Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Hubert Fol and His Be-Bop Minstrels

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Here’s another of the recent CD releases which I have been grouping together and referencing as the Fresh Sound “Jazz in Paris” series.

This feature focuses on the 2 CD set by alto saxophonist Hubert Fol released by Jordi Pujol as Hubert Fol and His Be-Bop Minstrels [FSR CD 955]. The 37 tracks are a compilation of various small groups that recorded under Hubert’s leadership as well as those units he performed with as a sideman led by his pianist brother Raymond and the traditional Jazz group known as Moustache from 1950 to 1965.

Being the first to adapt to a new musical style doesn’t always equate to being one of the best in performing the new idiom, but when one listens closely to Fol on these Fresh Sound recordings, they serve as evidence that he certainly knew his way around Bebop.

And not just as a Charlie Parker clone. Fol plays with great originality and takes many chances in his improvisations while also reflecting the influence of Bird in his tone and phrasing.

Jordi Pujol walks us through the salient features of these recordings in the following insert notes too Hubert Fol and His Be-Bop Minstrels [FSR CD 955].


“If we had to name the first French jazzman to embrace bebop with true enthusiasm, then there is no doubt that it is alto saxophonist Hubert Fol who deserves the honor. At little more than 20 years old, as soon as he heard Charlie Parker on record, he took to the new style and began practicing.
Hubert was born in Paris, on November 11, 1925, When he was nine, his mother started him and his younger brother Raymond on piano. In 1942 he expanded his musical education with violin and clarinet lessons, and finally, influenced by Johnny Hodges, he chose the alto saxophone as his favorite instrument.

As a musician, Hubert Fol always strived to play music that was richer and more inventive than that of his peers. He always succeeded, too, and the itinerary of his musical adventures was always most fascinating to follow.
In the early days of the Liberation, he joined clarinetist Claude Abadie's good Dixieland orchestra, together with his brother on piano, and Boris Vian on cornet. With Abadie, he recorded several 78 rpm sides in 1945 and 1946, and even played for the Special Service Show of the US Army.

It was then that Hubert discovered Charlie Parker, and moved more towards modern jazz. For the young saxophonist, Parker appeared as a real revelation: Bird's interesting harmonic innovations and rhythmic conception of bebop would keep him busy for over twenty years.

Hubert's prowess grew rapidly, and he would soon have the opportunity to prove it. In the summer of 1947, he met with three American jazzmen that were staying in Paris for a time after finishing a tour of Europe in 1946 with the Alan Jeffreys Don Redman Orchestra. They were trumpeter Alan Jeffreys and trombonist Jack Carmen—the only white members of the orchestra — together with a fine drummer named Benny Bennett (who remained in France, playing in jazz groups, and also directing his rather successful Afro-Cuban orchestra). They were young, full of creative spirit, and they had not missed on the revolution that the American jazz scene had gone through. It was with them that Hubert formed a sextet called "The Be-Bop Minstrels," in a clear statement of the stylistic message of the group. The other "minstrels" in the original group were both French: pianist Andre Persiany and bassist Emmanuel Soudieux. Their avant-garde playing impressed Charles Delaunay, who invited them to record for his label Swing. The group's first visit to the studios took place on July 4th, and the session resulted in the first bebop sides recorded in France, which makes this date one of the crucial moments in the history of French and European jazz.

In February 1948, the restless Charles Delaunay brought the great orchestra of Dizzy Gillespie to Paris. Delaunay rescued Gillespie's band during its European tour, making a deal directly with the musicians when their manager ran into financial troubles. He organized a series of concerts, plus an extremely effective publicity campaign. The big band performed at Salle Pleyel that same month, on Feb. 20,22 and 28. "Bebop provokes a new battle of Hernani at Salle Pleyel," read the France Soir issue of February 22. After Paris, Gillespie's big band visited Lyon and Nice. This was the first time many French jazz fans had a chance to hear bebop played live, and while many in the audience were ecstatic, some met Gillespie with astonishment and incomprehension. It was the young modernists who encouraged the musicians and their leader the most, and after listening to Gillespie's band, a number of musicians rushed to listen to the most recent bebop recordings  to try and learn how to play the new style. Bebop had landed in France with an unexpected force that not only surprised new fans, but also the musicians themselves.

Hubert Fol, impressed by the soloists, brassy arrangements and the rhythmic driving force that Dizzy's band displayed in concert, decided to put together and direct a similar studio band not long after. According to the well-known producer and jazz writer Andre Francis, it was one of the best jazz orchestras that France had ever had.

Not long after, two more American musicians arrived in Paris: trumpeter Dick Collins and tenor saxophonist Dave Van Kriedt (students and ex-members of the first Dave Brubeck's octet).

Both hailed from San Francisco and had followed composer Darius Milhaud, who was their teacher at Oakland's Mills College and who had decided after the war to return on alternate years to France to teach at the Paris Conservatoire. Collins and Van Kriedt — two modernists — joined Hubert Fol in a new version of his "BoBop Minstrels", and on March 17, 1948, they recorded four sides for the Swing label. Bebop master drummer Kenny Clarke, who arrived in France with Gillespie's band, decided to stay in Paris for a time. Clarke was with them for the session, and so were Persiany and bassist George Hadjo. For two years, Kenny took Parisian Jazz to a period of prosperity. He recorded extensively and participated in many concerts, giving his advice and experience to a lot of jazzmen.

Later, on May 20 and 21, Hubert Fol, along with pianist Jack Dieval, was invited by the Italian Jazz Federation as the French representatives to play with their Italian counterparts in the Florence festival. They had a warm reception, and their performances were a success.

Come summer, Van Kriedt left the Be-Bop Minstrels and moved to Norway, the country of his forefathers. Without Van Kriedt, but with Dick Collins, who stayed in Paris one more year, the "minstrels" recorded again in November 15,1948, with a new rhythm section including Raymond Fol on piano, Alf "Totole" Masselier on bass, and the driving modern drummer Richie Frost, another American who played with James Moody and Jack Dieval in Paris before moving back to California in 1953. In 1958, Frost would have success as the drummer for rock star Ricky Nelson.

On October 3,1948 the Parisian Theatre Edouard VII started a series of concerts organized by Delaunay and Jazz-Hot, that took place every Sunday evening under the banner "Jazz Parade". On November 28, the Don Byas Quartet was the main attraction, and the Be-Bop Minstrels one of the featured groups in the ninth concert of the season. The "minstrels" were the same five men that had recorded few days earlier, but with the addition of Michel de Villers on alto sax. We can hear a rendition of Indiana in this CD, with de Villers taking the second solo. The "Jazz Parades" continued with success during 1949. No other weekly series of concerts had lasted so long in Paris.

The big thing in jazz from May 8 to 15,1949 was the Paris Jazz Festival, organized by Charles Delaunay, in collaboration with Frank Bauer, Eddie Barclay, and Jacques Souplet, at Salle Pleyel. Several American musicians were invited to perform. Among the modernists, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were the stars, but others like Al Haig, James Moody, Kenny Dorham, Tommy Potter, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and Tadd Dameron also brought life to the festival. Musicians from six European countries played too, France was represented by Hubert Pol, as well as Aimé Barelli, Jean-Claude Fohrenbach, Michel de Villers, Maurice Meunier, Hubert Rostaing, Bernard Hullin, Jean Bonal, André Ekyan, Leo Chauliac, Bernard Peiffer, Jack Dieval and a few others. "Jazz was jumping in Paris that week at the Salle Pleyel, and jazz fans from different countries were there to take in the festival. All the jazz clubs were nourishing — the Tabou, the Vieux Colombier, and the Club Saint Germain-des-Pres on the Left Bank — because all the musicians would go jamming after the nightly concerts or on nights when they did not have to appear at the festival," recalled trumpeter Bill Coleman, who was another of the Americans living in Paris those days.

Hubert quickly became one of the most capable French bebop players. In November 1949, he appeared with the Kenny Clarke All Stars accompanying Coleman Hawkins in one of the popular "Jazz Parades," and not a month later, Fol joined Hawk again in a sextet to record for the Vogue label. The date was December 21, and along them were Nat Peck, trombone, Jean-Pierre Mengeon, piano, Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke.

