Published on October 26, 2022Updated on June 19, 2023
Composer, producer, TV reviewer... The many roles of Alex Jaffray are fed by 20 years of unconditional love of music in all its forms. During these two decades he has composed the soundtrack of a film, a TV signature tune, the musical identity of a brand, and much more. 20 years of passion that he shares on TV, on the radio and now on stage.
"Why you are finally going to like jazz" is the name that you have given to your upcoming masterclass. Why do so many people still have trouble appreciating this musical style?
Alex Jaffray: Because jazz is a very "dividing" type of music, which seems to exclude listeners who don’t have the keys. It was time to set the record straight: jazz is a music for everybody!
It’s true that it is still occasionally described as an elitist music for discerning music lovers, and yet the roots of jazz are firmly set in popular America. That’s quite a paradox isn’t it?
A.J: You’re right! I was lucky enough to meet Lalo Schifrin, a genius composer notably famous for his unforgettable theme tune for Mission Impossible – the series –, and for the soundtracks of films such as Bullitt and Dirty Harry... So, anyway, Lalo Schifrin put it very eloquently when he said "Jazz is American classical music." Like all sophisticated art forms, jazz may have sometimes put too great a distance between its music and a public that didn’t know a lot about it … Or maybe it is not the fault of the music itself but the aficionados of jazz who erected this sacrosanct musical chapel around jazz...
What sort of emotions or ideas does jazz awaken in you?
A.J: An unparalleled density, risk-taking for the improvisations, a deeply-thought-out music but one that is also very much in the moment.
What is your first memory of jazz?
A.J: Johann Sebastian Bach! No, I’m joking but perhaps Bach revisited by the pianist Jacques Loussier. I should also mention the American band Blood, Sweat and Tears, a clever mixture of jazz, rock and blues. And also the first time I heard a tuba solo by the incredible Dave Bargeron.
Any memorable encounters?
A.J: Gilles Marsan [Editor’s note, artistic director of the Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival]! And also Clint Eastwood who is a huge fan of jazz.
Which jazz players influenced your "ear" for this music?
A.J: The pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet, the jazz fusion of the band Uzeb from Quebec, and also Keith Jarrett, whether as a trio, with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, or alone, improvising behind his piano.
From Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau to Jethro Tull and Magma, as well as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Melody Gardot, Anouar Brahem and many more... What can you say about the program of this 2022 edition of the MCJF?
A.J: I am a huge fan of Brad and Joshua – yes, I like to call them by their first names as if we had grown up together! I know the wonderful Melody, her new piano-vocal album Entre eux deux, recorded with Philippe Powell, is just magnificent! The 2022 program is fabulous and extremely eclectic. And I can’t wait to discover the legendary Magma in an orchestral version!
A musical report in the morning TV show Télématin on France 2, the animation by TedX, a short program, Le Son d’Alex, now in a long version in an autobiographical musical stand-up show... How do you explain this irrepressible need that has fuelled you over the past 20 years?
A.J: You’ve nailed it! It’s true, I am completely driven by a desire to share knowledge in a fun way. It’s probably because I was lucky enough to have generous teachers who were always there for me and who, by sharing their passion, nourished mine.
In an interview, you made the distinction between "sharing knowledge" and "lecturing". What does that say about your approach to transmission?
A.J: Learning always requires effort, so it’s best to do it by provoking laughter and curiosity. It’s a way of making something useful enjoyable too.
"Musical agitator", "Populariser"… Do you agree with these descriptions of you?
A.J: Agitated, without a doubt! [Editor’s note, laughs and waves his arms about].
In what state of mind are you going to approach this masterclass?
A.J: I see it as an opportunity and also as a prototype. It is a creation with my comrade on the piano, Olivier Decrouille.
What are your arguments to make us "finally like jazz"?
A.J: I’m not going to reveal the content of this masterclass (shhh!) but it is very possible that you will discover that you were already in love with jazz even before entering the room.
Monaco, land of jazz… what does that inspire in you?
A.J: I was lucky enough to be the curator of the exhibition Monaco on Stage, 100 years of concerts in Monaco.
That gave me access to the list of incredible artists, jazzmen and women who have come to make the air of Monaco vibrate with music. It inspires me to take a DeLorean and to travel back in time to be a spectator at all these concerts.
Do you have a favourite spot here?
A.J: The Bar Americain, but be warned, the price of a tequila is exorbitant!
If Monaco were a jazz tune, which one would it be and why?
A.J: Lullaby of Birdland, that amazing love song, an immense standard of American jazz composed in 1952 by George Shearing and made famous by the voice of Sarah Vaughan. It was played by greats like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. Why this tune? Because... well, actually, it’s much too long to explain!