Bernard Peiffer: Formidable
In February 2001 I met with Stephan Peiffer in my office at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He handed over to me a box of approximately sixty-seven reels of tape representing more than twenty years of his father's recorded legacy. Bernard had been my friend and teacher, so the hours that were required for me to transfer the tapes, create a comprehensive discography, and select performances for a CD release were rewarding not only because of the music that I heard, but also because of the rare opportunity to give something back to someone who was a profound influence early in my musical life. With me acting as producer and Stephan as executive producer we enlisted the services of a wonderful audio engineer from NFL Films, Scott Perry, to assist in transferring, editing and mastering. Using an amazing restoration program that is employed in movie production, Scott was able to make the amateur live tapes sound like a studio recording.
As the recording was nearing completion and minor changes such as track order were being fine tuned, I began to work on my contribution to the liner notes. Although extensive segments of my notes made it into the final album, space limitations and Stephan's poignant family perspective made it impossible to include all of my research and analysis. What follows is the complete draft of my notes as written sometime in 2003. Some of the information was acquired through research of available material and some through my personal recollection of conversations with Bernard, including a story about his best friend's demise at the hands of the Gestapo. It is my intent to add to the available documentation of this historically important pianist.
It should be noted that four of the compositions were untitled improvisations at the time my notes were written and were later renamed by Stephan Peiffer. Track one, the Foxhole Café Improvisation, became "Voyage"; track four, the Cohen Studio Improvisation, became "Coccinelle"; track seven, Private Concert Improvisation #4, became "The Great Escape"; and track ten, The Warm Up Improvisation, became "Nest On The Hill."
Following the biography and background information about the music is a series of tributes from some of Bernard's former students now enjoying successful careers in music. I want to thank everyone who contributed and also note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Anyone whose music and career has been impacted by Bernard is invited to contact us for future reference.
About Bernard Peiffer
Bernard Peiffer was born on October 23, 1922 in Epinal, in the Vosges district of northeastern France. Bernard's father, formerly an army man, was a violinist and was devoted to chamber music. An uncle, Georges Peiffer, was a composer and church organist. Bernard began his music study at the age of nine; he studied piano and harmony privately with Pierre Maire (a student of Nadia Boulanger) and dazzled older students with his ability to play back extended sections of classical pieces by ear. He continued his studies through his teens at Ecole Normale de Paris, the Marseille Conservatory, and the Paris Conservatory, where he won the coveted and revered First Prize in Piano.
Attracted by the freedom and improvisational basis of jazz and influenced by the pianistic styles of Fats Waller and Art Tatum, Bernard made his professional debut in 1943, at the age of 20, with alto saxophonist Andre Ekyan. Soon after his debut he worked at the Boeuf Sur Le Toit Paris nightclub with Django Reinhardt. Bernard credited Reinhardt with teaching him the music business and Django predicted a brilliant career for the young Peiffer.
After witnessing the execution of his friend on a Paris street at the hands of the Gestapo, Bernard joined the French Resistance Movement. He was eventually captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned for over a year.
Out of the army in 1946, he resumed his music career, playing concerts for the French Hot Club at the Salle Pleyel and resuming his association with Django Reinhardt. He toured with Hubert Rostaing and Jacques Helian. In February 1948 he performed in Nice at what was probably the world's first jazz festival; it was there that Bernard's playing so impressed Ellington alumnus Rex Stewart that he hired Bernard to tour and record with his band. After working with Stewart he recorded with Don Byas, James Moody, and Kenny Clarke, and he reunited with Django for club dates and a tour.