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8.554848 - BOLLING: Suites for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio
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Claude Bolling (b

Claude Bolling (b. 1930)

Suites for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio Nos. 1 & 2


After first winning world-acclaim as a jazz performer, pianist-arranger and conductor Claude Bolling wrote music for films and backed Brigitte Bardot, Sacha Distel, Juliette Greco and other vocalists in commercial recording sessions. Later still, however, he was to win even greater renown for some ingenious semi-classical ‘jazz essays’ in cross-over. Born in Cannes, Southern France, on 10th April 1930 he has spent the greater part of his life in Paris where, as a child prodigy, his formative musical influences were many and varied. After a broad initial training with the pianist, trumpeter and percussionist Marie-Louise ‘Bob’ Colin in Nice, where he lived during the years of the Occupation, he discovered his passion for jazz while still at school. Strongly drawn towards ragtime and (on records) the great early exponents of jazz piano, he was particularly inspired by the stride style of Fats Waller. By 1944 he was already active semi-professionally in small groups and the following year, in Paris, won an amateur jazz competition, organised by Jazz Jot and the Hot Club de France.


Given his inordinate talent and avid interest, Bolling’s progress as a jazzman was sure and rapid. His youthful heroes Earl Hines and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith were among his private tutors, while Erroll Garner was a prominent first-hand ‘live’ influence, and in 1946, aged sixteen, he set up Les Parisiennes, an Ellingtonesque small group whose repertoire veered between New Orleans revival, ragtime and bebop. By the close of 1948 he had accompanied Chippie Hill at the Nice Festival and made his first recordings (with Rex Stewart). The pressures of a professional career, however, soon made him aware of a need for greater technical proficiency, and to that end he underwent various courses of training with Germaine Mounier (classical piano), Léo Chauliac (jazz piano) and Maurice Duruflé (harmony), and with the Parisian violinist, arranger, film-scorer and pioneering jazz critic André Hodeir. Apart from a formal study of counterpoint and orchestration, he found renewed inspiration in the voluminous back-catalogue of jazz ‘scripture’. 


Associated from the early 1950s onwards in concerts, at festivals and in the studios with top visiting American swing-bop bands, Bolling was swiftly recognised as a major force in jazz circles in France and elsewhere. On and off-disc the list of his associates reads like a post-war jazz Who’s Who? and includes, among others, Don Byas and Buck Clayton (both 1951), Roy Eldridge (from 1950; they recorded the duo album Wild Man Blues for Vogue in 1951), Paul Gonsalves (recordings 1964-65) and Lionel Hampton (recordings 1953 and 1956), Thad Jones, the vocalist Carmen McRae and Albert Nicholas (1953-55). For many years regarded as the foremost French ragtime and boogie-woogie pianist, Bolling’s own keyboard style derived at least in part from such greats as Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson.  Admired by Louis Armstrong (‘Your playing is something I’ll always remember’, cooed the trumpet ace) he was also a some time protégé of Duke Ellington, another admirer of both his technical skill and feeling for the idiom.


Often referred to as Ellington’s ‘spiritual son’, in 1959 Bolling recorded a tribute album (Claude Bolling Plays Duke Ellington). In 1964-65 and 1969 he teamed with Cat Anderson (recording Cat Anderson, Claude Bolling & Co. in 1965) and in 1968 and 1969 he recorded two solo albums, respectively Original Boogie Woogie and Original Piano Blues. From the late 1940s he led small groups and at intervals between 1955 until the mid-1990s fronted his own much-vaunted orchestra. In format essentially a big-band and generically billed the Show Bizz Band, its varying ranks have included such star sidemen as Gérard Badini, Roger Guérin, Claude Tissendier and André Villéger.  



From the 1960s onwards Bolling the composer-arranger also wrote prolifically for films. Best known in that sphere for his contribution to the Alain Delon-Jacques Deray gangster spoof Borsalino in 1970, he has more than a hundred film and TV soundtracks to his credit. During the early 1970s, complementing a steady output of mainstream jazz albums - including Original Jazz Classics (1970), Original Piano Greats (1972), Swing Session (1973) and Jazz Party (1974) - his long-held fascination with cross-over, an interest now enshrined in a longer series of works juxtaposing standard classical and jazz forms and rhythms, first bore fruit. In 1975, the same year as Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano and Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Piano came the monumental, baroque-inspired Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio, first performed (and subsequently recorded) by Bolling with its dedicatee, the Marseilles-born flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal (1922-2000).


Famed as a performer of eighteenth-century classics in authentic style and the founder (in 1946) of the French Wind Quintet and (in 1952) of the Paris Baroque Ensemble, Rampal was the obvious choice as creator of the suite, essentially a ‘casting of jazz in a baroque framework’ which became an overnight, and largely unqualified, success. Whereas not a total innovation in popular music terms, few questioned the work’s obvious mainstream jazz-over-classical origins and far from dismissing it as merely another cross-over novelty, the critics immediately recognised its skilful marriage of the two idioms.


Bolling and Rampal later played the Suite to an ecstatic audience at Carnegie Hall and their première recording for CBS, in 1975, which stayed an unprecedented 530 weeks in the US popular charts (including 464 at No.1) and won the 1976 and 1977 Narm Prizes, received both gold and platinum disc awards. Now a regular set-piece in conservatories around the world it has become a staple of the flute repertoire. 


Subsequently Bolling wrote other jazz-influenced semi-classics, notably Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano (1978) for the English Chamber Orchestra and Toot Suite (1981) for the trumpet-player Maurice André, as well as a variety of similarly-inspired  pieces tailored to suit other virtuosi, including Elena Duran, Patrice Fontanarosa, Eric Franceries, Alexandre Lagoya, Marielle Nordman, Guy Touvron, Yo-Yo-Ma and Pinchas Zukerman.


Bolling’s more recent career as a performer, albeit intermittent and secondary to composing, has also produced some significant successes, notably in 1991, when his collaboration with Stéphane Grappelli on the album First Class won both the Django d’Or and Prix du HCF awards. With his Show Bizz Band Bolling toured the United States in 1989, 1991 and 1996 and Central America in 1995 and 1998 and he has variously joined forces with the Illinois Jacquet and Mercer Ellington orchestras, his ongoing interest in the music of his idol prompting him to make the first complete recording of Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige (1989) and to perform, in Paris in 1996, the suite A Drum is a Woman. In 1994, at the Caen monument, the Bolling big-band opened a series of concerts marking the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day. Claude Bolling’s list of honours includes the Médaille d’Or Maurice Ravel and Officier Arts et Lettres and he is a Chevalier of the French orders Nationale du Mérite and Légion d’Honneur.



Peter Dempsey

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