Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Pianist and arranger Claude Bolling's work explores the commonalities of jazz and classical music. Initially praised for his dedication to keeping traditional jazz alive, Bolling has demonstrated his ability to integrate classical soloists into a jazz ensemble without compromising either tradition.
Claude Bolling was born on April 10, 1930 in Cannes, France, but has lived most of his life in and around Paris. While initially interested in drawing and painting, Bolling developed an early attraction to music. By the age of eleven, Bolling began to study classical piano. As a teenager, a friend of Bolling’s introduced him to recordings by pianist Fats Waller, which sparked his interest in jazz.
Bolling began to systematically listen to recordings by Art Tatum, Earl Hines, Willie “The Lion” Smith and Duke Ellington. Bolling found Ellington to be his musical inspiration, taking a particular interest in the bandleader’s juxtaposition of jazz and classical sensibilities.
During the German occupation of France during World War II, Bolling lived in Nice, France, where studied piano with Marie-Louise “Bob” Colin, a pianist, trumpeter and drummer who performed in all-female orchestras during the war.
At age fifteen, Bolling entered the Hot Club de France’s annual musical competition and was awarded the prize for“Best Piano Player.” Following the competition, Bolling’s father helped Bolling become the youngest member of Frances's “Societé des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique,” an organization that represents authors, composers and publishers in the French music industry.
In 1945, Bolling formed his first working ensemble, a Dixieland band that would perform locally. By the end of 1948, Bolling performed with singer Bertha “Chippie” Hill at the Nice Festival and made his first recording. At this time, Bolling continued to study, taking lessons in jazz piano from Leo Chauliac, harmony from Maurice Durufle, counterpoint from Andre Hodeir and classical piano from Germaine Mounier.
For a short time, Bolling served in the French military where he performed with military groups often on trombone and percussion. Upon his return to civilian life, he began to perform at Parisian jazz clubs such as Club Saint-Germain, Vieux Dovecote and Caveau of Huchette .
After the Second World War, American jazz musicians began to travel, and in some cases relocate, to France, where Bolling opportunities to perform with them. Bolling performed with bandleader Lionel Hampton, clarinetist Albert Nicholas, cornetist Rex Stewart, saxophonists Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins, trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Thad Jones amongst others.
Throughout the 1950s, Bolling developed his career in France by retaining a prolific performing and recording schedule. As his popularity increased, Bolling received offers to arrange and compose for other popular musicians. In 1955, Bolling contributed to singer Boris Vian’s album Possible and Impossible Songs. The success of the album allowed Bolling to compose for several artists including Brigitte Bardot, Sacha Distel, and Jacqueline François. That same year, Bolling founded his own big band, which he named the “Show Bizz Band.”
In the late 1950s, Bolling began to score films, his first being Maurice Cazeneuve’s 1958 movie That Night. Bolling’s film scores include The Day and The Hour, Borsalino, and The Splendid One. Bolling was able to parlay his success in film into scoring for television shows such as The Brigades of the Tiger, Garçonne, and The Clan.
Throughout the 1960s, Bolling supplemented his performance and recording schedule by acting as the creator, manager and producer of “Les Parisiennes,” a female vocal quartet that were known for novelty songs, synchronized dancing and modern outfits.
In May 1966, Bolling released the album Original Ragtime. The first of several solo piano albums, it includes his interpretation of several ragtime classics, which include Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and James P. Johnson’s “Harlem Strut.” On “Kitten on the Keys,” Bolling exhibits his refined technique and playful feel of the ragtime tradition. Through his careful rendition of this material, Bolling pays tribute to the integrity of ragtime and its composers.
In 1972, Bolling recorded a session to honor past jazz piano masters. Eventually released in 2001 under the title Jazz In Paris: Claude Bolling Plays the Original Piano Greats, the album includes songs by Thelonious Monk and Earl Hines.
On “Misty,” Bolling performs with an elegant feel that facilitates the ballad texture of the song. Bolling provides lush and stylish lines that add a confident tone to his performance. The occasional dissonant chord enhances the overall song and modernizes the chordal framework.
Bolling began to receive attention in the United States with the release of Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio in 1975. Recorded with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, the album included both classical and jazz elements, and remained on Billboard’s classical music charts for ten years. It was the first of several “crossover” records where Bolling would record jazz suites with a classical musician.
On this recording, Bolling and Rampal are joined by drummer Marcel Sabiani and bassist Mel Young. On “Veloce,” Bolling and Rampal construct a perfect tension and release situation where both musicians react to one another resulting in an exciting and dramatic end to the album. Rampal adds clever, classical-sounding articulations.
In 1976, Bolling formed the “Claude Bolling Big Band,” which has performed for over thirty years. In 1977, Bolling and violinist Pinchas Zuckerman recorded Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano. In 1981, Bolling recorded with legendary violinist Stephane Grapelli, which resulted in the album First Class. The album was met with critical praise and was awarded the “Django d’Or” by the European Jazz Foundation and the Hot Club de France Award.
In 1984, Rolling and cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano. In 1986, Bolling released Bolling Plays Ellington, Volumes 1 and 2, and recorded Ellington's Black, Brown and Beige in 1993. In 1994, Bolling’s big band gave the first in a series of concerts in observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. On March 22, 1996, Bolling performed Ellington’s A Drum Is A Woman at the Palais de Cahillot in Paris.
In 1996, Bolling’s big band celebrated its 20th anniversary with an international tour which included stops in Asia, Mexico, South America and the United States. In addition to his musical activities career, Bolling serves as an advocate for environmental and animal protection causes. Bolling works with several organizations including the “Fondation du Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau.”
Select Discography As Claude Bolling
As Claude Bolling
Claude Bolling Plays Duke Ellington (1956)
Original Ragtime (1966)
Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Piano (1975)
Toot Suite (1981)
Suite for Cello and Jazz Piano Trio (1984)
Jazz Brunch (1988)
California Suite (1989)
Bolling Plays Ellington, Vol. 1 (1991)
Bolling Plays Ellington, Vol. 2 (1991)
First Class (1991)
Jazz In Paris: Claude Bolling Plays the Original Piano Greats (2001)
With Jean-Pierre Rampal
Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (1975)
Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio, Vol. 2 (1986)
Contributor: Eric Wendell