Despite Hubert Fol's remarkable progress within the realm of bebop, reviewers still made some remarks about the tone of his sound: "His melodic ideas are very endearing, but we would like his playing to be 'naughtier'." The clean tone, of course, had been ingrained in him by Hodges, who had been an influence to Fol well before he got into the more aggressive and daring style of Charlie Parker.

In December that year, right after the results of the Jazz-Hot Referendum were in, the Swing label gathered most of the winners in one of its studios to record a 78 rpm album. Only Django Reinhardt and Bernard Peiffer were missing. Although some musicians had never played together, and their respective styles were often different, the recording of "Blues 1950" by this French All Star group was very successful, thanks mostly to their enthusiasm and similar background. The next day, Hubert Fol joined trombonist Bill Tamper's orchestra for "La Nuit du Jazz" at the Coliseum. This popular jazz event, programmed and introduced by Charles Delaunay, took place every year shortly before Christmas.


His performances with the Be-Bop Minstrels went on for another year, until his career took an important turn, when he convinced Django Reinhardt to play again. The legendary gypsy guitarist found the perfect foil in Fol. On February 1951, after almost two years away from the scene, Django decided to leave his voluntary retirement when he was engaged to play at Club Saint Germain after its renovation. The club was then run by Fol's friend, Boris Vian, who wanted someone special for the re-opening. Django was that someone of course, and he was accompanied by a quintet put together and led by Hubert Fol, with his brother Raymond Fol on piano. Bernard Hullin, trumpet, Pierre Michelot on bass, and Pierre Lemarchand on drums. Backed by his young partners, Django explored and found new musical conceptions, in an effort to enrich his harmonic language. During their engagement, Roger Guérin and Maurice Vander replaced Raymond Fol and Bernard Hullin.

"For some years," Pierre Michelot remembered during an interview, "when Django was working, it was with some French musicians who were considered representatives of the avant-garde: Hubert Fol and Roger Guérin - the only genuine boppers at the time — but also Bernard Hullin, Raymond Fol, Maurice Vander, Pierre Lemarchand and myself on bass. I was a follower of Ray Brown, while the others were still chasing the style of the Swing Era." With his new group, Django seemed to change, to feel the need to renew himself, something he had not done for some time.

After their engagement at Club Saint-Germain, Hubert and Django went their separate ways. Django took some time off, while Hubert went on to lead a quintet that toured France and Italy, backing Dizzy Gillespie and Don Byas. Their tour lasted from the end of March until mid-April, and Hubert had with him trombonist Bill Tamper, and a rhythm section formed by Raymond Fol, Pierre Michelot and Pierre Lemarchand.

This was not the end of Hubert's collaboration with Django, though. Django spent most of his time in his house of Samois-sur-Seine fishing, and only visited Paris sporadically for concerts and recording sessions. One of those Parisian stints took place at club Ringside in January 1953, where he was engaged for a couple of weeks. He had called upon Hubert Fol again to lead the sextet that would accompany him. It was a time when Django wasn't much in demand anymore, and it would be only a few more months before his death. On January 30, after the engagement was over, he returned to the studio for the first time in over a year. The highlight of the session was Anouman, a song Django had created for Fol's saxophone, and one of his most beautiful compositions of all time. "At the time, Fol's playing was inspired in part by the finesse of American alto saxman Gigi Gryce, then living in Paris. Still, it was a sign of Django's admiration for Fol that he arranged the piece for him, much as Duke wrote compositions for his favored saxman Johnny Hodges. Never before and never again would Django create a song solely for another musician," wrote Michael Dregni on his magnificent book Django - The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend.

Just like Django, most of the great foreign musicians who had visited Europe had enjoyed their time playing with Fol, be it Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas or Dizzy himself, but also Rex Stewart, John Lewis, Kenny Clarke, James Moody, Jimmy Raney and others. This gave him enormous recognition among his colleagues and was also a source of jealousy for some.
From 1954 onwards, Hubert Fol alternated his performances and recordings, between groups that practiced modern jazz, and others that were in the more traditional swing style. As examples of this last vein, we have included some of his recordings with the Moustache Jazz Seven, in which Hubert speaks by himself in the language of pure music, easily moving from modern jazz into a more swing-era approach.

That year Hubert Fol performed at Club Saint-Germain with Geo Daly, Henri Crolla, Emmanuel Soudieux, Maurice Meunier and Roger Paraboschi. Also in 1954, he recorded with Michel de Villers, in Jack Dieval's big band, and was part of Tony Proteau's orchestra at Club Saint-Germain. The latter, during an interview for the Jazz-Hot magazine (No. 98, April 1955) confided to Jacques-Bernard Hess that "Hubert Fol is, I think, one of the only guys who really understood what Jazz is. He is often criticized for his irregularity; I see there a proof of his sensibility."


After more than a year away from the scene, Hubert reappeared at the Tabou at the end of 1955. This didn't go unnoticed by the great Bobby Jaspar, who wrote the following piece for the Jazz-Hot magazine (#105, December 1955).

"Nothing has made me happier lately, than a rumor that was spreading like a wind among the crowd of listeners that crammed the Cameleon during a jam session: 'Hubert Fol is at the Tabou and he's playing great.’ It had been a long time since Hubert had appeared in public, and maybe he was afraid that his name was fading, that he was becoming a legend of the past. That's not the case, of course. Nobody had forgotten him, and I'm sure I speak for all musicians when I say that, even if Hubert Fol stopped playing — something impossible in itself — we could never forget him, or the influence he has had in a whole generation of jazz musicians. I think it's fair to say that, setting trends and fads aside, very few musicians have managed to give so deeply to their art form, to achieve so much. Hubert has never played a single note on his saxophone without examining whether it was truly sincere, whether it managed to express real emotion. Grabbing his instrument has always been a serious matter for him, an act that primes every fiber of his being to start creating. Under his light, fun demeanor, he has kept the dignity of his work as an artist intact. That's why we want to hear him play as soon as possible."

In 1956 Hubert Fol was offered by Barclay an opportunity to record an EP with his own quartet, which included three young modern musicians who were among the best in Paris: pianist Rene Urtreger, bassist Jean-Marie Ingrand and drummer Jean-Louis Viale. They had been performing regularly for three years, and in their company we can hear Fol's playing is sinuous, moving, inventive, expert, always melodious and expressive. These three standards attest to that — A Fine Romance, They Can't Take That Away From Me and You Go to My Head.

In the fall of 1956, Saturdays and Sundays from 4:30 PM and until 7;30 PM., he played at Club Saint Germain with American tenorist Allen Eager, Martial Sola! on piano, Lloyd Thompson on bass, and Al Levitt on drums.

In 1957 he recorded with the Barney Wilen Quintet, and with the Kenny Clarke orchestra. From then on he disappeared from the recording studios, and limited himself to live performances.

In September 1962 Hubert Fol was hired by tenorist Guy Lafitte to play in a sextet that its leader described as "a modern extension of the spirit of Louis Jordan." The group had Bernard Vitet, trumpet, Gilbert Rovere, bass, and Charles Saudrais, drums, under the musical direction of pianist Raymond Fol. They had immediate success in several events, and for a week in November, were invited to appear at the "Milk Shake Show" at L'Olympia.

"La Nuit du Jazz" in 1962 took place at Salle Wagram, this time on December 15, and gathered a true panorama of French jazzmen, among them, Barney Wilen, Guy Lafitte, Henri Renaud, Michel de Villers, Martial Solal, Jean-Luc Ponty, Francois Jeanneau, Jef Gilson, George Arvanitas, Jean-Louis Chautemps, and also Hubert Fol, who received the praise of Hot Jazz for his performance.

After a season co-leading a quintet with trumpeter Roger Guérin, Hubert gradually moved away from the scene, and his appearances in public became increasingly scarce. One of the last took place on March 13,1964, when he joined fifty jazz musicians living in Paris in a concert at Salle Wagram for the benefit of Bud Powell.

Finally, he was forced to retire in the mid Sixties, when his mental health deteriorated. From then on he only played sporadically, until he died in Paris on February 19,1995.

Hubert Fol always had a loyal following in France, and for as long as he played, from 1950 and until 1964, he was ranked the number one alto saxophonist by the Jazz-Hot's yearly poll, which makes him one of the most honored jazz musicians in France.”                              —Jordi Pujol



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