Let's Get Swinging: Modern Jazz In Belgium 1950-1970


When thinking of jazz music, few would mention Belgium's association with the genre. However, it was one of the first countries to embrace the form when it arrived in Europe a hundred years ago, and has yielded many internationally known jazz musicians and composers since. This twenty-track compilation entitled Let's Get Swinging: Modern Jazz In Belgium 1950-1970 focuses on a twenty-year period of modern jazz in the little kingdom, and features the leading players from that era including guitarist Philip Catherine, saxophonist Jack Sels, multi-instrumentalist Jacques Pelzer, and vibraphone player, percussionist, and vocalist "Fats" Sadi Lallemand. Pre-1950s, Belgian jazz lovers had been starved of jazz music when it was banned from public life, going underground during the German occupation of WWII. However, jazz would soon go through a radical change when US jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk developed a new style called bebop or modern jazz. The big bands disappeared in favor of the small groups, the rhythms became more complex and improvisation was the new keyword. In Belgium, the epicenter of jazz shifted from Brussels to the industrial city of Liège in the east of the country. Inspired by the new sounds of Bird and Diz, a group of youngsters including Bobby Jaspar, René Thomas, Jacques Pelzer, "Fats" Sadi Lallemand, Jack Sels, and Francy Boland, joined each other in jam sessions and formed modern jazz combos. But the complexities of modern jazz made larger audiences turn their backs on this new form of jazz and with very few working opportunities for the modern jazzmen in Belgium, most moved abroad to pursue a career. During the '50s, composer and pianist Francy Boland managed to distinguish himself in the United States, where he worked with the bands of Count Basie and Benny Goodman, and with jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Bobby Jaspar remained a wonderful "cool" soloist on flute and tenor sax. In New York, he played, among others, with J.J. Johnson and Miles Davis. Shortly before his untimely death in 1963, he set up a last vigorous quintet with his friend and guitarist René Thomas from Liege. Guitarist René Thomas also crossed the Atlantic and immersed himself in the Paris jazz scene of the early to mid-fifties, where he quickly became notable due to his distinct style, heavily influenced by Jimmy Raney, and ended up recording with Sonny Rollins in 1957. His most loyal partner and friend was alto saxophonist and flautist Jacques Pelzer who, after the adventure with the Bob Shots, imposed himself in this decade as an outstanding musician of European jazz. Vibraphone player, percussionist and vocalist Sadi Lallemand, nicknamed "Fats", was another Belgian who took up residency in Paris. He recorded with Django Reinhardt in 1953 and the same year he debuted as a leader with Fats Sadi's Combo, an album that was even released by the legendary Blue Note label in the USA. Sadi was a much in demand sideman, playing with Lucky Thompson, Martial Solal, Jimmy Deuchar and many more. In the sixties, he was one of the core members of the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band and often worked for Belgian radio and television. At the end of the 1950s, guitarist Philip Catherine was one of the leading young musicians who came to prominence on the Belgian jazz scene. Even before his twentieth year, he jammed at la Rose Noir, played at the festivals of Comblain and Ostend and toured Europe with Lou Bennett. After 1965, he also started to compose. Even though the most talented Belgian jazz musicians lived abroad during the golden era of modern jazz, Belgium was not a complete jazz wasteland. Clubs like La Rose Noire and the Blue Note were the go-to places for touring musicians seeking an after-work jam session. In Antwerp, the jazz scene was dominated by saxophone player Jack Sels, who was also very productive working for Belgian radio and television. A highlight in this small discography is a recording with Lucky Thompson from 1959. In 1959, the jazz festival of Comblain-La-Tour became the annual jazz center of Europe, and featured concerts by American jazz stars like Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and Cannonball Adderley. With tens of thousands of visitors at almost each edition, the little village of Comblain-La-Tour was dubbed "The Jazz Capital of Europe". In 1961, Comblain outdid the Newport Jazz Festival with a crowd of 30,000 jazz enthusiasts, giving the most famous jazz festival in the world a run for its money. It would continue until 1966. Jacques Pelzer went on to work in Italy and toured with Chet Baker while René Thomas set up a new quartet with Bobby Jaspar, and played with Pelzer and Lee Konitz at European festivals, before falling back into a lean period in 1966. Still, despite these tough times for jazz, new clubs opened: The Blue Note and Pol's Jazz Club in Brussels, the Jazz Inn in Liege, and the Jazz Clu Hnita in Heist-Op-Den-Berg. Due to the absence of its main players during the heydays of modern jazz, Belgium will not be remembered for a unique jazz sound or an extensive discography. However, the little country produced a number of highly talented musicians who played lead roles on the international jazz scene. Let's Get Swinging: Modern Jazz in Belgium 1950-1970 retraces their steps and presents some of their finest works. Features: Jon Eardley, René Thomas-Bobby Jaspar Quintet, Jacques Pelzer And His Young Stars, Philip Catherine & Robert Pernet, Francy Boland, Saxorama & Jack Sels, Herman Sandy Quartet, Fats Sadi Quartet, Bobby Jaspar Quintet, The Clouds, Lucky Thompson & Jack Sels Sextet, Francy Boland Trio, Bobby Jaspar, Jacques Pelzer Sextet, René Goldstein And His Group, René Thomas Et Son Modern Group, Jacques Pelzer Quartet, and The St. Tropez Jazz Octet.