Jacques Loussier – Play Bach 3 (1961)

FrontCover1Jacques Loussier (born 26 October 1934) is a French pianist and composer. He is well known for his jazz interpretations in trio formation of many of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works, such as the Goldberg Variations. He is also a licensed pilot and often flew his personal helicopter from his home at Chateau Miraval, in the south of France. This same chateau now belongs to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Loussier has also been involved with rosé wine production.

Loussier started piano lessons aged ten, in Angers, and after three months encountered his first J.S.Bach – the little G-minor Prelude. It was a piece he fell in love Loussierwith, he has said, and he played it ‘tens, hundreds of times’, sometimes adding a note, missing another, and so changing a bit the spirit of the music. He developed quickly and at 13, was taken to Paris to meet one of France’s leading pianists, Yves Nat. Every three months he went to Paris playing the music Nat wanted him to play, given advice, and then another programme for three months later to come back to play. He began composing music while studying at the Conservatoire National de Musique, having moved then to Paris, under Professor Yves Nat, from the age of sixteen.

After six years’ study, he left to travel the world, where he experienced sounds of the Middle East, Latin America, and Cuba, where he spent one year.

In 1959 he formed the Jacques Loussier Trio with string bass player Pierre Michelot who had previously played with Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and percussionist Christian Garros. They used Bach’s compositions as a base for jazz improvisation and had many live appearances, tours, and concerts, as well as a number of recordings. Originally the trio recorded for Decca Records but in 1973 changed to Philips/Phonogram. The trio sold over six million albums in 15 years. (by wikipedia)

And this is voume 3 of the famous and beautiful “Play Bach” series …. Enjoy !

Christian Garros (drums, percussion)
Jacques Loussier (piano)
Pierre Michelot (bass)


Concerto Italien in F Mayor (BWV 971):
01. Allegro 5.39
02. Andante 4.41
03. Finale 6.05

Two Voice Invention:
04. No.1 in C Major (BWV 772) 2.24
05. No.13 in A Minor (BWV 784) 3.35
06. No.8 in F Major (BWV 779) 2.46
07. No.14 in B Flat Major (BWV 785) 1.36
08. No.15 in B Minor (BWV 786) 1.16

09. Fantasy in C Minor (BWV 906) 5.05



Jacques Loussier Trio – Play Bach 1 (1959)

FrontCover1Yes, 1959 and Jacques Loussier’s Opus One and the album that overnight turned what had been a conservatory joke (jazzyfying Bach and occasioning good laughs with the buddies) into a chart-hitting phenomenon. It also more or less confined Loussier into the cross-over genre. Did music gain or loose? Crossover certainly gained. Judging from Loussier’s remarkable pianistic abilities and sure and sound judgment on playing Bach (in times when it wasn’t so customary to publicly play Bach at the piano), “straight” Classical music did loose what Crossover gained. Oh well – many good classical pianists, but only one Loussier.

It’s interesting to take Bach’s scores and see how Loussier’s Jazz functions. In fact, it is very respectful of Bach. After short jazzy intros, Preludes 1 & 2 from the Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier are first played straight in their entirety, with only double bass and drum accompaniment providing the jazz coloring: I find that it sounds entirely natural, and not like an out-of-place sonic graft. Then Loussier segues with a an impro based more or less on the prelude. More in the case of prelude 2, using various processes of syncopation, changing melody into chords, or doubling the note values so to give the impression of acceleration while retaining the same tempo, regularly returning to the straight score as a manner of anchoring, and altogher omitting not one bar; less in Prelude 1 – here the coda, taken at double the speed, provides the Bach anchoring. The two corresponding fugues also start straight, with the double bass substituting for the piano’s left hand (and that alone is enough to provide a jazz coloring), but the impro starts earlier, inside the initial statement. Likewise with the mighty Toccata and Fugue BWV 565: for over two minutes, Loussier plays (extremely well) exactly what Bach wrote; the jazzification is provided only by double bass and drums. At 2:04, just before the start of the fugue, Loussier starts syncopating the left-hand, then improvises on and over Bach with the same processes as in Prelude 2, while closely following score (again not one bar is skiped) and regularly returning to straight Bach. Prelude 8 is directly varied (and if I am not mistaken Bach’s 3/2 time signature is changed into a typical jazz 4/2), with an interesting sonic effect by percussionist using, if ears serve, tambourine in an obsessive ostinato. Prelude 5 is played straight (always drum and double bass), then interrupted by Loussier’s impro, and then resumed where it had stopped, until the end. Fugue 5 is played in its entirety but brilliantly improvised.

JacquesLoussier1959In fact, “improvisations” may not be an entirely appropriate word. None of this sounds as it had been invented on the spur of the moment during the recording sessions. Obviously it was carefully planned, written and rehearsed. So one should talk about Loussier’s “jazz variations” on Bach. I’ve updated Amazon’s product info on another of these Loussier CDs I tried to get Loussier credited as composer alongside Bach; that part was refused by Amazon, referencing him only as performer. Shows they haven’t listened.

Loussier’s jazz isn’t very radical and demanding. It is agreeable, cool, easy listening, which may be good for some listeners and frustrating for some others; I am somewhere in between. It is interesting also to compare some of the pieces recorded here and their remakes on the occasion of the 1965 live concert at the Theâtre des Champs-Elysées (Play Bach: Aux Champs-Elysees). Things are not always comparable. In the Prelude No. 2 from WTC, in the live concert Loussier plays only the first part, Bach straight with accompanying drum and double-bass, but no ensuing variation. But where Loussier 1965 does follow the wake of Loussier 1959, one can hear that he and his partners had had six years to mature, not so much their Bach as their Jazz. In the 1959 WTC Prelude 1 the jazz is more joyous and carefree, more big-band inspired, but less subtle and more superficial also. As good as the 1959 Toccata & Fugue is, the jazz in the 1965 remake is even better, and there is an great, outlandish drum impro in the middle adding three and a half minutes to its total time. And there’s the added kick of the live circumstances.

So the 1965 live concert is, I think, the best intro to the early Loussier. But Play Bach 1, despite its short TT, remains a highly enjoyable disc, recorded in fine 1959 stereo.

AlternateFrontCoversAlternate frontcovers

Christian Garros (drums)
Jacques Loussier (piano)
Pierre Michelot (bass)

01. Prelude N 1 en ut majeur 5.26
02. Fugue N 1 en ut majeur 5.03
03. Prelude N 2 en ut mineur 4.21
04. Fugue N 2 en ut mineur 2.48
05. Toccata & Fugue en re mineur 8.57
06. Prelude N 8 en re diese Mineur 4.57
07. Prelude N 5 en re majeur 1.55
08. Fugue N 5 en re majeur 1.50

Music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach