with Jean-Pierre Jumez

The Alexandre Dumas of music

Dozens of films, hundreds of compositions and arrangements, thousands of concerts… These figures are obviously vertiginous. But, this is not what we remember of Claude Bolling. What is striking above all is, at the same time bold and melodic, the originality of his inspiration.

Claude Bolling: Duke Ellington’ disciple (Bollington)


JPJ: Claude Bolling, I just devoured your biography “Bolling Story”.  Personally, I would not have entitled it as such. I would have chosen “Vertigo”: as you describe it, this path of yours is simply amazing. And again, you only talk about what can be told!

CB: I reassure you, there is nothing that is untellable, insofar as the excesses sometimes associated with jazz have never affected me. For me, jazz is a style of music and not a lifestyle. While some of my friends went partying at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I went home to work on the piano.

JPJ: In this book, there are no less than 57 pages (I mean fifty-seven) listing your recordings. And that doesn’t include the thousands of your concerts, as well as the hundreds of scores, many of which are unpublished. You are the Alexandre Dumas of music! So you didn’t have any empty periods?

CB: I’ve always had something to do, whether through my keyboard work or what I write for the musicians around me, whatever the group.  Today I often wonder how I managed to organize my schedule.

JPJ: But what is impressive is that while dearest Alexandre Dumas wrote “voluminously”, many of your works are ultra-knitted. “Claude Bolling brings a sense of improvisation to the art of composing. He is at once settled but nomadic, rigorous but free. He is mature but refreshing The “Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Trio” is one of the most successful examples of this dichotomy.  Plucked sounds and struck notes are delicately interwoven, without any conflict of interest. Quite a feat, as the fragile guitar could all too easily suffocate under the weight of the “digitodrome”. Indeed, few composers have risen to this challenge (apart from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in his delicious “Fantaisie”). Elegant yet powerful, this work – perhaps one might even say masterpiece – is a suite in which each movement is a new development, in which each dissonance hides a treasure, in which each passage embodies an emotion. A treat indeed! “. Do you remember it?

CB: Of course, that’s what you wrote in the highlight of one of our concerts..

JPJ: Just for your concerto for Guitar and Jazz Trio, I had written pages, but no word of which was superfluous. Does this mean that, once the art is acquired, everything fits in naturally?

CB: Experience is the fruit of passion. From an early age, I constantly endeavoured to satisfy it. It obviously started with listening to Duke Ellington and others like Glenn Miller on the radio, but also by enjoying the echoes of various music as I walked through the streets of Nice and made detours after school to listen to them. Right away, I was crazy about jazz. What could be called “L’appel Du Large” (The Call of the Large). But be careful! Without being served by luck, I would not have gone behind the mirror: and the greatest of them was the meeting with Marie-Louise Colin called “Bob” who taught me her knowledge. She was a pianist-trumpet player-drummer-conductor of an all-female orchestra in which her saxophonist-double bassist-accordionist friend sang popular choruses. It was with her that I discovered that, behind all musical emotion, there is a very complex linkage that requires a laborious learning process; having understood this, and as I made new discoveries, I went to find the teachers who could teach me. For harmony and counterpoint, it was Maurice Duruflé, the organist of St Étienne du Mont; it was he who taught me how to build a four-part harmony according to the classical rules. Then, when René Clément asked me to compose the music for his film “Le jour et l’heure” (Simone Signoret – Stuart Witman), I realized that a symphonic dimension was needed, and I rushed to a professor at the Conservatoire (Conservatory) to learn the secrets of symphonic music composition.
So, to answer your question, there is on the one hand the appetite, the one that allows elevation. And then there is the sustentation. Once you have acquired the “art”, as you said, there is a somewhat routine aspect of the process. It can happen that you don’t stand still, but have the feeling of being on rails, of being a switchman without a sting, in a way….

JPJ: Like the performer, who sometimes gets tired of a repertoire?

CB: That’s it. So I experienced periods of “stages”, during which writing was sufficiently mastered to be assimilated to a routine. Hence my quest, my constant exploration.  With each perspective revealed at the corner of a (musical) deadlock, a new desire encouraged me to put an end to clichés, to develop new works; while remaining in the festive register, of course! For me, no provocation, no squeaking, no mystifications. We need to have fun without thinking!

JPJ: The “Association d’interprètes classiques et jazz” (Association of Classical and Jazz Performers) is a good illustration of this. Your music is always demanding. But would this luxury, that of embarking on new paths according to one’s aspirations, be available today?

CB: I’m afraid that no. My generation went through a period of incredible carelessness because at the time, existential anxiety had precisely nothing of existential! No apprehension for the future. Only the bailiffs worried because they had no outlet! For some, this carelessness was an opportunity for incomparable emotional enrichment, redistributed to the public in the form of bold and uncomplicated cultural productions.

JPJ: I was surprised that among the expressions of sympathy you publish, many deplore the lack of recognition which, they say, you suffer.

CB: A music creates a craze, then fades from the collective consciousness before reappearing, like a moraine coming out of a glacier, several years or several centuries later. But don’t forget that the expressions you mention come from French friends, who don’t take into account the popularity of some of my records in the world, especially in the United States.

JPJ: So far, you have divided your artistic life between written and live music.

CB: Yes, since the famous experience at the Maison de la Chimie, the one that challenged the audience to make the difference between a stereophonic reproduction and an orchestra hidden behind a curtain, I realized that live music would take a heavy blow. Hence my fierce resistance to this fatality. Nevertheless, I witnessed, helplessly, first of all, the monopolization of the record by the industry (whereas at the beginning, I would remind you, the record was not to leave the family home: it was written on the labels: “all rights of the phonographic producer and owner of the work reproduced reserved. Duplication of public performance, broadcasting of this banned record”) and then to its perverse use, especially during playbacks on television: the singer’s voice is isolated, whereas everything resides in the musical material surrounding it!

JPJ: Nor can your name be dissociated from film music.

CB: Here again, it is a question of embracing a new world each time because the producer can establish his division on a pre-existing theme (Borsalino) or, on the contrary, require the composer to follow the given scenes to be set to music.

JPJ  : Could we say that you’re Duke Ellington’s disciple?

CB: In a way, yes.  And many of my writings are totally inspired by him. But are they useless? We perform a work that is part of history for an audience that asks for more. There’s no question of snubbing it. The concert is a shared pleasure: we by playing it, and the audience by receiving it.

JPJ: That may be so, but by writing, by recording, you’re still trying to leave a trace?

CB: Consciously or not, yes. As far as I’m concerned, it will be, well, multiple since I leave scores, records and videos. And in regard to “live” concerts, it is the walls of these mythical places that will remain impregnated with them, well protected behind the film slowly deposited by the scrolls of the last smokers, those passionate people who swallowed their smoke while devouring our notes. Inspiration, you know…

Claude passed away on December 30, 2020. He was 90