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Le Jazz in Saint-Germain

Available from Amazon:
Jacques Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), music by Michel Legrand

Michel Legrand by Michel Legrand (2002)

Legrand Jazz (very underrated arrangements, recorded in 1958, with Ben Webster, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and others)
There is a celebration happening right now in Paris, the Festival Esprit Saint-Germain, through May 14. One of the events was a concert by Michel Legrand in the church of Saint-Sulpice, on May 2. Paola Genone has published an interview with Legrand (Quand Paris devint capitale du jazz, April 25) in L'Express, in which the composer speaks about his memories of the golden age of Jazz in Paris, the 1950s. Legrand is, among other things, the musical collaborator of Jacques Demy (see my review of Agnès Varda's film about her husband) and wrote the scores for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and other Demy films. (He has done a number of film scores in the United States, too, of which Barbara Streisand's Yentl is probably the most famous.) Here is a partial translation of the interview:
How did you, at the beginning of the 1950s, get from the Conservatory to the jazz clubs of Saint-Germain?

As I have always done, by joining my eclectic nature to a provocative spirit. In 1945, I went to a Dizzy Gillespie concert. It was a shock, a thunderbolt. I understood nothing that I was hearing. During the Occupation, jazz had been banned in France, and then suddenly, this extraordinary bebop group, in a night, totally revolutionized my way of understanding music. The next day, I bought my first jazz album. That night, I began to spend a lot of time hanging out in the clubs of Saint-Germain.

What was the atmosphere like?

It was a party, joyful, free, crazy. After the horrible tragedy of Nazism and that murderous war, Paris was a magical spell. I was young, I didn't have a dime, but I always found a way to get inside without paying. The first stage was at Le Club Saint-Germain [on the rue Saint-Benoît]. I got there around 9 pm, and I often saw Alain Delon seated at a table. The orchestras of Duke Ellington, Martial Solal, or Claude Bolling started to play. Couples began dancing to the frenetic rhythms. Then the ambiance became calm, and another, more intimate concert began with Stéphane Grappelli, Claude Luther, Sacha Distel...

It was there that you met Miles Davis...

He showed up there with his quintet. He had noticed me, because I went to listen to him every night. He saw this young kid in the first row, with his big ears open, drinking in every note that he was playing. One night, I went up to him to express my admiration. Seven years later, in 1958, we recorded an album, Legrand Jazz, in New York, with John Coltrane and Bill Evans. Also, it was with me that Miles Davis created his last album, in 1991, the original soundtrack of the film Dingo. [...]

How did jazz influence the filmmakers of the New Wave?

Jacques Demy, Louis Malle, Jean-Luc Godard, and the others all wanted to change the cinema and work with new people. Jazz music fit perfectly into their films. Deprived of a precise melodic line, the viewer could not anticipate how the music would evolve: the characters also became more unpredictable, more mysterious. There were a lot of them frequenting the clubs of Saint-Germain. I remember Roger Vadim, who called on Thelonious Monk for the music of his Liaisons dangereuses, and Marcel Carné, who depicted this atmosphere in Les Tricheurs, with music by Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Stan Getz. I myself inserted jazz into Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.
What a life! Legrand's music is often melancholy, in the most deliciously French way, and so I was fascinated to read about his memories of being formed by the jazz sounds he heard in Paris in the 1950s.

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