Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Adieu, Henri Salvador

Feeling a little triste this evening, as the wonderful singer and musician Henri Salvador has passed away. I wrote a post on Salvador just a few months ago and included a video of his beautiful song, "Syracuse." Here's part of what I wrote:

Salvador is an international artist who's sadly unknown in the U.S. (Surprise!) He started performing in the 1930s and just released his new album, Révérence, a few months ago, which was given 4 stars in The Guardian, and includes performances with Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.

The man is 90 years old. And his voice is still incredible!

His version of the French chanson style has included elements of jazz and Brazilian music, and his own career has been long, varied, and fascinating. He played with Django Reinhardt back in the 1930s; won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque de l'Académie Charles Cros in 1949; wrote over 400 songs with Boris Vian in the 1950s, the two of them basically introducing the French to rock and roll; had several "novelty song" hits; performed on the Ed Sullivan show here and had his own popular television show in France; did a series of children's albums in in the 1970s; and recorded with Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, and most recently, with Rosa Passos, on her highly regarded - and sexy (lovers, take note) - album, Amorosa.
Here's the title song from his 2002 album, Chambre avec vue, which was released in a slightly different form in the U.S. as Room With a View (Blue Note.) It's a gorgeous, relaxed album, and I strongly recommended it. Perfect for a summer evening.

There's a good biography of Salvador at AllMusic. He was an interesting man; it's definitely worth reading his story.

And here's an Associated Press article from today, written by Jenny Barchfield: "French crooner Henri Salvador dies at 90."
PARIS - Henri Salvador, the velvet-voiced French musician credited with inspiring the bossa nova, bringing rock 'n' roll to France and helping create the music video, died Wednesday, his record label said. He was 90.

Salvador died at his Paris home of an aneurysm, said Carine Herve, of the Polydor label.

Salvador was known for his claps of booming laughter, raucous sense of humor, silken singing and incredible staying power. He worked past his 90th birthday last year and Polydor said he had planned to record a new album in 2008.

Innovation was a constant force in Salvador's long and varied life, which took him from France's South American enclave Guiana to Paris' most prestigious stages — and won the hearts of generations of French fans.

His honeyed voice appeared to defy the passage of time, remaining smooth and supple until the end. Salvador chalked it up to his technique.

"I don't sing, I whisper," he told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. "When you whisper into the mike, you are able to transmit real feeling."

Whether he was singing jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll or chanson francaise — traditional French pop — feeling was the key ingredient in Salvador's prolific and varied music.

Salvador was born July 18, 1917, in French Guiana into a middle-class family. His father, a municipal tax collector of Spanish descent, and his mother, a Caribbean Indian, both came from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

The family moved to Paris when Salvador was 7.

He said a cousin played him records by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstong and, "I fell in love with their music." ... "At age 12, I found my calling."

Salvador persuaded his father to buy him his first guitar and he taught himself to play, practicing, he said, "17 or 18 hours a day, until my fingers bled."

The effort paid off when he auditioned for his first gig at 17.

"The head of the orchestra was blown away," Salvador said. "He asked me, 'Where did you come from?' and I told him, 'From my room.'"

Salvador would play in orchestras for more than a decade — he toured South America with famed French bandleader Ray Ventura — before striking out on his solo career in 1946, as France emerged from World War II.

A performer of mythic proportions in France, Salvador was also a star in Latin America — particularly in Brazil, where he was often credited with inventing bossa nova.

Salvador rejected that claim, insisting the late Brazilian jazzman Antonio Carlos Jobim invented the style. Still, he acknowledged Jobim struck on the concept behind bossa nova — slowing down samba's frenetic tempo — while listening to the classic Salvador number "Dans Mon Isle."

"When I recorded that little tune, holed up in my apartment in Paris, I could never have imagined it would change musical history," said Salvador. "For me, it was an extraordinary stroke of luck — and a great honor."

In the early 1950s, Salvador teamed up with two people who would mark his career, songwriter Boris Vian and Jacqueline Garabedian, who became his impresario and second wife.

With Vian, Salvador collaborated on more than 400 songs that ran the gamut of styles, from blues to French Caribbean beguines. The duo is also credited with importing rock 'n' roll to France, with the hit "Rock and roll mops."

Garabedian, who died in 1976, was a driving force behind Salvador's stardom. A savvy businesswoman, she understood the power of television and pushed her husband to embrace it. Salvador was among the first singers to set his songs to televised images, prompting some in France to call him the father of the music video.

In the 1970s, Salvador expanded his fan base with a series of children's albums that included the French-language soundtracks of Disney's "The Aristocats" and "Robin Hood."

Over the following decades, he continued to tour and churned out so many albums he said he had lost count of them.

Still, Salvador insisted he didn't worry about going down in musical history.

"I don't care a bit about that," he said. "When we disappear, the world still keeps turning. We are nothing."

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