Martial Solal | Photo
French pianist, band leader, composer and arranger - Born Algiers,
August 23, 1927
To label Martial Solal is close to impossible - and
futile too. Generally speaking, he is some kind of a "modern"
player, but one that sometimes reminds you of the "classic"
jazz masters, sometimes pioneers the future. You may find traces of Tatum,
Garner, Ellington, Monk, Powell, Evans, Peterson a. o., as well as a certain
undertone of both French-North African folklore and European art music
- but all of it as ingredients of a digested and unified whole sounding
unmistakably as Solal.
Solal is capable of fitting in with groups of almost
any stylistic observance, and takes a most active and creative part in
the proceedings. He seems to master a vast repertory, whether old blues,
evergreens, jazz standards or originals.
Based on a thorough theoretic knowledge Solal may apply
anything from slight harmonic embellishments to a complete reharmonization
including all kinds of extensions, substitutions and passing chords following
each other in rapid succession. He realizes the specific possibilities
of the piano, not only regarding harmony. To him the percussive potential
of the instrument is just as important. By liberating and equalizing the
left hand as to the right, one purpose of his is to make full use of the
A significant characteristic of Solal's unique and individual
style is his ability to structuralize his solos, to survey improvised
sequences in order to build up a clear form, and within the resulting
frameworks to organize the overwhelming flow of melodic ideas including
all those details, sometimes surprising, sometimes witty, that enrich
his music. Solalizing it has been called - the interpretations,
transformations or sometimes rather condemnations leading to a complete
remodeling beyond recognition that any song may undergo exposed to his
Solal, a piano virtuoso and a great improviser, is a
serious and self-disciplined artist. The attendant serenity and maturity
during later years are certainly not attempts of explaining away anything
like artistic stagnation. On the contrary, Solal continues to expand his
musical language. He is not just staying on firm ground but is as any
creative improviser taking risks every now and then.
Some of these extraordinary powers and capabilities
also form part of the basis of Martial Solal as a composer and arranger.
Important achievements have been music written for and performed by larger
groups, in most cases conducted by himself. These works are often catchy
at first as well as substantial and ambiguous, revealing more facets at
In continuation of his piano playing the composer Martial
Solal is in an even higher degree not limited to stylistic conventions,
his work often characterized by deviations from what one would expect,
by sudden contrast and deliberate discontinuity. Equal original is the
sounds, the shadings, and the orchestral colors he is bringing to light
writing for the standard big band instrumentation. He deserves full credit
as one of the great jazz composers of today.
Solal's imposing stature, as a piano player mainly presented
in solo, duo and trio contexts, has overshadowed his remarkable big band
achievements. This situation is one of several reasons justifying the
election of Martial Solal as The JAZZPAR Prize Winner 1999 - cf. The Guidelines
for The International JAZZPAR Prize Committee, the superior criterion
of all being that The Prize must be awarded to an internationally known
and fully active jazz artist who is specially deserving of further acclaim.
The early years
Son of French parents Martial Solal grew up in Algeria.
As a school age child his mother, an opera singer, started him on the
piano. Local gigs from 1942 as a pianist, clarinetist and saxophonist.
One day over the radio Solal heard what he believed
was a solo piano performance by a master apparently in complete command
of the instrument. Solal took this as a standard to attain, implying that
he just had to equal the world's most proficient concert notabilities.
He certainly did so, much later to discover that four, not two hands had
been called for to record the piece decisive as to his instrumental ambition.
In addition to the piano studies he also learned to play various wind
instruments, knowledge later to benefit from as a big band composer and
22 years old Martial Solal arrived in Paris - this city
often considered the jazz center of Europe. As such an obvious talent
the relative narrow and otherwise rather unapproachable circle of Parisian
jazz professionals simply had to accept him. Gigs followed each other
in quick succession, and he attracted favorable notice already at the
first recording session of those more than a hundred Solal has taken part
in through the years.
Most important were the numerous club gigs. For instance
he followed Bud Powell in the Three Bosses (Pierre Michelot on bass and
Kenny Clarke on drums). Soon Solal was the regular piano player at the
"Club St-Germain" and "Blue Note", the Parisian Meccas
of jazz, where tourists as well as the locals flocked. For a number of
years he played these and other clubs, learning and improving every day
as he worked - as well as recorded - in close cooperation with the best
French jazz musicians and those famous American soloists visiting Paris
during the period.
Jazz of the world
Irrespective of the individual styles of these soloists
Solal was the accompanist preferred. He acquired an exceptional wide experience
without sacrificing any of the pronounced originality of his playing.
In 1956, Solal was for the first time fronting a big
band of his own with which he recorded original compositions and arrangements
written by himself. In spite of all obstacles this artistic success has
been repeated a number of times. Since 1959 another result of Solal's
efforts as a composer has been scores for more than 40 films.
In 1963, the American impresario, promoter and pianist
George Wein arranged an American tour presenting Solal at festivals as
well as concerts, in Canada as well as the US, on the west as well as
the East Coast, including Wein's own Newport Festival. One effect of this
initiative was increased touring including recitals at famous concert
halls in most parts of the world. Correspondingly, Solal's international
reputation as one of the chosen few great jazz pianists of all time without
regard to nationality has been further consolidated. Just consult the
reference books of jazz. He has won several national awards, and the city
of Paris has established an international jazz piano competition in his
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