A pianistic prodigy, Claude Bolling (born 1930) was already performing at age 14 as a professional Jazz musican with such big names as Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, and Kenny Clarke, making his first LP at 18. He continued his Eauropean music-making “underground” during the WWII, since Jazz was forbidden by the Nazis. This experience paid off toward the end of the war when many jazz musicians came to Paris. He quickly became the most sought-after pianist for concerts and records, and he finally had the opportunity to meet the musician he admired most, Duke Ellington. He was a major part of the traditional jazz revival in the late 1960s, and he became friends with Oscar Peterson.
There are few pieces of music written that can lay claim to being part of two completely
different genres of music, and Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano is surely one of them. Since its release in 1975, this work has become a Classic. After its initial release in 1975, Bolling’s Suite enjoyed a ride on the Bill Board charts for a record breaking 530 weeks (roughly ten years) and literally helped coin the musical term, Crossover in the process.
Appealing to people the world over, Flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, Pianist Claude Bolling, Bassist Max Hediguer and drummer Marcel Sabiani cut new ground with this fusion of classically influenced Jazz music and Jazz influenced classical music. As it seems is often the case, critics from both sides of each genre took some cutting stabs at this new work – but no matter what the critics said, the masses
simply loved it.
In the U.S., the album was nominated in 1975 for a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. A video recording of Bolling and Rampal playing the Suite was recorded in 1976 at the Palace of Versailles in France and released on the – at that time – brand new format of LaserVideo.
- “Baroque and Blue” – 5:18
- “Sentimentale” – 7:45
- “Javanaise” – 5:15
- “Fugace” – 3:50
- “Irlandaise” – 2:59
- “Versatile” – 5:07
- “Véloce” – 3:40
He has written music for over 100 films, including a 1957 documentary about the Cannes Film Festival, and films such as The Hands of Orlac (1960), World in My Pocket (1961), Me and the Forty Year Old Man (1965), Atlantic Wall (1970), Borsalino (1970), To Catch a Spy (1971), Le Magnifique (1973), Borsalino & Co. (1974), Flic Story (1975), The Passengers (1977), Silver Bears (1978), California Suite (1978), Jigsaw (L’Homme en colère) (1979), The Awakening (1980), Willie & Phil (1980), Three Men to Kill (1980), The Bay Boy (1984), He Died with His Eyes Open (1985), Try This One for Size (1989) and Chance or Coincidence (1998).
Bolling is also noted for a series of “crossover” collaborations with classical musicians, mixing Baroque elegance with modern swing. Following his work with Rampal, Bolling went on to work with many other musicians, from different genres, including guitarist Alexandre Lagoya, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, trumpeter Maurice André, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He has also worked with, and performed tributes to many others, including Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, and Oscar Peterson.
In the Baroque era, a suite was an instrumental collection of dance movements. In the Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, however, the term is used in its modern application, signifying an instrumental composition with a number of contrasting movements. There is also great fluctuation of mood within the movements caused by the constant dialogue between the jazz and classical elements which seem to fight, stimulate, mimic and interrupt each other. The Suite has seven movements.
Opening with the Baroque and Blues, the style immediately settles into Bolling’s fluid language, the dialogue between styles blending well and creating a sense of unity. Sentimentaleis a mellow slower movement, with a wonderful piano solo and flowing melody line. The longest of the movements, this is probably also one of the most enjoyable, with variations on the melody changing the character throughout. Javanaiseis a light and airy waltz in 5/4 which is reminiscent of Dave Brubeck.Fugaceis begins as a pastiche of a Bach Fugue which breaks down into jazz, while Irlandaisedemonstrates the influence of folk music. Versatileis another waltz, this time with a repeating rhythmic pattern giving a sense of halting flow. The final movement, Veloce, is an energetic and punchy movement, which gives the opportunity for the flute to shine.
Bolling had a very interesting interview with the New York Times, discussing the work with Allan Kozinn:
“A few years ago, when the record business began hitting rough economic waters, executives at the classics labels began searching for album concepts that would be nominally ”classical” but would sell enough copies to help balance the books. What they decided to pursue was the curious phenomenon they like to call the ”crossover” disk. Loosely defined, a crossover is any LP with a musical twist that might win it not only a segment of the classics market, but also a healthy share of the larger, more lucrative pop market. It could be anything – ”Switched-On Bach,” Yehudi Menuhin playing jazz standards with Stephane Grappelli, or Luciano Pavarotti singing ”O Sole Mio” – so long as it had a leg in each of two musical worlds.
The majority of crossovers use music that is already familiar, whether pop tunes sung by opera stars, or classics played with a jazz beat or in odd instrumentations. Ultimately, this mix-and-mismatch approach must wear thin, even for listeners who may have found it charming for an LP or two. Which may explain why Claude Bolling, the French jazz pianist and composer, has emerged as the leader of the pack in the crossover world. Rather than tamper with the standards, Mr. Bolling composes new works.
