Program 6
"The French Gershwin"

MUSIC: Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano: Ragtime [CBS MK35128, Track 6] [UP THEN UNDER]

Have you ever heard French ragtime? How about a French Rag-Polka? Well, stick with me and I'll treat you to both by a composer I call "The French Gershwin." Welcome to Compact Discoveries; I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MUSIC: Fades out

When I was growing up, one of my older brothers loved classical music, and the other preferred jazz. So one of the advantages I had was being exposed to both types of music from an early age. Although I took to classical more than jazz, I like jazz and have a particular fondness for composers who combine the two: the American composer George Gershwin, for example, or the French composer, Claude Bolling.

It's surprising how many people I run into who have never heard of Bolling. Surprising, because his recording of his first Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio on CBS Records was on the Billboard list of classical best-sellers for over 530 weeks, a rare occurrence in the history of the charts. But that happened back in the 1970s and 80s. Now I guess he's a lot better known in France, where he won the top recording award, the Grand Prix du Disque, no less than six times.

Bolling's music, like Gershwin's, is full of beautiful melodies and jazzy rhythms. But, unlike Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F or American in Paris, Bolling's musical scale is tipped more to jazz than classical. This is because he doesn't use big classical orchestras, and the few instruments selected almost always include drums and bass used as a typical jazz rhythm section.

Nevertheless, Bolling is what is now called a "cross-over" composer, and his appeal to classical musicians, as well as audiences, is undeniable. He has composed pieces for Jean-Pierre Rampal, Alexandre Lagoya, Pinchas Zukerman, Emmanuel Ax, Yo-yo Ma and Maurice André, all of whom have recorded these works with Bolling and his jazz trio.

We don't have the time to hear all of these recordings today, so I thought I would do the next best thing and play samples from several of them.

We'll have a movement from Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio - the piece that was a classical best-seller for ten years - a bit later in the program. And I'll tell you more about Cluade Bolling as we go along. But right now I would like to start out with three movements from my very favorite work by Bolling - his Suite for Cello & Jazz Piano Trio. We'll hear the opening movement, which is called "Baroque in Rhythm," then the fourth movement, called "Ballade," and finally the fifth of the six movements, which is called "Romantique." The cellist is Yo-Yo Ma. Claude Bolling himself is at the piano. And Jean-Luc Dayan is on drums.

MUSIC: Bolling: Suite for Cello & Jazz Piano Trio [CBS MK 39059 tracks 1, 4 and 5]

Three excerpts from Claude Bolling's Suite for Cello & Jazz Piano Trio. Yo-Yo Ma was the cellist and Claude Bolling, the pianist.

Instead of two older brothers pulling him in two different musical directions simultaneously, as was my experience growing up, Bolling's first piano teacher - who had eclectic tastes - introduced him to both classical and jazz.

Born in Cannes, but raised in Paris, Bolling also studied music at the School of Life, going to jazz clubs, ballrooms and theaters. Above all he listened to records. His "teachers" were the jazz piano greats, especially Duke Ellington, who later became a good friend and admirer.

Bolling's own piano playing was so good, he began to make professional appearances when he was only 15, and cut his first recordings, with his own Dixieland group, when he was 18. He has since become one of the most popular jazz pianists in France.

At the beginning of the program, I promised you some French ragtime, and that's what we'll hear next. It's the "Ragtime" movement from Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano. We'll also listen to the seventh movement from this eight-movement suite. It is marked "Valse Lente." Pichas Zukerman is the violinist; Bolling the pianist.

MUSIC: Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano [CBS Masterworks MK 35128, tracks 6 and 7]

Two movements from Claude Bolling's Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano. Pinchas Zukerman was the violinist; the composer was at the piano.

In addition to his career as a jazz pianist and composer, Bolling has also worked as an accompanist and arranger. He has written more than a hundred scores for TV programs and films, working for such renowned directors as Philippe de Broca, Herbert Ross and Paul Mazursky. He did arrangements for Liza Minnelli and French singers Sacha Distel, Mireille Mathieu, Juliette Greco, Charles Trenet - even Brigitte Bardot. But he is best known in the United States for his suites for various instruments with piano jazz trio.

These originated in the early 1970s when a TV producer asked Bolling to create a five-minute musical segment. The producer wanted something "unusual," so Bolling wrote a brief piano duet for a friend of his who was a classical pianist. They played the short piece together and it was so successful that his friend asked him to expand the work into a full-fledged sonata for concert performance.

Jean-Pierre Rampal heard that work and asked Bolling if he would write something similar for jazz combo and classical flute. The result was the Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, which remained on the record charts for over ten years. Let's listen to the second movement from that seven-movement piece now. Bolling calls this "Sentimentale" - sentimental - and it is well named. Jean-Pierre Rampal is the flutist. The composer is at the piano.

MUSIC: Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano [CBS Masterworks MK 33233, track 2]

The Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano by Claude Bolling, who I've nicknamed "The French Gershwin" because he combines jazz rhythms and harmonies with classical music forms. Jean-Pierre Rampal was the flutist; Bolling was at the piano.

After the great success of the Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, other classical performers asked Bolling for compositions for their instruments, and one followed another. There was the cleverly-named Toot Suite for trumpet, the suites for violin, cello, chamber orchestra, and the Picnic Suite for flute and guitar - each using Bolling's distinctive and original melding of classical and jazz.

Let's listen to a movement from the Toot Suite next. It's the French "Rag-Polka" I mentioned at the start of the program. The trumpet soloist is Maurice André. Once again, Claude Bolling is at the piano.

MUSIC: Bolling's Toot Suite [CBS MK 36731, track 3]

That was fun, wasn't it? The "Rag-Polka" movement from Claude Bolling's Toot Suite for trumpet and piano jazz trio. Maurice André did the tooting. Tout de suite means "immediately" in French.

As you can see, I go for Bolling - especially his slow, romantic movements. So I'd like to end with one of these: "Tendre" - tender - from the Picnic Suite. This CBS Masterworks recording features Jean-Pierre Rampal on flute and Alexandre Lagoya on guitar. The composer is at the piano, Daniel Humair on drums, and Guy Pedersen on bass.

MUSIC: Bolling's Picnic Suite [CBS Masterworks MK 35864, track 6]

"Tendre" - tender - from the Picnic Suite by Claude Bolling. Jean-Pierre Rampal was the flutist; Alexandre Lagoya, the guitarist; and Claude Bolling, the pianist.

And this brings to a conclusion our Compact Discoveries hour devoted to "The French Gershwin." I hope you enjoyed these selections, and that you'll feel free to send your comments on this program to me in care of this station. Or e-mail me at That's - all one word with no spaces, capitals, hyphens or dashes.

MUSIC: Bolling's Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio : Romantique [CBS MK39059, Track 5] [UP THEN UNDER]

Compact Discoveries is made possible by the members of WXEL-FM and the financial support of Barry and Florence Friedberg, Maurice and Thelma Steingold and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The program was written, produced, recorded, and edited by your guide, Fred Flaxman, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.


  ©2009 Compact Discoveries