René Urtreger Plays Bud Powell


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Bud Powell arguably had the most significant influence on jazz pianists of the post-war modernist era. You'd have an easier time making a list of those not influenced by Powell than compiling the names of those who fell under his bebop spell. Among the most accomplished of Powell's disciples (a group that includes Al Haig, Sonny Clark and Claude Williamson) is René Urtreger. Born in Paris in 1934, Urtreger began studying piano formally at age 4, taking private lessons before entering the Conservatory. In his teens, Urtreger began playing Parisian jazz clubs, influenced by Powell's recordings and the many American bebop musicians who played in Paris after the war.

Urtreger began recording in early 1954 for the newly formed French Barclay label. By then, a growing number of African-American jazz artists had moved to Paris to escape segregation, racism and a general lack of appreciation. They were joined by an expanding community of left-leaning American artists and writers who moved to Paris following their blacklisting after being summoned before state legislative committees on un-American activities. Many were fired after their names appeared in local papers and then couldn't find work.

As a result, French musicians in Paris were exposed to American artists and jazz musicians, including expats Don Byas and Buck Clayton and performers Miles Davis and Lester Young to name just a few. [Photo above, from left, Miles Davis, René Urtreger and Barney Wilen listening back to music for the film Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud in December 1957 at Le Poste Parisien studio in Paris by Jean-Pierre Leloir/GAMMA-RAPHO]

In 1955, Urtreger recorded René Urtreger Joue Bud Powell (the French word is “plays") on a 10-inch Barclay album. He was backed by Benoit Quersin (b) and Jean-Louis Viale (d). When Powell moved to Paris in 1959, Urtreger befriended the pianist. Urtreger's bop piano is impeccable. His improvised solo lines and timing are stunning. Both of your knees will wind up swinging back and forth to his playing. His feel for Powell is remarkable but there's also a French twinkle in his bop approach as well.

René Urtreger is still with us; he lives in France.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find René Urtreger Joue Bud Powell here. It's part of René Urtreger Early Trios 1954-1957 (French Sound), a superb album.

The liner notes by Jordi Pujol are detailed and excellent.

The CD includes two live tracks from 1954 as well as trio tracks recorded in 1957 after Urtreger was discharged from the French Army.

JazzWax clips: Here's Parisian Thoroughfare...

Here's Urtreger in action playing Bud Powell about 11 years ago...

And here's Urtreger playing Powell solo last year...

Bonus: Here's Bud Powell in Paris in 1959 playing Crossing the Channel...

Here's Powell 10 years earlier and his trio playing All God's Children Got Rhythm, in 1949, at Carnegie Hall with disc jockey Symphony Sid as MC...

And here's Powell playing Like Someone in Love in 1963 with Pierre Michelot (b) and Kenny Clarke (d)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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