Metrotainment: The jazz trumpet

Jean-Loup Longnon will be bringing his sound to five gigs across the country

Jean-Loup Longnon (photo credit: JEAN-BAPTISTE MILLOT)
Jean-Loup Longnon
(photo credit: JEAN-BAPTISTE MILLOT)
Jean-Loup Longnon is simply larger than life. For starters he’s one of the most energized trumpeters on the jazz scene, and he appears to grab life with both hands off the bandstand, too.
“I was in Eilat over 20 years ago, to play at the Red Sea Jazz Festival, and I still have a wonderful picture in my mind of my mother swimming with a dolphin in the Red Sea. She even got a hug from it,” recalls the 61-year-old Frenchman. “I hope to get down to Eilat, to the Red Sea again, this time, too.”
Longnon will be busy putting out some typically colorful musical vibes at five gigs between February 28 and March 8, in Modi’in, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Kfar Giladi and Acre. His partners in jazz arms are saxophonist Amikam Kimelman, bass player Dima Grodsky, pianist Ronen Shmueli and drummer Rony Holan.
Longnon hails from a very musical family and, in fact, started on his path to creative exploration as a pianist, with some added training on cello. It was when he was in his teens that his thoughts and passion turned towards the trumpet.
Typically, it was largely down to joie de vivre, exuded by one of the art form’s most iconic exponents, Louis Armstrong, which swung Longnon’s instrumental interest away from the ivories. “It was Armstrong who inspired me to take up the trumpet,” he explains, “and after him Dizzy Gillespie and also [now-93-year-old] Clark Terry.”
Gillespie was also one of jazz’s most ebullient characters. “I played a lot of time with Dizzy and Clark, and Dizzy and I were good friends, and Clark and I had plenty of good times together.” The latter include a performance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in 1989. “I have a photograph somewhere of Clark and me in the desert near Eilat. That was fun.”
Longnon spreads his musical output across a wide range of formats, from quartets and quintets to full-blown big bands. Larger ensembles often conjure up images of yesteryear, when Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie fronted big bands that pumped out bucketloads of energy and irrepressibly joyous sounds.
But Longnon says that his penchant for working with large troupes is not fueled by any feelings of nostalgia for jazz’s insouciant infancy.
“I am not nostalgic, and I don’t like some kind or other of jazz because it comes from this or t h a t period. I don’t want to start off a revival f r o m the past.
For me, music keeps evolving. Yesterday, I played in a club in the north of Paris. We played Dixieland, New Orleans style of jazz, with tuba, a banjo and a washboard. But for me, it makes no difference what style I play. I can play bebop on the Wednesday and New Orleans on the Thursday. That’s absolutely normal for me. I don’t have a feeling of nostalgia, because everything I listen to, and play, is in the present time.
It is always about what is happening now.
That is a central point of my philosophy.”
THEN AGAIN, Longnon does have his red lines. “There are things in jazz that I like, and things in jazz that I don’t like. I am not interested in the discourse of jazz after the 1970s. I am absolutely not interested in free jazz. Actually, in my personal opinion, free jazz was a fake,” he declares, consigning the work of such avant-garde leading lights as saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers and Albert Ayler, and pianist Cecil Taylor, to the artistic scrapheap. “It didn’t evolve at all. All the [free jazz] players came back to mainstream and bebop after the free jazz period.”
Then again, reflects Longnon, maybe not all purveyors of avant-garde jazz ran out of creative juices. “I am not talking about the exceptions. Maybe Ornette Coleman was sincere but in my eyes, in general, free jazz was a fake.”
Given all his achievements to date, it comes as some surprise to hear that Longnon did it all the hard way. “I am self-taught,” he states. “I did not study music formally at all.” That, presumably, allowed him to nurture his talents, and evolving skills and technique, in his own way and to forge his own personal path through the mysteries and intricacies of musical exploration.
THAT MAY be so but, in retrospect, Longnon says he wouldn’t have minded taking a more conventional route to musical enlightenment. “The things I have learned have been, and are, much more difficult for me to understand, say some composition effect or some harmonic rules for a piece I am trying to write. It is much more difficult for me than for someone with a formal education, because my ideas escape me, because I am not used to being the master of the elements. It is very hard on me. I regret I am self-taught. It is true that selftaught people are very authentic, but it is very expensive to be authentic, because we lose a lot of time learning by ourselves what we could be learned in five minutes, if we could be patient enough to listen to the advice of a teacher.”
So, why didn’t he avail himself of the services of a bona fide institution of musical education? “I hate teachers,” comes the succinct reply. “Music was always my liberty, so it was unacceptable to me that a teacher would tell me what to do or what not to do. I am a rebel.”
Dissident of nature or no, Longnon hasn’t done too badly with his autodidactic take on music. He has composed classical works, and cites Ravel, Debussy, Prokofiev, Berg and Stravinsky among his sources of inspiration, and also racked up an impressive list of awards, including the Prix Django-Reinhardt, Prix Boris Vian, Prix Audiovisuel de l’Europe and the Django d’Or.
“There is no point, really, in regretting things I didn’t do in the past,” observes the trumpeter. “What’s done is done, and I manage to write classical music and play jazz. It’s just a little more difficult, that’s all.”
Tickets and information: Modi’in – (08) 973-7330 and daily_events_list.asp (February 28); Tel Aviv – Shablul Jazz Club, Tel Aviv Port, (03) 546- 1891 and (March 1); Jerusalem – Brigham Young University, (02) 626-5666 and (March 6); Kfar Giladi – (04) 690-0000/52/46 and (March 7); and Acre – Heichal Hatarbut, (04) 991-4207, 991-0622 and (March 8).