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The French Connection: An Interview with Pianist Jacques Chanier

By Brian L. Knight


French pianist Jacques Chanier came to the United States to attend Berklee School of Music and he has never looked back. Since his school days, he has been involved with some great Boston area jazz musicians such as Henry Cook and Salim Washington. After years as a talented sideman, Chanier recently recorded his first solo album – Kite Flight (La Ronde Music, 2000). Featuring drummer Brooke Sofferman and bassist Thomas Kneeland, Kite Flight is a beautiful journey through be-bop, blues, hard bop, swing and the avant-garde with Chanier’s fast paced fingers always providing uplifting solos. The Vermont Review communicated with Jacques and found out a bit about the Frenchman’s escapades in New England.

VR: What prompted your move from France to Boston?

JC: I came to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music

VR: Who did you listen to as a youth?

JC: My father was a classical music lover. He spent a lot of weekends listening to his stereo system. A competent in a music edition company, he would end up with left over concert tickets. I was fortunate enough to go to the premiere of very interesting concerts. Classical music was all there was for me at the time. We did not go out much! Later on, in my teenage years, I got involved in rock music ( Jimmy Hendrix, Doors, Frank Zappa...etc.).

VR: It seems that many European players have strong classical music backgrounds. How about you?

JC: Not that strong! I began with 3 years of solfeggio (a vocal exercise) at age 7, and took weekly piano lessons after that.

VR: What has been the allure of Boston since your arrival here?

JC: When I first arrived here, it was like a fairy tale. So much music, so good. So many places! I was not a good enough of a jazz player to participate. And my professional days as a rock/pop musician were over. I could not stand that music scene any longer. So I had to take many jobs (mason helper, cab driver, dish washer, etc.), and continued studying privately with a great teacher: Charlie Banacos. Occasionally I would try some jam sessions, coming back home with even more reasons to practice.

VR: There seems to be some great musicians in the Boston area. Is there a vibrant supporting nightlife?

JC: Very vibrant. Unbelievable musicians everywhere. The scene here is still very intimidating. Fortunately most musician are very supportive.

JC: How did you become involved with Henry Cook?

JC: Henry was hosting a jam session at the Midway in Jamaica Plain (Boston area). The music coming out of there blew my mind. Bobby Ward on drums brought an energy level that was totally new to me, as well as reaching some deep emotion inside me. I played a few times and Henry ask me to come to the session regularly. I was in heaven.

VR: Could you tell me a little about the band Mr. Ming? What kind of music do you play?

JC: This Band host a Jam session on Tuesdays at the Natick Center for the Arts. Bassist Doug Reach is the leader. Patrick Mottaz, the guitarist, writes all the original compositions. Thomas Kneeland plays drums. Many other musicians have joined the band on different gigs. The music varies from jazz standards to fusion. Unfortunately, because I have became very busy, I had to stop going over there regularly. I miss them so!


VR: What are some of your favorite tracks on Kite Flight?

JC: Sincerely, it is not possible for me to choose one track over the other. Every song represents a moment in my life. Also, I used to be so critical of my work that I would simply stop myself from accepting anything. So, now, once the music is recorded, I just let it be.

VR: How long have you been playing with Brooke Sofferman and Thomas Kneeland?

JC: I met Thomas on a gig in Peterborough, New Hampshire a year and a half ago. We where playing background jazz as a duo. I had a great time that day and knew that I wanted to play with him again. A few weeks later I was asked to play at the Cambridge Multicultural Center for the Centanni Park Concert series. I called Thomas and he recommended Brook as a Drummer.

VR: One of the album’s tunes is "Remembering Miles" . What most do you like remembering about the talented trumpet player?

JC: His always-evolving music. His ability to recognize and welcome changes without loosing his voice and identity.

VR: What aspects of his own songwriting/playing make it into your own style/approach?

JC: His impressionistic style. The emotional content of his musical lines.

VR: Another one of your songs is "Blueberry Pancakes". Are you a fan?

JC: Yes! All this flavors and colors falling randomly in your plate! Magic! I try to stay away from the syrup!

VR: Where are you happiest musically playing ballads; up tempo swinging or pushing it out a little bit?

JC: I love transitions. Going from one to the other just like entering a brand new world each time. I love to push it out a lot, even to the point of serious danger. I always welcome musical situations where this is welcome.

VR: I am going to name some names. I would love to hear what you have to say about them. McCoy Tyner?

JC: He is the first jazz pianist I listened to. At that time I did not understand what he was doing (I am still trying!), but I could not stop listening to him. For many months, I had one single tape in my car and the radio was broken; that tape was 4x4. I listened to that tape every day!

VR: Michel Petrucciani

JC: The precursor of a new generation of French piano players. I love his beautiful melodies.

VR: Martial Solal

JC: Underrated player. I feel guilty that I don't know him better. Every thing I heard was killing.

VR: John Scofield?

JC: A great Guitarist. I think I played with him in one of my dreams. It was great. I'll keep practicing!!

VR: Cecil Brooks?

JC: Playing with him is always fun. He can in just a couple of notes change the mood of what was just being played before. He always has something interesting to say.

VR: Salim Washington

JC: A great player with a very clear vision of who he is and where he wants to go. A very nice man. When he takes a solo, a gentle strong force diffuses on the stage.


VR: Dave Holland?

JC: THE bass player.

VR: Cecil Taylor?

JC: I have seen him play at the Knitting Factory in NY. Through the concert I watched his back muscles. He made me aware of the physical side of playing piano. I now pay attention to my endurance. This reminds me that I did not run enough this week.

VR: John Medeski?

JC: I love his playing. I have to go see him perform.

VR: Herbie Hancock?

JC: What can be said about the greats! Listen to them, learn from them, but, by no means, don't imitate them. You will never be as good as they are any way. He is such a strong voice! Hard to resist.

VR: Art Tatum

JC: A Piano prodigy

VR: From where do you find your inspiration to compose music?

JC: Mainly from emotional states. I will not use composition techniques just for the sake of using them. I have to start with an idea that moves me and then I develop it with whatever compositional tool will best serve that idea.

VR: How was Berklee for you in terms of helping you out today?

JC: Berklee was probably one of the very best times in my life. I only regret that, because of my poor English at the time, I missed some aspect of what the school had to offer. It took many years to try to integrate all the things that I have learned there. I am still working on it. I could do the all thing all over again and probably get as much out of it as the first time.

VR: Does every piano have its own identity/personality?

JC: Definitely. It’s a brand new adventure each time.

VR: What are your plans for the future?

JC: Continue playing, teaching, taking lessons.

Find out more about Jacques Chanier at http://www.larondemusic.com