After writing about the great figures of the blues, former journalist Serge Truffaut returns to his first love. Jazz Memoirs brings together nearly 80 chronicles already published in Le Devoir and shows a generous connoisseur, allergic to academic and… Scandinavian jazz.
What pleased Serge Truffaut the most, when preparing Jazz Memories, was writing the preface. These few pages have allowed the former journalist and columnist at Le Devoir to go back to the sources – Congo Square, in New Orleans -, to paint a current portrait of the industry, to evoke these musicians he adores (Archie Shepp, in particular) and to have fun shooting a few well-chosen arrows.
He indeed begins his project of personal mapping of jazz by also saying what it is not. No, he was not born on the banks of the Thames, the Rhine or the Seine, he insists. Jazz is not European – it comes from the “muddy waters of the Mississippi”, he says – and the recordings from ECM, a well-known label including Keith Jarrett, in his opinion distill nothing but the boredom…
“I may be an old schnock, it could be,” he says in an interview, in a genuine burst of self-mockery.
Memoirs of jazz, after the preface, does not have much of a rant. It is above all a book where, by talking about the innovations of Randy Weston or the touch of Oscar Peterson, the author says in great detail all the affection he has for this music that inhabits him. He tells what, in his eyes, makes the specificity of the artists he focuses on and, at the death of each giant, tells a piece of the great history of jazz. The former journalist does all this with a precise pen, never banal, with erudition, but in an always accessible and engaging way.
“There’s one thing I stuck to the whole time I was at Le Devoir: being a jazz columnist,” he says.
Purist? Serge Truffaut would perhaps not deny the label. “I’m not a crusader and I never will be,” he said. It never bothered me that jazz wasn’t more popular than it is. It never was, except maybe in the 1930s, when there were Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie who, when they came to Montreal, didn’t play in clubs, but in hotels. Windsor, at the Hotel Mont-Royal, in the grand ballrooms. For the rest, it’s club music, there’s no point in procrastinating. »
Serge Truffaut deplores the extreme concentration of jazz labels within two large companies (Universal on the one hand, Concord on the other), but he also marvels at the vitality of small labels like Cellar Live, Smalls Live, Smoke Sessions and Stony Plain. “These four labels, they keep it pretty much alive, jazz!” “, he enthuses, saying the pleasure he has to watch live concerts on the website of Smalls, a New York club that broadcasts concerts online.
If most of Jazz Memoirs is made up of short portraits devoted to musicians, from Charles Mingus to Normand Guilbault via Dexter Gordon, Paul Bley or John Zorn, its author takes a step back at the end of the volume. He and his publisher have indeed retained a few texts where the columnist exposes in a more precise, more sociological way, the links between jazz and major issues such as the fight for the civil rights of black Americans and that for the rights of author.
Jazz memory, like Les nomades du blues, his previous book, is the kind of book that you can read out of order, according to your desires, and which makes you want to dive back into your old records or discover works to side of which we have been able to pass and which technology – this is its great advantage – makes available in a few clicks. Proof that the enthusiasm that Serge Truffaut sought to convey when he wrote in Le Devoir remains infectious 5, 15 or 30 years later.