Pianist, composer, producer, and bandleader Claude Bolling enjoyed his first successes as a kingpin in the mainland European trad jazz movement of the 1950s and '60s. A skilled pianist who was heavily influenced by Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, and Art Tatum, he also persisted in performing ragtime and old-style jazz during the years when U.S. and European pop culture was dominated by Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Beginning in 1975, Bolling created his own personal micro-genre of classical crossover chamber jazz, composing and recording entire suites that featured several of the world's most highly acclaimed virtuosi. While decades of devotion to ragtime, blues, New Orleans jazz, boogie-woogie and swing have earned him a faithful following throughout much of Europe, Bolling is best known in North America for his numerous albums of accessibly presented suites written and arranged specifically for classical soloists and a mainstream jazz rhythm section.
Claude Bolling was born in Cannes, France on April 10, 1930. A child piano prodigy, his primary jazz influence was Duke Ellington. The small band he assembled in 1945 drew inspiration from old time New Orleans jazz legends like Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet as well as the groups led by Ellington sidemen Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Cootie Williams. This blend of interests would soon place him on common ground with his almost exact contemporary, Britain's premier trad jazz bandleader, Chris Barber. In 1948 Bolling accompanied legendary blues vocalist Bertha Chippie Hill and subsequently gigged with trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Cat Anderson, cornetist Rex Stewart, saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. He formed and began leading his own orchestra in 1955, eventually naming it the Show Bizz Band.
During the 1960s Bolling demonstrated a keen business sense by supplementing his jazz oriented recording and bandleading activities with hectic and, one hopes, lucrative service as creator, producer, and manager of Les Parisiennes, a female pop vocal quartet who specialized in rapid-fire novelty numbers, synchronized movement, and brightly patterned mod-a-go-go outfits. He also composed quite a lot of incidental and theme music for films and television (including "Borsalino," "Netchaiev Est de Retour," and "Les Brigandes du Tigre"), while expanding his knowledge and interpretive range to include early modern jazz pianists like Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, and Horace Silver in addition to swing and stride favorites Fats Waller, Count Basie, and Willie "The Lion" Smith.
When the cheery opening bars of "Baroque and Blue" began emanating from radios and stereo phonographs throughout the U.S. in 1975, both Bolling and flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal quickly became household names among listeners who enjoyed both jazz and European chamber music as some of the melodies seemed to reflect the sunny influence of Jacques Ibert. The mingling of these currents worked nicely on the album Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio, and the record sold well, not least for its clever cover illustration depicting an anthropomorphized piano and a substantially upsized flute relaxing together in a hotel bed. The fact that the flute was blowing smoke rings gave the entire picture a humorously post-coital twist.
Bolling returned to the jazz/classical format many times, teaming up with a series of star soloists including guitarist Alexander Lagoya, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, trumpeter Maurice Andre, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, flautist Elana Duran. and pianists Emanuel Ax and Jean-Bernard Pommier. Bolling's two-piano inventions were composed in sonata form, and a "Suite for Piano and Chamber Orchestra" also emerged from his fertile imagination. In later years Bolling collaborated with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli and vocalist Guy Marchand, hosted numerous tributes to Duke Ellington and led a successful big band. His perseverance and longevity were rewarded with renewed interest in his many accomplishments, including of course Les Parisiennes, whose complete works were reissued shortly after the turn of the millennium in several eye-catching retrospective collections. ~ arwulf arwulf