Claude Bolling, Jazzman With Crossover Appeal, Dies at 90
Claude Bolling, a jazz pianist and composer with remarkable crossover appeal, whose 1975 album “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano” had been on the Billboard Classic Album list for more than 10 years, died on December 29 in Garches, a suburb of Paris. He was 90 years old.
His death was announced on his website, which did not provide any further details.
Mr. Bolling played and composed in various styles – the Claude Bolling Big Band played regularly for years at the Hotel Méridien Etoile in Paris – and wrote the scores for dozens of films and TV shows in France and Hollywood. But “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano”, written for and recorded with the famous classical flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, made him a new name.
Although the record was criticized by both classics and jazz purists as “watered down jazz with a thin classical veneer”, the listening audience was enthusiastic. News reports from the mid-1980s that found it was still in the charts after a decade said that only Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon” had achieved such longevity at that point. (“Dark Side” stayed in the Top 200 album list until 1988 and has returned regularly.)
Mr. Bolling was inspired to pursue other crossover projects, including the 1980 album Picnic Suite, recorded with Mr. Rampal and guitarist Alexandre Lagoya. A picture on Mr. Bolling’s website shows the classic Billboard album table from September 4, 1982. “Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano” is in the 343rd week of the table at number 5, “Picnic Suite” 5th place 22, his “Toot Suite for Trumpet and Jazzpiano” on place 27, his “Concert for Classical Guitar and Jazzpiano” on place 30 and his “Original Boogie Woogie” on place 39th.
“Claude’s music was so engaging,” said flautist Pamela Sklar, who toured with Mr. Bolling for eleven seasons, via email, “because it distilled attributes of sophisticated classical and esoteric jazz styles into accessible palettes of happiness, excitement, innocence.” Pathos, playfulness and sincerity. “
Ms. Sklar interviewed Mr. Bolling in 2010 for an article in The Flutist Quarterly. He remembered how the success of the 1975 album had changed his fate.
“At the time, when I was thinking about a concert in the US, all I could think of was a little jazz club in the small American town,” he said. “Thanks to Jean-Pierre Rampal and this ‘suite’ it was my first concert in Carnegie Hall!”
Mr Bolling was born on April 10, 1930 in Cannes, France, in a hotel of which his father was the manager. His mother played the piano and he turned out to be a child prodigy. He spent most of his life in Paris, but during World War II, during the occupation, his mother took him to Nice with her.
“During World War II when I was a kid, the Nazis all but banned jazz in my country,” he told The Hartford Courant in 1991. “So I got most of my jazz from recording at 78 rpm.”
At the age of 14 he won an amateur jazz piano competition. At the age of 15 he returned to Paris at the end of the war and became the youngest member of the French Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers.
He played with various jazz stars who came through Paris and also had his own septet. He particularly admired Duke Ellington and formed a big band in 1956 to play Ellington’s music. In the 1960s, the two met and became friends.
“One of the lessons I learned from Ellington,” Bolling said in 1991, “was that you write specifically for the personality of the instrumental soloist.”
It was a philosophy he followed when Mr Rampal, impressed by a piece for which Mr Bolling had written and performed with the classical pianist Jean-Bernard Pommier on French television, asked if Mr Bolling would write something for him .
“I wrote ‘Suite for Flute’ for Jean-Pierre,” said Mr. Bolling. “If I had written it for someone else, it would be completely different. Every musician has his own voice, and that’s why I write. “
Mr. Rampal died in 2000.
Frau Sklar described the appeal of playing the famous suite.
“The seven-movement flute part of the ‘Suite’ was expertly written and great for playing with the piano, especially with bass and drums,” she said. “That is one of the reasons many classical flautists want to play it. It’s very jazzy and improvisation is optional. I thought it was great that there was also a bass flute and alto flute. “
The 1982 New York Times reviewer Allan Kozinn described the formula Mr. Bolling created that had worked so well in the suite and in his later work.
“In his crossover pieces,” he wrote, “Mr. Bolling’s compositional strategy is to give his classical soloist a through-composed part, written in a style that uses baroque and classical gestures and allusions to the repertoire and idioms of the featured instrument is filled while his own piano, bass and percussion trio interacts with a light jazz counterpoint. “
Mr. Bolling has made numerous recordings and has performed extensively in France, the United States and elsewhere.
“One of the most adorable things about him was his love of music and his dedicated, magnetic personality on stage,” said Ms. Sklar. “He loved talking to his audience and thanking them with encores that they enjoyed. Sometimes the encores lasted a long time. If we were to watch backstage we’d wonder if they would ever stop! “
The Associated Press said that Mr Bolling’s 48-year-old wife, Irène Dervize-Sadyker, died in 2017 and that the couple had two sons, David and Alexandre.
Mr. Bolling’s compositions have sometimes been described as a “combination” of jazz and classical music, but his view was different.
“I don’t like the word ‘combination’,” he said in a 1982 interview for The Syracuse New Times. “This is just a dialogue between two types of music. I didn’t do anything new. It’s been like that for a long time. “
Mr. Bolling liked to have fun on the street. In restaurants he would often demonstrate a certain trick: place one piece of cutlery on top of another and then hit one so that the other flipped into his empty wine or water glass.
“It was funnier when he missed it,” wrote Ms. Sklar in The Flutist Quarterly, “and he didn’t just give up.”