French flair

Popular chanteur Michel Jonasz croons a sophisticated blend of pop, jazz and r&b in Tel Aviv.

Man in France 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Man in France 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Even though most Francophones are drooling over the planned October return to Israel of the French Elvis, Johnny Hallyday, another French legend will be landing here much sooner.
Michel Jonasz has been a steady force on the French music scene for as long as Hallyday, with his sophisticated blend of crooning nostalgic pop, jazz and r&b. And the 65-year-old composer-songwriter, singer and actor, who will be appearing on March 25 at the Tel Aviv Opera House, evidently has forged a strong following in Israel as well. He’s appeared here twice before – in 2006 with a greatest hits show, and two years ago performing his musical play, Abraham, dedicated to his grandfather, a cantor at a Hungarian synagogue who perished at Auschwitz.
The show was showcased for eight months through April 2010 at the Théâtre de la Gaîté-Montparnasse in Paris, where Jonasz would alternate heartfelt dialogue with equally emotive music that recalled the traditional Hungarian Gypsy music his family would play while he was growing up in Darcy, France.
Always drawn toward music, theater and art, Jonasz left school at the age of 15 to pursue a career in the arts.
Influenced by Frenchmen Georges Brassens, Léo Ferré and Jacques Brel, as well as Ray Charles and Eddy Mitchell, he initially formed three bands, including The King Set, before launching his solo career in 1968 under the name Michel Kingset. But it took until 1974, under his own name, for him to begin to reach a wide audience with hits “Dites-Moi” and “Super Nana.”
The next year, his second album, Changez Tout, saw Jonasz develop as a songwriter and produce his first signature tune, “Les vacances au bord de la mer.” The rest of the decade saw his popularity skyrocket, and by 1981 he had released his seventh album – La Nouvelle Vie – which earned him his first gold record.
The success continued through the 1980s, including his 1985 blockbuster Unis Vers and its hit singles “La Boîte de Jazz,” “La Bossa,” and “La FM Qui S’est Spécialisée Funky.”
Acting roles – like Le Testament du Poete Juif Assassiné (based on an Elie Wiesel novel) – also raised Jonasz’s profile, making him one of France’s most recognizable and popular stars. He combined singing and acting in 1987 with the stage show “La Fabuleuse Histoire de Mister Swing,” telling the tale of a musician’s traumatic double life on and off the stage.
As Jonasz transitioned into the elder statesman of French pop, his popularity and output stagnated in the 1990s and early 2000s, but by 2005 he was ready for a comeback album, which brought him back into the spotlight. Two years later, he further cemented his reputation by recording an album of his favorite songs by other artists, including Brel’s “La Chanson des Vieux Amants” and Edith Piaf’s “La Foule.” The development and performances of Abraham took up the next few years, but last year Jonasz released his first studio album in six years – Les Hommes Sont Toujours des Enfants, spiced up with tzigane music, blues, rock and salsa.
Promising to perform his classic hits, as well as new material, Jonasz will be returning to Israel with a full orchestra for his show next week. It’s likely that following Jonasz’s performance, Johnny Hallyday will have to give up any hope of resting on his laurels.
Michel Jonasz will perform on March 25 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv.