In 2010, a British writer travelled to Paris to interview the pianist Martial Solal. The address he had been given was in the affluent suburb Chatou. On arrival, Solal's house struck the writer as something quite unlike the home of any other jazz musician he had ever visited, an haute bourgeoisie villa surrounded by an ornamental garden full of mature trees, the whole surrounded by a high metal fence. The French take their artists seriously and, on the evidence of this house, thought the writer, appeared to reward even jazz musicians generously. Others before him had probably been similarly surprised. "Jean-Luc Godard can be thanked for this," said Solal with a smile, referring to the film director who commissioned him to write the soundtrack for his 1960 arthouse classic A Bout De Souffle (aka Breathless).
Solal, who in 2010, aged eighty-two years, was still receiving royalties from Godard's movie, went on to say that being offered the commission had been for him like winning the lottery, for at the time he was the modestly paid house-pianist at the St Germain des Prés jazz club, living a life as financially precarious as any lower-rung jazz musician anywhere in the world. As singular and asymmetrical a pianist and composer as, say, Thelonious Monk, Solal had no expectations of ever having money in the bank, much less an upmarket home in Chatou. The ongoing income from A Bout De Souffle helped him to continue to put artistic integrity before commercial considerations. For which jazz lovers can be as grateful as he was.
Coming YesterdayLive At Salle Gaveau 2019 is, says Solal in 2021, his final album. He did not know it would be that at the time, imagining instead that it might be the start of a new trajectory in which he would concentrate on standards, eight of which he transforms on this album (the other two tracks, "Coming Yesterday" and "Sir Jack," are originals). But, now aged ninety-three years, Solal has decided to retire while he is still ahead. The album is an elegant and idiosyncratic valedictory in which "Lover Man," "My Funny Valentine" and "Have You Met Miss Jones" are among the tunes given treatments as fresh as the day they left their composers' hands. Solal even succeeds in making "Happy Birthday" sound interesting and unusual for four and a half minutes. Bon voyage, maestro. Enjoy your retirement.
I Can’t Get Started; Coming Yesterday: Medley Ellington; Sir Jack; Tea For Two; Happy Birthday; Lover Man: I’ll Remember April; My Funny Valentine; Have You Met Miss Jones.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.