Clovis Grognuz: Young Man with Horn of Plenty

Clovis Grognuz: Young Man with Horn of Plenty
Nicholas F. Mondello By

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I just read the transcription/lyrics, listen to the music, and register it all in my mind and always practice.
—Clovis Grognuz
With thousands of viewers and followers on Facebook and You Tube, Swiss saxophonist Clovis Grognuz has become a worldwide saxophone-playing sensation. Astonished eyes and ears have witnessed this talented and dedicated young man performing the legendary saxophone solos—those of John Coltrane ("Giant Steps"), Charlie Parker ("Just Friends"), et al—simultaneously and note for note with the great Masters. And, amazingly Clovis is only 10 years old! The Clovis Grognuz story has other resonating personal dimensions. Hectored and bullied as "different" in school, Clovis found his calling in jazz and specifically in the music of John Coltrane. His unique ability to retain such sophisticated and complex solo material aurally and perform same perfectly speaks to this young performer's genius and his ability to rise above discrimination. And, through that difficult situation Clovis' family's tremendous support and encouragement have been a bulwark.

Note: The interview was conducted with Clovis and his father, Alain, as Clovis only speaks French. Dr. Gio Washington-Wright assisted on the saxophone-specific questions.

All About Jazz: Alain and Clovis, on behalf of All About Jazz, thank you for taking time to speak with us.

Alain Grognuz/Clovis Grognuz: You're welcome, Nick. It is much appreciated. Thank you for this opportunity.

AAJ: Clovis, it is very nice to meet you. How old are you?

AG/CG: It's nice to meet you also. I'll be 10 years old on July 15th, 2020.

AAJ: What grade are you in school? Are you home-schooled?

AG/CG: I'm in 7th Grade. No, I'm not home-schooled. I went to public school in Bercher.

AAJ: You are a Facebook and You Tube sensation! How old were you when you started playing saxophone?

AG/CG: I am happy about that. I started playing saxophone at 7 years old.

AAJ: How did you decide to pick the saxophone?

AG/CG: I tried all the sports like football, tennis and even swimming. It's hard for me. In my mind, I like music and I want to become a great musician someday.

AAJ: We notice other instruments in the background of you videos. Do you play any other instruments?

AG/CG: Yes, as of now I'm studying guitar.

AAJ: Are there any family members who are musicians?

AG/CG: Yes, my grandfather on my father's side is a church organist. The brother of my grandmother also named Christian Favre is a classical pianist and composer. I learned to read notes from my grandfather.

AAJ: How did you get first interested in jazz?

AG/CG: My father always listened to jazz music.

AAJ: You live in Oppens, Switzerland. Is that near Montreux? Have you ever been to the Montreaux Jazz Festival?

AG/CG: It is 62 km away, within 54 minutes. No, I have never been in the Montreux Jazz Festival, but, that it my dream to play jazz in a festival like Montreux.

AAJ: What made you want to start playing?

AG/CG: We went to a music shop with my parents. I saw a Yamaha Venova in the display. It's a toy saxophone that I asked my parents to buy for me. Since then, I have never stopped playing. One month later, we decided to rent an Arnold and Sons sopranino and I told my parents that I wanted to enroll in music class.

AAJ: What was the first album you ever heard?

AG/CG: I heard Highway 14 by pianist Alan Pasqua because of my father. He always played music in the house.

AAJ: What really "lit the fire" for you to play jazz?

AG/CG: For me, it is because the chords of jazz are rich.

AAJ: What brand of horns, mouthpiece and reeds are you playing?

AG/CG: I use Selmer axes. For alto, I use a Selmer Seles Axos saxophone. The mouthpiece is a Selmer S80. For soprano, I use a Yamaha YSS-475. The mouthpiece is a Vandoren S27 and for tenor, I use a Selmer Series 2 S47 and the mouthpiece is a JodyJazz GIANT 7*.

AAJ: Who is your favorite saxophonist? Why?

AG/CG: My favorite is John Coltrane because it is wild how he plays.

AAJ: What jazz artists—saxophonists and others—have inspired you as a musician?

AG/CG: Only John Coltrane. I like how he plays. I can't explain why.

AAJ: You play along note-for-note with some of the greatest saxophonists and their solos—Charlie Parker's "Just Friends," John Coltrane's "Giant Steps and "Countdown," Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins' "Tenor Madness." Exactly how do you go about doing that?

AG/CG: I just read the transcription/lyrics, listen to the music, and register it all in my mind and always practice.

AG: I am so surprised with this kid because he was looking for a transcription on You Tube for him to practice, because he got bored with the music teacher's transcription. He said it was "too easy" and he saw the transcription of "Giant Steps" and asked me: "Papa, what do you think of this transcription?" I replied: "Are you sure? This is difficult for your age." After two weeks, he showed me how he could play "Giant Steps."

AAJ: What steps do you take to learn these solos?

AG/CG: I only read, listen, and take my time to play.

AAJ: Do you sing or scat-sing them or go right to the horn to learn the solos?

AG/CG: No, I go directly to the horn.

AAJ: Are you reading the transcribed solos while playing along?

AD/CG: Yes, I read the transcriptions, but, for John Coltrane songs I already had them memorized. Well, in the beginning, I read the notes.

AAJ: How long did it take you to learn and get comfortable with say "Giant Steps?"

AG/CG: My father said it was about two weeks, but, I don't know because I also played other songs.

AAJ: How much time do you devote to practice on a daily basis?

AG/CG: When I was 7 years old I started to work hard—one hour every day and even on weekends. When I was 8, my music teacher gave me lessons, but I got bored because it was so easy. That's why I asked my parents to buy one book in the music shop and I studied the jazz standards alone, accompanied with a CD. Because of that book I discovered the music of the great saxophonist.

AAJ: Do you ever improvise your own solos on the classic jazz songs you cover?

AG/CG: No, I'm not interested in the classic songs. Next time, I'd like to write out my own solos.

AAJ: Do you compose/write your own songs? Would you like to?

AG/CG: No, not now, but I'd like to write someday.

AAJ: Mr. Grognuz, tell us, please why Clovis' story is so encouraging?

AG: He was bullied in school. Clovis is a loner kid. Only two kids talked to him in school. When he came home, he had bruises and always cried because someone took his things. The other kids don't want to make friends because he is different. Clovis is good in school; we don't have problems when it comes to studies. He is excellent in class. It is just because he's different than others. He is in his own world. He enjoys only when he is with his sax—and, sometimes his Nintendo.

AAJ: Clovis, are you in a school band? Your teachers must be very proud of you.

CG: No.

AAJ: How did you get the idea to post your playing on Facebook?

AG/CG: It was my parents' idea. They believe in my talents and abilities.

AAJ: Do you have a band you play with outside of school? Would you ever put your own jazz group together?

AG/CG: No.

AAJ: We see that you are an awesome bicycle rider, too. What else do you do for fun?

AG/CG: I also love to play video games.

AAJ: Would you ever considered becoming a professional musician?

AG/CG: Yes, now that I have a huge following that believes my talent. I will continue to play and share with others. And, one day I will study at Berklee to learn more.

AAJ: Alain and Clovis, thank you for taking time to speak with us here at All About Jazz. We wish you the best of luck!

AG/CG: On behalf of my wife and myself, thanks All About Jazz and thank you, Nick for the trust and for believing in Clovis as a young jazz musician. We are always here for him, supporting what he loves. And, thanks to all the people who follow, liked, and shared his videos on Facebook and on You Tube. Please continue to follow "Clovissax" on Facebook. Thank you very much. Best regards.

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