In the southwest of France in August 2008, American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and French accordionist Richard Galliano teamed up on a musical tribute to Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf at the Jazz in Marciac Festival. The challenge was to translate the music of two legendary singers into instrumental versions without the benefit of voices or lyrics. Marsalis and Galliano surmounted that challenge with nine artful arrangements that are striking in their rhythmic variety. From the dizzying waltz tempo of La Foule to the infectious swing of Them There Eyes to the haunting performance of Strange Fruit, the magic of this concert has been faithfully captured in sound as well as in video through a special bonus DVD and is a must-have item for serious jazz collectors and casual listeners alike.

Track Listing

La Foule 6:44 Play
Them There Eyes 6:23 Play
Padam … Padam 8:10 Play
What a Little Moonlight Can Do 8:55 Play
Billie 6:53 Play
Sailboat in the Moonlight 5:57 Play
L’Homme à La Moto 11:08 Play
Strange Fruit 7:16 Play
La Vie En Rose 8:30 Play

Liner Notes

The first breathes the past into his present; the second, vice versa. Beyond their careers, what do these two soloists have in common, if not something greater than they are? It had to be two women, two legends, naturally: Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. Each might have followed in the other’s footsteps, so much did their lives resemble a Greek tragedy with traits exacerbated by the twentieth century; each carried scars too visible to be appeased by the unction of fame. Pain at the limit of their voices, hard times, that rose-tinted view («la vie en rose») which turned blue when Gloomy Sunday* dawned…those clichés and, more than that, the titles one associates with the two, say it all…

Even so, does this virtuoso-trumpet and emancipated-accordion pairing announce just another fling between jazz and the popular French waltz they call the java? The whirling themes of the latter, a suggestion of swing beyond swing, are present of course; the music sways in motion and, although with a different mathematical elasticity, it appears to have been seasoned by some transatlantic kiss. Above all, there’s that cross-culture which Richard Galliano proclaims—from Bach to Satie and from Charlie Parker to Bill Evans— and Richard has done more than just camouflage its trail (transmuting himself into a harmonica, piano, organ, flute, furtive breath, even…); he has established the accordion within the jazz family.

Probably, too, Wynton Marsalis’ association with classical music, not forgetting his admiration for Maurice André, and his adaptation to the culture of France’s musical codes (reinforced by his yearly pilgrimages to Marciac) have become an obvious inclusion to his unparalleled work in jazz, a legacy of which he is now much more than the curator-in-chief. An entire emotional genealogy escapes from the bell of Wynton’s trumpet, masterfully so, like a family-tree whose bark has been rubbed with the bracing garlic of his imagination; his phrases are boldly meditated, and as controlled as they remain expressive…with or without that plunger from the echos of Ellingtonia.

And so it was that, in reaching out to each other, by turns with Billie and Edith on their arms, they brought to its feet the Marciac marquee filled with people who came to hear a sparrow perched on a gardenia.

En Français

Le premier souffle du passé dans son présent; le second, l’inverse. Qu’est-ce qui pouvait réunir ces deux solistes, par-delà leur tracé de carrière, si ce n’est une idée plus grande qu’eux? Il a fallu que ce soit deux femmes, deux légendes à coup sûr: Edith Piaf et Billie Holiday. Elles auraient pu réciproquement s’emboîter le pas tant leur vie s’apparente à une tragédie grecque dont le vingtième siècle aurait exacerbé les traits: chacune portait une cicatrice trop voyante pour être apaisée par l’onction de la célébrité. La souffrance au bout de la voix, le mal de vivre, (« la vie en rose ») qui tourne au bleu à l’aube d’un « sombre dimanche * » : ces clichés et, plus encore, les titres auxquels ils sont associés disent tout…

Mais une trompette virtuose et un accordéon émancipé annoncent-ils la énième rencontre entre le jazz et la java? Ils sont pourtant bien là, ces thèmes en forme de valse, au tourbillon suggérant ce swing au-delà du swing, ce balancement qui, pour n’être pas d’une égale élasticité, semble aguerri par un baiser d’outre-Atlantique. Surtout, il y a cette culture transversale revendiquée par Richard Galliano –de Bach à Satie, de Charlie Parker à Bill Evans- qui, non content de brouiller les pistes en se transmuant tour à tour en harmonica, en piano, en orgue, en flûte, en respirs furtifs…a imposé l’accordéon dans la famille du jazz.

Et sans doute le passé de musicien classique de Wynton Marsalis (on pense aussi à son admiration pour Maurice André), son acculturation aux codes musicaux de notre pays, renforcée par le pèlerinage marciacais sont venu compléter son Jazz sans précédent, dont il est devenu bien plus que le conservateur en chef. Du pavillon de la trompette de Wynton s’échappe en toute maîtrise une généalogie affective frottée à l’aïl tonifiant de son imagination; des phrases hardiment pensées, aussi contrôlées qu’elles restent expressives… avec ou sans le débouche-évier des échos Ellingtoniens.

C’est ainsi qu’en allant chacun à la rencontre de l’autre, tour à tour au bras de Billie et à celui d’Edith, ils ont fait se lever un chapiteau qui était venu entendre un moineau perché sur un gardénia.

Sidemen

Wynton Marsalis (trumpet); Richard Galliano (accordion); Walter Blanding (saxophones), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ali Jackson (drums).