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Farewell to singer Henri Salvador

5 min

Henri Salvador died last Wednesday at the age of 90. The man who played with Django Reinhardt and Boris Vian went varied from jazz to bossa nova to rock and even children's music. Videos and musical analysis below.

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Watch a selection of Henri Salvador videos :

Chambre avec vue [Room with a view]

Dans mon île [On my island]

Zorro est arrivé [Zorro has arrived]

 
Henri Salvador was born in Guyana in 1917, the year of the first jazz recording. “My life is an improvisation,” he said, with a wink to the first instance of jazz. : letting the music invent itself in the moment. But Salvador wasn’t limited to just a style of music. His journey couldn’t be contained in a box. He was dabbled in a bit of everything, at the risk of getting lost sometimes along the way.

 

 

His start came playign alongside famed gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, and in the company of his brother, André Salvador. A concert is recorded at Jimmy’s Club in 1940. One can’t dream of a better guitarist-mentor. Shortly afterwards, he goes on tour with the Ray Ventura Orchestra in Brazil. In retrospect, it was a foundational experience: the mix of jazz and traditional French “chanson,” as practiced by Ray Ventura, the savor of Paul Misraki compositions, the return to the Latin-American origins of Salvador’s birth. The young Franco-Guyanese musician finds several hours of Brazilian glory. Later, he even claimed to have invented the bossa nova. He said this while laughing, like a good joke. With his Guyanese childhood just next door to Brazil, the very cradle of samba and choro rhythms, along with his love for American jazz, he unsurprisingly found a junction between the two universes. Besides, the bossa nova is simply a slow-rhythm samba, a crossbreed of jazz harmony. Of course he wasn’t the inventor of the bossa nova; Carlos Jobim had down the lion’s share of the work and Salvador and Salvador knew it. But anyway…the song Dans mon île, which he sang when Carlos Jobim wasn’t even thirty years old, has stayed in Brazilian annals, to the point of being part of Caetano Velos’ repertoire.

 

 

Upon his return to France, Salvador was a remarkable jazzman. One only needs to listen to his album Salvador Plays the Blues (1951) to hear him scat-sing bee-bop in the style of Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald on standards like Stompin' at the Savoy and use guitar choruses in the style of Al Casey. From this period he kept an impeccable phrasing, a perfect rhythmic approach. “Henri Salvador is the one who swings the most among the variety music singers from that people. He was one France’s best scat singers. I would place him without hesitating among jazz musicians, “says Philippe Baudoin, jazz historian and author of Chronologie du Jazz, (Outre Mesure Editions, 2005), in an interview with FRANCE 24.

 

 

 
Rock, blues, "grub," and crooner phases
 
 
 

Salvador never stayed within the same style, trying a bit of everything. “He always suggested something else,” says Daniel Huc, saxophonist and jazz singer who played Salvador. “Everything he did came from an Americanisation of French chanson tradition and the art of living.” An amateur trumpet players and a good guitarist, Salvador even played a little rock n’ roll. But in a style more like parody, under the pseudonym Henri Cording. In particular, there is a recording where he played along with Michel Legrand and the iconic Boris Vian, all three of them under pseudonyms. The infernal trio ended up recording under their own names in 1956. But Salvador didn’t continue in rock n’ roll. “Like all jazz musicians, he tried it a bit. But it’s not an and in itself,” says trumpet player Patrick Artero, interviewed by FRANCE 24, who played several times with him, most notably on Chambre avec vue.

 

 

 Just like Sasha Distel, Salvador accompanied jazz through its swing and be-bop impulses, then took some distance. “Due to laziness, maybe, suspects Huc. “When we arrive at notoriety, we don’t have the same level of dedication toward jazz,” says Patrick Artero. He really wasn’t working on the trumpet, for example.”  Whether it was due to laziness or a taste for something new, Salvador succumbed to what was in style of the popular comedians. “In the style of François-Alexandre Galepides, aka "Mustache," the jazz drummer and amateur humorist, recalls Artero. Salvador then entered his “grub” phase, when he recorded Zorro est arrivé, Monsieur Boum boum... and his “blue period” (songs for Walt Disney).

 

 

But it was as a crooner that he dreamed of finishing his career. He wanted to rival Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. He started by reconnecting with jazz in Monsieur Henri (1994), a big band disc in the brass style of Count Basie. But he would finally find the pefect match with his final three albums: Chambre avec vue (2000), Ma chère et tendre (2003), and lastly, Révérence (2006), which he recorded in Brazil with orchestration by Jaques Morelenbaum and the musicians who commonly working with Carlos Jobim, Chico Buarque and Marisa Monte. He found once again what was charming about songs like Maladie d'amour, Scaphandrier, Le loup, la biche et le chevalier, L'abeille et le papillon and L'ombrelle et le parapluie. With a languid and seductive phrasing, mischievous and infantile accents which were personal to him, a love of melody and pretty harmonies and the rhythm landing just right. Maybe that too, is jazz.

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