Interview with Claude Bolling
Last week I interviewed Mr. Claude Bolling.
Claude Bolling (born 10 April 1930), is a renowned French jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and occasional actor.
He was born in Cannes, studied at the Nice Conservatory, then in Paris. A child prodigy, by age 14 he was playing jazz piano professionally, with Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, and Kenny Clarke. Bolling’s books on jazz technique show that he did not delve far beyond bebop into much avant garde jazz. He was a major part of the traditional jazz revival in the late 1960s, and he became friends with Oscar Peterson.
He has written music for over one hundred films, mostly French, starting with the score for a 1957 documentary about the Cannes Film Festival, and including the films Borsalino (1970), and California Suite (1978).
Bolling is also noted for a series of “crossover” collaborations with classical musicians. His Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio with Jean-Pierre Rampal, a mix of Baroque elegance with modern swing, has been a top seller for many years, and was followed up by other works in the same vein. It was particularly popular in the United States, at the top of the hit parade for two years after its release and on billboard top 40 for 530 weeks, roughly ten years.
Following his work with Rampal, Bolling went on to work with many other musicians, from different genres, including guitarist Alexandre Lagoya, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, trumpeter Maurice André, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He has also worked with, and performed tributes to many others, including Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, and Oscar Peterson (wikipedia.org).
Mr.Bolling, you’re active in music for more than 7 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing?
When I started performing, I was 14 years old. Jazz was very popular. Free or modern jazz did not exist at this period. Jazz musicians were performing in bars, brasseries, pubs. It was only live music. Today, jazz is not as popular and each style of music has his public.
You played a lot with classical musicians, like Alexandre Lagoya, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Yo Yo Ma. Is jazz the right label for your music? If not, which term do you like better for your music: Crossover Music, Third Stream, or Contemporary Improvisation or none of them?
Jazz is the first music I played and loved. Thanks to jazz, I met very nice and great persons who encouraged me to continue on this way. Jazz is the motor of my life.
The other musics (films, songs, crossover) came later in my career, depending of luck, meeting or friendship. I cannot describe my works. I use to tell : composer, arranger, pianist and bandconductor. But the main thing is always Music !
You have often played with American jazzmusicians and have cooperated with Europeans, like Stephan Grapelli. Do you consider yourself as a representant of European jazz? Do you think jazz in Europe develops a different direction than Jazz oversea?
European (or French) jazz is influenced of course by American jazz and vice versa. Numerous American jazzmen came to Europe in the 40’s just after the war, and 50’s because of American black segregation. So, European musicians who played with them where influenced and then developed their own style.
You have made solo-albums as well as orchestral Music. What do you prefer yourself? Playing in company or playing piano solo?
Big band or trio or combo or solo are not the same work. Of course I love each one of them. Each is a challenge and I love challenges. If not, why and how could I play it ?!
Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said last month to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” Do you agree with her?
Charlie Parker, exceptional saxophonist, represents for me the beginning of the
evolution of jazz music. I don’t think that is more forgotten then John Coltran.
It’s important to be a member of the saxes section and a good soloist. The audience does not realists the quality of each member of the band when he is not soloist.
Duke Ellington, has been a great example for you. What did you learn from his music?
Everything. From “Black and Tan Fantasy” or “Mood Indigo” his latest compositions. He was a great composer and had the talent of bringing out the special talent of each of his musicians. He wrote his musics in order to bring out deepest saxophone note to the most treble note of the trumpet.
Which musicians are you inspireded by nowadays?
When I started my career, I was influenced by Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Willy “The Lion” Smith and of course Duke Ellington. Duke used to say that he was inspired by all pianists. And I feel pretty much the same.
In 1972 you acted (as a director) in the Jerry Lewis movie “The day the clown cried.” a poignant film about the Holocaust, the life in a death camp. The movie is unreleased. What do you think of this?
There had been a project of a film directed and played by Jerry Lewis for which Jerry asked me to write a score. But it never was achieved because of a money problem with the producer.
Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?
Actually I have no composition project. My main activity is performing in trio, combo or big band and my project is to play for a long time.
Is there jazz in the future? Jazz has been for the most part well documented by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth?
Music follows the same way than fashion : up and down, out and in. For example, Jean-Sebastien Bach was quite forgotten during the 19th century and “came back” during the 20th one. So, I hope that swing jazz will be soon popular again.