Focus on European Jazz #3Posted on Feb 14, 2010 by BlastKid |
Episode 3: Big Jazz from little Belgium
If you’ve ever visited Brussels, you’ve probably heard of or even visited a small bar in art deco style called L’Archiduc. You might have heard of it because all the hipsters go there or you might have heard that Jacques Brel performed there. But did you know that that beautiful piano in the middle of the bar used to be the property of Stan Brenders? Did you know that Stan Brenders, the first owner of the bar, used to be a jazz musician? Did you know that in 1927, he was the piano player of Chas Remue and his New Stompers, and that this Belgian group went to the Edison-Bell studios in London that year to record fourteen tracks, released on seven 78 rpm records, which are considered to be the first jazz recordings by a European band?
This shows how our little country was involved with jazz from the very beginning. In the following two decades, Belgium had a lot of great swing jazz orchestra’s, of which those of Jean Omer, Fud Candrix, Stan Brenders (The orchestra of the NIR, the Belgian national radio and television) and Jack Kluger were the most important, and scored high in international tournaments in Paris and The Netherlands. The swing era was in full bloom when the second world war broke out, but ironically, swing never had been as big as during the war. Although ‘Swing Tanzen’ was ‘verboten’ by the nazi’s, there were a lot of nightclubs in Brussels where you could still hear swing jazz.
By the end of the forties, when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had put jazz upside down and their be-bop music paved the way for modern jazz, a new generation of musicians emerged. A bunch of youngsters in the city of Liège led by Jacques Pelzer and Bobby Jaspar called the Bob Shots were (one of) the first be-bop group(s) in Europe. In 1947, the famous Down Beat magazine published a picture of the Bob Shots under the title ‘The most famous jazz combo in Europe’.
As the fifties and modern jazz arrived, a lot of our jazzmen such as Benoît Quersin, Sadi and Bobby Jaspar, were to be found in Paris, where jazz musicians from over the world gathered to play and record together.
Fats Sadi – Laguna Leap
In 1953, Sadi got the chance to record an album for Vogue under his own name. He put together a combo with Bobby Jaspar, Roger Guerin, Nat Peck, Jean Aldegon, Maurice Vandair, Jean-Marie Ingrand and Jean-Louis Viale. This 10” record would even be released on the legendary Blue Note label a year later.
Herman Sandy – Digging Chick
Meanwhile in Brussels, jazz critics Albert Bettonville and Carlos De Radzitzky joined forces with the well-known department store Innovation, now known simply as Inno, to release three 10” records in a series called ‘Innovation en Jazz’, meaning ‘Innovation in Jazz’, a wordplay referring to the store itself, but also to the progressive, modernist character of the music. The third record in this series was made by trumpeter Herman Sandy and his Quartet.
Jacques Pelzer/Herman Sandy Quintet – Salute The Band Box
In 1956, a jam session with a select crowd of musicians and jazz critics was held in the Decca studios in Brussels. The musicians were Jacques Pelzer on sax, Herman Sandy on trumpet, Jean Fanis on piano, Jean Warland on bass and Jo De Muynck on drums. They recorded seven tracks that would end up on a 10” called ‘Jazz For Moderns’. From this record, you hear a Gigi Gryce composition called ‘Salute The Band Box’.
René Goldstein – Witch Of Salem
One of the most important events in the history of Belgium was the World Expo in 1958. It was then that modernism officialy entered Belgium and it showed that we were heading towards the golden sixties. The most modernist music was jazz of course, so at the World Expo in Brussels there was one day dedicated to Belgian jazz, where young musicians had the chance to play with the bigger names in Belgium. Record label Decca recorded those sessions and put them out on a 10” record entitled Jazz in Little Belgium. One of those established names that day was bass player René Goldstein, who is featured with the piece ‘Witch Of Salem’.
Jack Sels – African Dance
Although Brussels and Liège were the main citys in Belgium when it came to jazz, Antwerp had its small scene as well. The key player in that scene was Jack Sels, an underrated saxophone player who never got the recognition he deserves, which is a shame because he recorded ‘African Dance’, one of my personal favorites of Belgian jazz tracks. It features Jack Sels on saxophone, a young Philip Catherine on guitar, Lou Bennet from France on organ and the American drummer Oliver Jackson.
Jack Sels – Blues For A Blonde
After having seen the Dizzy Gillespie band perform live in Belgium in 1948, be-bop lover Jack Sels got inspired and dreamt of a similar orchestra. He did a lot of experiments with different groups, but none of them were commercially livable. A few years after being hired by the Belgian national Radio and Television to create the ‘Levende Jazz’ (‘Living Jazz’) series, Sels formed his group Saxorama. The track ‘Blues For A Blonde’ was composed by Jack Sels and he also recorded it with his own tape deck. It wasn’t released until after his death, when Edmond Devoghelaere took a dive into the personal archives of Jack Sels and put them out on his legendary Vogel-label in the early seventies. Sels had a hard time surviving as a jazz musician and even had to work in the Antwerp harbour at the end of his life. He died in 1970.
The St. Tropez Jazz Octet – Why Not
‘Jazz Goes Swinging’ is the title of a late sixties record by the St. Tropez Jazz Octet, a different name for the Belgian Johnny Dover Octet. Their sound is often compared to the Clarke-Boland Big Band style, which I can understand, but certain record dealers want to make you believe that Sahib Shihab played on it to raise the price, but that’s not the fact. Information on who the players were is hard to find, and a lot of speculations have been made. I know for sure that Johnny Dover, Alex Scorier, Freddy Rottier and Marc Moulin are on the record, and although I don’t want to speculate too much, I’d dare to make an educated guess by saying that the rest of the personnel included Nicolas Kletchovsky, , Richard Rousselet a.o. (indeed, all of them would later play with Placebo).