His efforts have earned him the Grand Prix du Disque six times.
In his crossover pieces, Mr. Bolling’s compositional strategy involves giving his classical soloist a through-composed part, written in a style replete with Baroque and classical gestures and allusions to the featured instrument’s repertory and idiomatic uses, while his own piano, bass and percussion trio interacts with a lightweight jazz counterpoint. It is a formula that seems to have been consistently successful, but which Mr. Bolling says he came upon purely be accident.
”It started, really, in 1970, with the Sonata for Two Pianos. I had met Jean-Bernard Pommier several times, and each time we met, people would say ‘Why don’t you play something for piano four hands, or two pianos?’ But the opportunity did not come until I was invited to perform on a television show, and was asked to provide an original number. I said to the producer, ‘I have a friend who is a classical pianist, and I am playing jazz; so why don’t I write something for the two of us?’ We did it, and it was a big success.
”Jean-Pierre Rampal and Alexandre Lagoya both heard that performance, and they asked me for works as well. But each said to me, ‘Look, I cannot play jazz, and I don’t want to try, so you must write me something that demands a strictly classical technique and interpretation.’ Therefore, there are no syncopations, no blue-notes and no jazz feeling in their parts. Those things are reserved for the piano, bass and drums. Have I ever been tempted to stretch their parts into jazz? No. why should I? It would spoil the contrast. As classical players, these musicians are so good, and they handle melody and expression so beautifully. Yet, they rarely have the opportunity to do that with new pieces, because contemporary classical music is -well, you know what it is. So, although I began writing these pieces just for fun, I now realize that they serve another purpose. They allow these performers to add new material in a classical style to their repertories, music with plenty of melody and, because of the jazz element, a new kind of sound.”
Ironically, the success of his classical/jazz scores has not made life entirely rosy for Mr. Bolling. In fact, it has brought him face to face with certain quirks of the classical music world that he finds frustrating and difficult to fathom. It seems to bother him, for instance, that his friend Jean-Pierre Rampal has thus far refused to play the ”Suite For Flute and Jazz Piano” in France. ”He told me he would play it as many times as possible, and with great pleasure, in the United States,” the composer explains uneasily, ”but not in France, because he says his public there would disagree.” Apparently for similar reasons, Mr. Rampal’s seven-year-old recording of the piece was only recently released in Europe.
”I don’t know,” Mr. Bolling says with a shrug, ”It’s a different mentality. But I must say, the American public is more open than any other public in the world. In France, the feeling among the jazz public is that if it doesn’t sound American, then it’s not good jazz. In America, we understand that one of the reasons people like our music is that they feel it sounds French. And the boundaries between the jazz and classical audiences are not so strict here: If a jazz performer wants to play a classical piece in his concert, he can, and if a classical musician wants to play my music, with its jazz elements, the audience accepts it and listens to it.”
I’m interested in all the ways you can bring musicians together, and I think we all have something to contribute, and something to learn from each other. Plus, I think the audience has something to learn from this kind of musical cross-fertilization.”
Mr. Bolling does, of course, have his detractors, those in both classical and jazz circles who dismiss his crossover efforts as little more than watered-down jazz with a thin classical veneer. It is criticism that Mr. Bolling is aware of , but which he does not take particularly seriously.
”What people say the music is, or is not, does not disturb me,” he insists. ”I have no pretension of inventing anything. I’m not writing pieces that are very concerned with the esthetics of music, or with presenting the image of genius. I am only writing music for fun. I try to maintain a certain level of taste and quality, of course. But my main purpose is to make the musicians happy, and if possible, to make the audience happy too.” – March 21, 1982, Page 002019 The New York Times Archives – Allan Kozinn
Claude Bolling’s Suite is a Jazz inspired work for classical flute and Jazz, hailed as a perfect representation of both genres which pioneered “crossover” music in the mid-seventies.
While retaining the integrity of the original work, Zafroics intends to push the boundaries of Suite, by emphasising the musical potential of Jazz and includes subtle African textures utilising percussion while experimenting with tonal colour.
We are super excited to announce that Dylan Tabisher, one of South Africa’s most prominent marimba and percussionist soloists will be joining Zafroics for the Bolling with an African Twist performance at the Arena Theatre, Artscape Theatre Centre
A big thanks to Paul Bothner Music for providing us with the drum kit Dylan will be playing on.
The brilliant Albert Combrink has joined Zafroics on piano for the Bolling Suite with an African Twist performance at the Arena Theatre, @Artscape in Cape Town. Looking forward tho this collaboration. Catch this interesting performance from the 27th to 30th August.