -the Beatle generation show- the Maritie and Gilbert Carpentier shows, Jean-Christophe Averty‘s “Jazz Memories“). Meanwhile, he also formed an all girl quartet, “Les Parisiennes“.
As a result of his experience in various musical branches and his work with the greatest classical musicians, Claude creates “Crossover Music” a new genre which mixes for the first time two different languages, “classic” and “jazz”, strictly separated up until then. The “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio“, written for the great flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, is one of his most famous “Suites”, all of which act as work of reference in that style.
Bolling at age 50, a true Renaissance music man, also had written seven books on jazz and swing plus the score for 32 films, including the Belmondo delight Borsalino and Neil Simon’s California Suite. When the “solitary work of composing,” as Bolling called it, became too oppressive, he performed. He conducted a popular Parisian swing group called the Show Biz Band four times a month “as a hobby” and gave piano recitals that took him around the world. In 1976 he played Carnegie Hall with Rampal. And, since the 1950’s, Claude Bolling also has been a fervent ecologist and has helped various organizations for environment and animal protection.
Claude Bolling’s concert schedule found on his website today, shows that this time last year, at age 82, he was still performing professionally. And, as usual, I am back at connecting the dots and the DNA to see which portion of my ancient English Bolling family migrated to France!
Andriotakis, Pamela (July 21, 1980). Composer Claude Bolling’s Real Switch Isn’t Trains but Luring Rampal & Pinky into All That Jazz. People Magazine
People Magazine Article: http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20077021,00.html