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Camille Bertault: Unity in Diversity

Ludovico Granvassu By

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When I am on stage I feel that I'm expressing something that I cannot express in any other way. I think that's the reason I am doing this job. Singing allows me to say things that I'm not capable of saying in another way.
On her striking new album, Pas de géant ["Giant Steps" in French -Ed.], Camille Bertault confirms all the qualities that her debut release, En Vie, had showcased three years ago. For her sophomore release, the French singer doubles down with an eclectic repertoire, a stellar line-up and the production and arrangements written by Michael Leonhart with the sophistication of a haute couture tailor. For her debut on the Okeh/Sony label, the winner of the "best new talent" 2017 French jazz polls hops with levity and nonchalance from witty and catchy originals to the music of John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter. In the process she also pays original tributes to classical composers like Maurice Ravel or Nikolai Kapustin, and does not neglect her French roots through renditions of chansonniers like George Brassens, Serge Gainsbourg or Brigitte Fontaine. Despite such diversity, Pas de géant is an album of great consistency as these eclectic sources of inspiration are filtered through the prism of Camille Bertault's strong artistic personality.

Perhaps, the Paris-based singer's most disarming quality lies in the fact that she does not get bogged down by her obvious virtuosism. At an age when a gifted musician might be prone to showing-off, she uses her musical skills to deliver humorous and insightful takes on life. That usually is the trait of artists that don't need to take themselves too seriously because their art is the natural extension of who they are and have nothing to prove.

At this point it is clear that Camille Bertault is a force of nature the music world has to reckon with.

To listen to the music of Camille Bertault as well as to excerpts of this interview, play the archived podcast of Mondo Jazz (starting at 49:06).

All About Jazz: With a pianist as a father and having started music education at an early age, when did jazz enter into your life?

Camille Bertault: I started studying music when I was four years old. It was thanks to my father, who is a jazz pianist. Jazz music was around for my whole childhood. When I was eight I started studying at the conservatory, focusing on classical piano and harmony. I continued until I was 20, when I quit musit to study theater, also at the conservatory, but ultimately I returned to jazz. Sometimes you don't choose a career but a career chooses you. And I'm very happy about all that has happened so far, because singing is the thing I do best.

AAJ: Conservatory studies are all about very strict discipline, but it seems that you like to break rules and create your own path. How was it being in a conservatory for you? Did you develop your free approach to jazz in reaction to the formalism of conservatory?

CB: In every situation you can find both positive and negative things. Indeed, studying at the conservatory was too strict for me. It required too much solitary work. It definitely taught me discipline and to work on my music every day, which is very important, but studying the piano for hours by myself didn't fit my personailty. So that's why I ended up trying many other things, like theater and dance. Essentially, I looked for the right creative outlet for a very long time. And finally, I realized that jazz and singing were my cup of tea. Sometimes it's hard to say whether it's external discipline that gets you to places, or whether you have a disciplined nature that allows you to undertake certain projects. Whatever the answer is, I can definitely say that theater played a key role for me. I've always had a love for words, but theater taught me how to be on stage, express myself before an audience, and even how to break a few rules here and there...

AAJ: Is jazz, and especially the free spirit of jazz, something that can really be taught in a conservatory?

CB: That's definitely easier with jazz than with classical music. I certainly found freedom in my jazz classes and that's because in those classes I was surrounded by people. I think you can find freedom more easily when you're playing with people. If you are just studying on your own, working working working in your room, it may be more complicated to find your freedom.

AAJ: You're the living example of how the sudden viral success of an internet video can facilitate a successful carrer, if there's talent to match the sudden popularity that Facebook can bestow. How did things unfold when you posted your rendition of "Giant Steps" online?

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