L’amour De La Vie: A French Cellist and Jack London

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Supported by the French Embassy in the United States, “Love of Life” is a creative project by three of Europe’s top musical improvisers based on the writings of Jack London. French cellist Vincent Courtois, revered for virtuosity at the edge of classical composition, has created an acoustic trio with two tenor saxophonists, exploring tonal mid-range in works inspired by individual titles of Jack London writing such as Martin Eden, Sea Wolf, To Build a Fire, and Goliath. Town Hall is excited to work with Earshot Jazz in bringing these musicians to the Forum stage on June 29. Tickets are on sale now.

Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley, recently sat down with cellist Vincent Courtois to discuss jazz, Jack, and musical ambiance.

JS: When were you introduced to the cello? What interested you about it?

VC: Playing cello was not a vocation. My sister, older than me, was playing violin. I used to wait for her in the corridor during her weekly lesson. A very nice man was always passing in the corridor saying words. Some years later, when my mother asked me which instrument I want to study, I answered quickly, ‘I don’t know! I just want to do it with that nice man!’…and it was the cello teacher.

JS: How did you start thinking about using the cello as a jazz instrument? It’s not that common of a jazz instrument—why do you think that is?

VC: When I was a teenager I was studying how to play cello in a very serious classical conservatory. During college, I had some friends who were trying to play rock ‘n’ roll music with guitars and drums. They didn’t have a clue about music but they were playing very loud music that I loved. I tried to play with them with my cello even if it was difficult and then I started to feel that completely different worlds could meet together. Lately, I’ve discovered jazz. It is a revelation. It’s the perfect place between rock, classical, and  contemporary music. I feel that it is the perfect music where I can express myself with a good mix of rigor and liberty in the same time.

And, actually, there are more and more cello players in jazz and this is a great thing! When I was young we were a very few…like pioneers. With cello, you can do many things—‘singing’ like the human voice, being voluble like a violin, playing chords, basses… When jazzmen understood this, they started to engage a lot of cello players in their bands.

JS: What jazz musicians inspire(d) you?

VC: The first one that really changed my life was Miles Davis but I would say that the most inspiring musicians for me are the ones I’ve played with.

Jack London

JS: Why does Jack London’s work speak to you?

VC: I discovered Jack London very late. It became a passion after I finished the fascinated story of Martin Eden. During two years I read only Jack London. No other author existed for me. Step by step, I started to feel some music coming from inside me inspired by Jack London’s stories. Then I started to compose melodies.

JS: What are some of your favorite Jack London pieces?

VC: My favorites pieces are the ones that inspired my melodies: Love of Life, The Road, The South of the Slot, The Dream of Debs, The Sea-Wolf, Trust, To Build a Fire, and, of course, Martin Eden.

JS: Have you gone to Napa to visit his grave?

VC: During the tour we are suppose to visit Napa with the French consulat!

JS: One thing many might not know was also how artistically powerful he was as a photographer.

VC: I love Jack London’s photography, especially photos from London’s East End. Jack London’s life was very short but he did so many things.

JS: How do you, as an artist, translate’s another artist’s work into your medium? What are the greatest rewards and challenges by doing that?

VC: For Jack London’s work it was very easy, obviously and natural. It’s only my interpretation of his pieces. I think that it’s like a movie director. I feel an ambience, a decor, an emotion, and then music comes. Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker, also inspired by Jack London, also gave their interpretation in music. It was very important for me to come here, to this place on the west coast, to play our music and record this album dedicated to Jack London.

Join Earshot Jazz at Town Hall’s Forum as they present “Courtois, Erdmann, Fincker: Love of Life” on June 29.  Get your tickets now.

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