René Thomas – Wonderful Wonderful
Back to the city of Liège then. I want to shine some light on two of the most important Belgian jazz musicians ever, Bobby Jaspar, who played flute and saxophone, and René Thomas, who played the guitar. Both of them had similar careers, starting in Liège, then Paris in the early fifties before making a career in the United States and eventually returning to Europe. René Thomas lived in Canada and played a lot with Sonny Rollins and Zoot Sims. When he returned to Europe in the early sixties he recorded the album Meeting Mr. Thomas, of which I chose Wonderful, Wonderful.
Bobby Jaspar – There will never be another you
Bobby Jaspar, for his part, played with Miles Davis, JJ Johnson, Gil Fuller and Donald Byrd in the mid fifties in the US. It was during a European tour in 1958 with Donald Byrd’s band that he played on Byrd’s legendary Paris sessions, and recorded an album for Barclay under his own name, including this beautiful version of There Will Never Be Another You.
René Thomas/Bobby Jaspar Quintet – Bernie’s Taste
In 1961, Rene Thomas and Bobby Jaspar returned to Europe to play at the legendary Comblain-La-Tour festival, close to Liège. A few months later, they recorded together in Italy, with Amedeo Tommasi, Maurizio Majorana, Franco Mondini and Francesco La Bianco to record a beautiful album called Thomas- Jaspar Quintet. A few months after this session, they recorded a legendary album with Chet Baker called Chet is Back. Afterwards, Jaspar returned to the US where he’d die in 1963. René Thomas stayed in Europe to play with Stan Getz. From their Italian album, you can hear the tune Bernie’s Taste.
Jacques Pelzer – Work Song
I only recently discovered that Jacques Pelzer, a saxophone player from Liège had also made recordings in Italy, and I wondered how he ever got to Italy, because most of his records were made in Belgium. I found the answer in the wonderful biography of Chet Baker by Jeroen De Valk. Chet Baker and Jacques Pelzer had met in Paris in the fifites and became best friends really quickly. Jacques Pelzer played with Chet Baker in the US, while Baker stayed with Pelzer when he was in Europe. It was at the aforementioned Comblain-La-Tour festival in 1960 that Chet Baker asked Pelzer to join him to record in Italy, but as they arrived there, Chet was arrested at the airport for drug use. So Jacques Pelzer played with Chet’s band while Chet was in jail. In 1961, Pelzer recorded an album with Dino Piana, Maurizio Lama, Benoit Quersin, also a Belgian, and Franco Mondini.
Hein Huysmans Kwintet – Marakesh
As we move into the seventies, a difficult era for jazz, we see that there are some jazz artists that really knew how to keep up with the new musical styles. One of the artists who emerged at that time was Hein Huysmans, a vibraphone player who played in different big bands and commercial orchestras, but managed to form his own quintet in 1973. A few years later, they released their only lp, which is a great record with lots of funk and some latin influences. This is Marakesh.
Open Sky Unit – Sunshine Star
A Belgian jazzman who was always ahead of his time was Jacques Pelzer. The man was one of the first musicians to play bebop in Europe, being influenced by Charlie Parker. Later on, his biggest idol was John Coltrane, but in the seventies he played with Open Sky Unit, a jazzfunk band who released only one album, that was recorded live and only sold at concerts. Luckily, it was reissued a while ago by WhatMusic. Open Sky Unit was a group that originated from jam sessions. The personnel were Jacques and his daughter Micheline Pelzer, their cousin Steve Houben, bass player Janot Buchem, percussion player Michel Graillier and keyboard player Ron Wilson, who wrote all compositions and who you can hear singing.
Jacques & Micheline Pelzer Quartet – Naima
Jacques Pelzer’s musicianship and ability of playing different styles is very clear on the album ‘Song For René’. Recorded live at the festival of Huy in ‘75, less than a year after the Open Sky Unit concert, ‘Song For René’ is a mixture of funky, modal and free jazz with some bossa nova influences in different places. Pelzers admiration for John Coltrane is very clear in this version of the Coltrane classic ‘Naima’, where his daughter Micheline provides the backbeat again.
Placebo – Dag Madam Merci
The most legendary band to ever emerge from Belgium was Marc Moulin’s Placebo. They released three albums that perfectly blend jazz with the psychedelic soul of Norman Whitfield and fusion of groups like Weather Report and Soft Machine. From their self titled album, I selected Dag Madam Merci.
- Jeroen De Valk “Chet Baker, Herinneringen aan een lyrisch trompettist” (including an interview with Jacques Pelzer)
- Thierry Coljon “Les Neuf Vies De Marc Moulin”
- Gaston Bogaerts “Dance Band, Quand Bruxelles Jazzait”
- Jazz In Little Belgium “The catalogue of the exhibition of Robert Pernets collection in the Music Instruments Museum in Brussels”
- Jean-Pol Schroeder “Histoire Du Jazz à Liège”
- “Dictionnaire Du Jazz à Bruxelles et en Wallonie” (various authors)
- “Jazz Halo magazine n° 3, july 1997″ (featuring articles on Jack Sels, Bobby Jaspar & René Thomas)
- antiek.be (discographies of Jack Sels, Jacques Pelzer, Sadi and Bobby Jaspar)