Born and died in Paris, Jean-Louis Chautemps was 90 years old. The music (saxophones, flute, arrangements) will have made him travel. He has taken all the paths – jazz, classical, contemporary music, variety… – without ever changing his mind. Astonishing juggler of paradoxes, artist of the opposite, he will have liked to scramble the cards. Except in the search for sound, rhythm, accuracy and perfection. Desacralization included. Member of the College of Pataphysics which he joined at the invitation of Boris Vian and André Hodeir.
Like Charlie Parker, whom he met in 1948, like Sonny Rollins, whom he often quotes, Chautemps plays with his eyes wide open. What always surprises in a saxophonist, except at the ball, one tends to desire it rather, the eyes wickedly closed towards who knows what interiority. A TV interviewer: “Can you tell us about this album [this is his only personal record, entitled Chautemps (1988)]? Very soft response, uncertain smile: “No…”
Saxophonist, flautist, composer of the moment, clandestine philosopher, eternal student with the air of impulsive adolescent, dressed in white, canary yellow and fuchsia, when black has spread among artists, it arouses in its interlocutors, who do not always know on which foot to dance, the qualifier of “dandy”.
It is a lazy approximation: there is in the current dandy or his avatars something willed that the elegance of Chautemps had no need of. If, in the mid-1960s, the specialized magazines made him an icon of free-jazz, it was because of his precocity in grasping this “new thing” (the “new thing”), as early as 1959. above all in the name of the sovereign freedom he lives alongside all the musicians he respects and from whom he learns.
Studies after 40
Very long and tireless propaedeutic of a life in music which will lead him to resume studies at the Sorbonne, at the age of 40, to study the flute with Maxence Larrieu and Robert Hériché as he had studied the saxophone with Marcel Mule; to write a saxophone treatise (with Jean-Marie Londeix and Daniel Kientzy) as well as incisive texts for Les Cahiers du jazz, to co-found the Quatuor de saxophones with François Jeanneau, Jacques Didonato and Philippe Maté (several times awarded, celebrated in New York as much as in Germany)… Not to mention his theatrical creations (Sade), his brilliant radio performances (“Black and Blue”, with Lucien Malson and Alain Gerber on France Culture) and a few happenings: such as this cigar solo as a chorus with Compagnie Lubat…
Father doctor, mother, Ludmila Savitzky, translator – notably of Christopher Isherwood or James Joyce (Dedalus) -, Chautemps began an academic career by the way truant: successively fired from the Ecole alsacienne, the nursery of the bourges, and from the Buffon high school .
The most curious thing is that this fake casual with the tall silhouette of a slender teenager will never stop taking philosophy courses (Jankelevitch), reading or studying the findings of the most cutting-edge science. One of the first to take the computer seriously, he who has no particular fondness for recording (“The corpse of notes and music”).
Equipped with a phono given to him by his parents (good jazz lovers, what a question, they had attended the Duke Ellington concert in 1933, and in the wake of that of Louis Armstrong the following year), he, therefore, had fun varying the speed, first sound manipulation before meeting the two Pierres, Schaeffer and Henry.
In Paris, he will hardly have left the Bermuda triangle of the beautiful districts: Saint-Germain, Montparnasse, Vaugirard, of which he pitied rather than blamed the strange disfigurement of these last years. We will have known him driving a coach, Chevrolet or Cadillac convertible blue of woad…
Exquisite and funny partner
The music will have made him travel. His life as a partner, as an exquisite as well as funny companion, will have taken him very far: in time, already, rubbing shoulders with the jazz historians, Django Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet, Kenny Clarke, Nathan Davis, Martial Solal; traveling in space, on a long tour with Chet Baker, in 1953: called in to replace a great Belgian musician (“I was the poor man’s Bobby Jaspar…”); speaking as a fine connoisseur of his art of driving or smoking that it was imperative to share to play alongside him… Three years in Cologne in Kurt Edelhagen’s orchestra, from 1957 to 1960.
Also traveling in styles, from Zoot Sims to Albert Ayler to Claude Bolling; traveling through the ages and delusions or parallel demands, with François Jeanneau, Michel Portal, Daniel Humair, Eddy Louiss, René Urtreger, Eric Le Lann; or on those occasions that reveal the great “professionals” (see restaurant): Johnny Hallyday, Pierre Boulez…
Inventing the open group Rhizome, creating a piece by Paul Méfano dedicated to him, co-founding the Orchester franco-allemand, with Albert Mangelsdorff… Playing with the Ensemble Musique vivant (Diego Masson, 1966), and the Ensemble intercontemporain founded by Pierre Boulez… but Johnny? We remember the fine flower of jazz criticism, ready to admit everything, taxes, a house to fix up, but Johnny? It hurts, Johnny… Imperturbable Chautemps, an indecisive smile: “First, they are the best musicians in Paris…” The fine flower is not convinced: “And then, it’s the best coke in Paris…” Knockout or donkey kick? Serge Loupien evokes with the rigor that befits these things (La France underground, Payot-Rivages, 2018), a chorus of Chautemps more than free, on Da Doo Ron Ron…
His own pillar of Notre-Dame (see Claudel) is Noël Chiboust, conductor who performs at the Schubert where his parents had trained him: “When, at the break, I saw him come down forcefully champagne in the heart of a bouquet of three or four dazzling creatures, I said to myself: “If this is jazz, then, no doubt, this is for me!” Provocation or candid truth?
His first grandfather, Chautemps, brother of politician Camille Chautemps, fell as a young officer on the second day of the 1914-1918 war. Jean-Louis Chautemps did not know him. He was entrusted to his other grandfather, Jules Rey, close to Verlaine and librarian of the Chamber of Deputies. Which, in Bourron-Marlotte (Seine-et-Marne), is “denounced”, it is not the word, “reported” would be more accurate, as a Jew. Nothing more exact.
“Be careful, underlines Jean-Louis Chautemps in a filmed interview (Les 9 Muses de Jean-Louis Chautemps, available on YouTube), not by the Germans, no, by French sluts from Bourron-Marlotte. Your very calm, all slipped between two imperfect subjunctive high school. In his incredible apartment-workshop-museum, Chautemps, at the end, often returned to this episode, with the same vehemence. From prison to prison, Jules Rey is sent to Auschwitz. At 14, Jean-Louis Chautemps is one of those who go every day to the Hotel Lutetia where the survivors of the camps return. Jules Rey will not return.