Christian Chevallier: Le Prince Du Jazz Français, 1955-1962

Three-CD set collects the early recordings of the French pianist and composer alongside Bobby Jaspar, Roger Guerin, Martial Solal and others


This three-CD set represents the early career of pianist, composer and arranger Christian Chevallier, a major force in French jazz in the 50s. As a pianist he worked in cabaret (with Juliette Greco) and with notable musicians such as Don Byas and Bobby Jaspar, who, like trumpeter Roger Guerin, became a familiar fixture in Chevallier’s subsequent outfits.

Chevallier’s orchestra features extensively and there are also small-group recordings. In 1955 he made his first EP for Pathé, with Jaspar on flute, Fats Sadi, Pierre Michelot and Christian Garros, and an album, Big And Small, on which the quartet sides show an MJQ influence, highlighting the dexterity of vibist Sadi; Bill Holman was the inspiration for the larger band arrangements.

He recorded Formidable the following year, Night In Tunisia the starting point, with Guerin taking the trumpet lead. Although Sadi is down as the bongo soloist, the notes (in French) contradict and credit the enigmatic Sarane Sandernagor. Lively orchestrations feature fine solos from Jaspar, especially on B.S.O.P, and fellow tenorman Jean-Louis Chautemps. A Columbia single, The Marathon Suite, has a similar flavour of Gillespiana, with drum feature presumably by Garros.

That year also saw the release of Prince Du Jazz Français, a title given by artist and writer Jean Cocteau, whose line drawing adorned the record cover. The band blasts into Fiction, full of urgency and benefiting from the inclusion of Allen Eager, living in Paris at the time. The vocals on Street In Saint Germain are by Canadian singer Stephanie Wise, who later became Lady Listowel, after marrying politician William Hare!

Four tracks on November 1956’s Jazz Quartet session include Michelot’s compositions Chet and Mythe. Solos from Guerin (in a Baker vein) and Chevallier show a close feel for the material. The personnel details are unfortunately wrong, calling into question other information and discrepancies in what appears at first a comprehensive listing. No places or specific dates of recording are given, other than a passing comment in the text.

Dutch trumpeter Ack Van Rooyen, poised and relaxed, and trombonist Nat Peck are featured soloists on the tracks from 6+6, which gives further evidence of Chevallier’s compositional and arranging skills. Michel Hausser takes over vibes duty, William Boucaya’s baritone supplies the deep tone on Aquarium, and George Barboteu a mellow cornet on Les Rois Mages.

The third disc sees material which could have been omitted: four Gilbert Bécaud compositions – interlude music – and despite Chevallier’s vibes on Round About Midnight, vocal group The Angels are simply an irritation, especially later on the Madison (dance) variations. Versions of Frederick Loewe’s L’Amour Est Dans La Rue and J’Aurais Voulu Danser, both from My Fair Lady, no doubt rode on the back of the musical’s Broadway success.

The selections from Porgy And Bess are more inspiring, though, It Ain’t Necessarily So moving with some zest, but Ça Tourne Rond gets it back on track, with African Waltz, Whisper Not and a blistering Jeannine. Bernard Vitet’s flugelhorn and Chautemps on alto stand out, the altoist especially so on the ballad Jasmina.

Chevallier and pianist Martial Solal’s collaborative score for Jean-Pierre Melville’s film Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan is included. The nine sequences contain explosive orchestral passages and pensive interludes, giving the opportunity for Bernard Hulin’s trumpet – open and muted – and Albert Raisner’s melancholic harmonica. Sequence six, Street In Manhattan, is evocatively sung by Glenda Leigh (uncredited) with quartet support from Chevallier on vibes, pianist Art Simmons, bassist Rovère and Kansas Fields on drums. The lyrics and music are the same as Street In Saint Germain, only the place names change.

As a bonus, Kenny Clarke Joue Christian Chevallier, from 1958, again shows the strength of composition. A strong line-up includes Tony Scott, Klook leading from the front.

Certainly a comprehensive set, but I’ve reservations about some inclusions and the details are patchy. A more informative two-disc set was issued a few years ago by Fresh Sounds – the unnecessary material bypassed.

CD1: [Deux Hommes Dans Manhattan](1) Sequences 1-9; [Quintette De La Rose Rouge] (2) Dream Time; Minor; A Mountain Sunset; Quartet Mind; [Big And Small] (3) Nice Joke; Aura; Saxologie; New Day; Les Copeos; Badinage; Concertino; Fiction; [Formidable] (4) Night In Tunisia; Pierre Speaking; Olympia; Dizz Delight; Vline (77.44)
CD2: (4) Alpha; B.S.O.P; [Prince Du jazz Français] (5) Fiction; Street In St. Germain; La Cienega; Crystal; [Jazz Quartet] (6) Chet; Mythe; Vline; Buggy And Soul; (7) Marathon Suite; Rendez-vous A Melbourne; [6+6] (8) Mad Dog; Ack’s Dilemna; Labyrinthe; Witch; Michel Ange; Asana; Aquarium; Les Rois Mages; 6+6. (79.21)
CD3: [Joue Avec Gilbert Bécaud] (9) Croquemitoufle; Il Fait Des Bonds…Le Pierriot Qui Danse; Le Mur; Si Je Pouvais Un Jour Revivre Ma Vie; [Avec Les Angels] (10) Stormy Weather; The Man I Love; Round About Midnight; Caravan; [Jumpologie] (10)Jumpologie; Jericho; L’Amour Est Dans La Rue; J’Aurais Voulu Danser; [Porgy and Bess] (11) Summertime; I Got Plenty Of Nuttin’; Bess, You Is My Woman; It Ain’t Necessarily So; [Ça Tourne Rond ] (12) Ça Tourne Rond (African Waltz); Whisper Not; Jeannine; Jasmina; (13) The Madison 1; The Madison 2; The Big M; Drug Store Madison; [Kenny Clarke Joue Christian Chevallier] (14) Dream Time; Gold Fish; Black Knight; Jean-Paul (74.23)
Chevallier (p, vib, tim, mar) with:
(1) Bernard Hulin (t); Albert Raisner (hca); Martial Solal, Art Simmons (p); Paul Rovère (b); Kansas Fields (d); Glenda Leigh (v). 1959.
(2) Bobby Jaspar (f); Fats Sadi (vib); Pierre Michelot (b); Christian Garros (d). 18 May 1955.
(3) Big Band & Quartet (as (2) minus Jaspar). Paris, May 1955.
(4) Orchestra. 17-19 October 1955.
(5) Orchestra. 12 & 16 July 1956.
(6) Roger Guerin (t); Chevallier (p); Michelot (b); Garros (d). 15 November 1956.
(7) Orchestra. 1956
(8) Orchestra. Nov/Dec 1957.
(9) Orchestra. 1959.
(10) Paul Rovère (b); The Angels (v) plus Orchestra. 1959.
(11) Orchestra. 25 March 1960.
(12) Bernard Vitet (bugle); Jean-Louis Chautemps (as) plus orchestra. 7 June 1961.
(13) Orchestra with The Angels. 1962.
(14): Guerin, Ack Van Rooyen, Jean Liesse (t); Benny Vasseur, Nat Peck (tb); Pierre Gossez, Tony Scott, Mickey Nicholas, Hubert Fol, Jean Algedon (as); Georges Grenu (ts); Armand Migiani (bass s); Maurice Vandair, Raymond Fol (p); Pierre Michelot (b); Clarke (d). 1958.
All recorded in Paris. (NB: details here may differ from those given in the booklet. These are more accurate.)
Frémeaux & Associés FA5849