[JPL] French Pianist Says Jazz Builds Cultural Bridges

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Thu Dec 13 06:49:23 EST 2007


French Pianist Says Jazz Builds Cultural Bridges
By Mike O'Sullivan 
Los Angeles
12 December 2007

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Music is said to be the universal language, and jazz, in particular, travels
well from one culture to the next. A recent conference in Los Angeles looked
at the ties forged by jazz between France and the United States. Mike
O'Sullivan spoke with noted French pianist Rene Urtreger about the influence
of jazz in his country.

The American singer Josephine Baker, escaping racial prejudice at home,
became a sensation in France in the 1920s and 1930s.

Other jazz musicians would follow, including tenor saxophonist Coleman
Hawkins in the 1930s.

Rene Utreger
Rene Urtreger, a noted jazz musician in Paris, says the French embraced the
American music in the 1930s, but the jazz clubs were silent under the German
occupation of World War II.

"Of course, during the occupation by the Nazis, jazz was forbidden because
it was supposed to be a music, let's say, 'decadent,'" Urtreger said.

But after the hardships of the war, he says the French welcomed jazz and
other imports.

"When the war was finished, the French people were ready for American
influence of movies and food and jazz," he said. "There were many young
people who loved jazz and were very eager to go to the concerts."

Among the Americans who came to Paris was jazz coronetist and trumpeter
Sidney Bechet.

Urtreger was also part of the vibrant cultural scene in the St. Germain
section of Paris, where philosophers, writers and artists met to talk in
cafes and listen to jazz. He played with visiting jazz greats Lester Young
and Miles Davis.

Urtreger came to Los Angeles for a conference on jazz and art in California
and France, sponsored by the Getty Research Institute. California had a
spirited music and art scene in the 1950s, when San Francisco and Venice
Beach became the West Coast centers of the Beat movement, which celebrated
jazz, modern art and free-form poetry.

Urtreger says musicians share a common culture, but absorb new influences as
they play. He says that as a young pianist in the clubs of Paris, he never
dreamed this music would be the subject of conferences. But he enjoyed
meeting with scholars and other musicians, and playing some jazz.

Urtreger says he loves jazz because it is unpredictable, and he complains
about musicians who follow the score too closely, including a few big names
who have played in Paris.

"Jazz is supposed to be a music of improvisation, of madness," said Utreger.
"We don't know exactly what's going on in the next five minutes. But with
those people coming, they were playing a perfect show. For instance, I had
to play one week with a saxophone player, very well known, and the third day
or the fourth day, I knew exactly what he was going to do. And this - I
cannot accept this."

Jazz great Louis Armstrong told musicians to "never play a thing the same
way twice." Rene Urtreger follows the advice. He says jazz is an adventure
inspired by the moment, and each song is an exploration, for musicians and
audiences, wherever they are.


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