by Pierre Schaeffer
“Happy the man who like Ulysses has made a beautiful voyage”… Jean-Pierre Jumez’s vessel is a guitar, his mast plots his course, his keel plies the oceans, with never a fear of hitting shallows or running aground. The pilot is a taker of risks. Through long nights on watch, or in the shelter of some port, or the placid calm between trips, he recounts his voyage, his encounters, his emotions. The pilot is a teller of tales; the guitarist is a seafarer… For the instrument, if it is a symbol of departures, of dreams, is also a vehicle for ideas and a medium of exchange. This musician has neither the expectant crowds nor the kudos of a star.
And if, at the end of the road, he admits that he has finally “turned professional”, it is because he has earned that right, he has clocked up enough miles and served a unique apprenticeship: a journeyman, a man of the world. As a rule, a musician is not a born teller of tales.
His temptation is to set everything to music, to hum along to the rhythm of life, to identify the melody and weave in the counterpoint. Such was the first instinct of this lover of polyphony.
To shift to a more linear idiom, and a more literary one at that, in other words one made to be read rather than heard, Jean-Pierre Jumez has had to row against his own current, rediscover the simplicity, the freshness of his own route, shedding his accumulated baggage and resisting many a philosophical digression; the reader will thank him for it. “For the instrument, if it is a symbol of departures, of dreams, it is also a vehicle for ideas and a medium of exchange”.
And so, preliminaries dispensed with, we find ourselves on tour. For this is where the action is, raw and uncensored: how does a determined young man set about exploring the world, his only skiff, and only asset, the strings of this musical companion?
Echoes of Jules Verne abound, with many an adventure in store for our hero. Not believing himself to be a Michel Strogoff nor a Captain Nemo, so much as a Phileas Fogg – the happy gambler who fulfils his contract(s), this character plays to crowds in every latitude, and his guitar makes some exotic acquaintances along the way; indeed, it plucks about with instruments of dubious character: valihas, charangos, mvets…
While its master, as he attempts to complete his trip, faces a series of hitches – not so much technical as distasteful: economic, political, bureaucratic, comical or acrobatic. His guitar serves as his medium of exchange, it leads him to take the controls of a plane, and it lands him in overcrowded railway carriages in Tokyo or India, from which he escapes with some difficulty. And happily so, for it is hard to imagine Jumez without his guitar, and vice versa. Having seen him go into a tailspin in the Andes (he wasn’t piloting this time), we discover how he chose a fiddling partner (who happened to be captain of an icebreaker – incidental to the performance but central to Jumez’s expedition).
But I shall not steal his thunder, for other perilous experiences await the strong-stomached reader. These adventures are interspersed throughout with choice observations, all the more compelling because they are born out of the unfolding events, in the same way that any tale – or any concert – is made more compelling by an absence of didacticism. We very quickly understand the relationship that bonds the performer to his audience, a relationship that is ruptured by recording in the studio. We understand too, in the course of Jean-Pierre’s African odyssey, the gulf which separates our Western music, which is a demonstrative art form, from the African experience, so quotidian, so functional in that it is a part and parcel of everyday life, not relegated to the concert stage…
This unusual second strand, that of a traveller’s tales combined with the trials (and rewards) of music-making would be enough in itself. But there is an inescapable third element as well. The inevitable ups and downs of travel and the music-making imperative make the itinerant musician a reluctant witness – a witness of the modern age, of people who incongruously live side-by-side yet are divided by arbitrary frontiers, blissfully ignorant of the dazed planet choked by the fog of radio and television.
What sweet revenge, then, for the written word over the odious visual image, that ersatz human experience! How rewarding it is to see someone take up the pen once he is mature enough to put words to his experiences. It is said that the melodian should refrain from making his notes fit the words. Here, then, the melodian has his revenge. Going wherever his travels take him, on foot, by plane, or aboard a stagecoach, here are tales which are in perfect time with the musician’s themes. Soaring to every echo of the planet, the guitar of Jean-Pierre Jumez! Here are the notes which tell the tale.