Monday, February 5, 2018

Eddy Louiss, Ivan Jullien and PORGY & BESS

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

"There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. (...) Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it."
- Ernest Hemingway, 1960 Extract from A Moveable Feast

“French trumpeter, arranger, composer, and conductor Ivan Jullien paired up with organist Eddy Louiss for this expansive 1971 version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. An ambitious combination of small-group jazz, big band, and Gil Evans-style orchestration, Jullien's Porgy and; Bess also found him eschewing stylistic traditions with charts that touched upon hard bop, old-school swing, and AM pop, and even made room for bursts of electric fusion. It remains a landmark of French jazz and one of Jullien's most memorable recordings.”
- Matt Collar,

Some years ago, I remember mentioning to a friend who lived and worked in Paris that I didn’t recall seeing much in the way of French big band Jazz.

“That’s because you don’t know where to look for it,” he said.

A few days later, he sent me some recordings that featured compositions and arrangements by Ivan Jullien, someone I had known primarily as a French Jazz trumpet player.

If you’ll excuse the bad attempt at a pun, Jullien’s work just blew me away.

I was particularly impressed with his collaboration with Hammond B-3 organist Eddy Louiss on George Gershwin’s light opera Porgy and Bess which was produced in 1971 as a Riviera LP [421.083] and later released as number 41 of the Jazz in Paris CD series [Gitanes Jazz Productions 013 039-2].

The respected French Jazz critic Alain Tercinet had this to say about the recording in his insert notes to the CD [Martin Davies translated these from the French.].

"An organ springing out of the sea
It's not Nemo, it's Eddy
Hoisting the organ on the horizon
Heave ho, it's Louiss".

"That's Claude Nougaro's tribute in song to one of his most loyal accompanists, an arranger and composer too, on occasion. For Paris Mai, for example, or C'est Eddy. "He's a genius", said Stan Getz, who'd fallen under the spell of his music and joined his trio on impulse. Eddy Louiss is now a man of Rabelaisian fanfares, the soul of Multicolore Feeling, and he, better than anyone, knew how to make the Hammond organ dance — an awkward instrument to say the least, if not as ungainly as a Henri II antique — probably because Eddy maintained a passionate and impassioned relationship with it : one day it was "Little by little, the organ became vital to me, it totally integrated itself inside my musical universe" - and the next day : "This organ's a bloody pain. Sometimes all my feelings just can't get out. As if the instrument had its own inertia. Except when I'm playing well, obviously."

That was something that happened more often than not. It happened on November 12th 1971 too, when Eddy was recording Ivan Jullien's rather iconoclastic version of "Porgy and Bess". A trumpeter and arranger before he turned to leading a band, Ivan Jullien had acquired solid big-band experience during his years with Daniel Jeannin — who'd been in the pit orchestra at the Olympia theatre for a time — and also with Jacques Denjean. He'd led the Paris Jazz All Stars in 1965, when it came into existence for a concert in Hamburg. "For us French musicians", he said, "it was quite a revelation, because French jazz in the big-band format was something we'd stopped believing in !" The following year, he recorded his first album with the cream of France's musicians, an album entitled "Paris Point Zero". It was during those sessions that he was inspired to throw an immortal line at Michel Portal : "Listen, old man, we're not looking for perfection here, this is jazz we're doing !"

This time there were 26 musicians, among them Benny Vasseur [trombone]and Jean-Louis Chautemps [tenor sax], but also Michel Grallier [piano], Pierre Cullaz [guitar] and Andre Ceccarelli [drums]. However, except for Ceccarelli, who was omnipresent and consistently apposite, and Ivan Jullien, who played a few short phrases on trumpet, none of them took a solo. They weren't there to provide accompaniment, but to provide an envelope that surrounded, submerged (and brought back to the surface) the Hammond of Eddy Louiss. The orchestra did this with sumptuous, moving layers of sound in a spirit that was inherited from Gil Evans, but contained nothing borrowed….

Would Gershwin have approved if he'd heard his work without such famous pieces as Summertime and It ain't necessarily so? Would he have recognised his Gone, gone, gone or There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York ? Behind the two long and abundant performances by Eddy Louiss, who navigates his instrument through all kinds of weather ? Probably not, but given the result, he would certainly have taken his hat off to them."

[Ed. note: Gone, Gone, Gone is not part of the original Gershwin opera, but was written in the spirit of it by Gil Evans for the recording of Porgy and Bess that he arranged for Miles Davis].

Eddy, with drummer Andre Ceccarelli’s “urging,” really turns it loose on the following video montage which is set to Ivan Jullien’s arrangement of There’s a Boat Dats Leavin’ Soon For New York.

I’m sure glad that my Parisian ami showed me where to look for French Big Band Jazz.

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