The Jean Robert Archive.
JEAN ROBERT: THE START OF HIS MUSICAL CAREER
One of the most important saxophone players of Belgium must have been Jean Robert. Although he played in numerous bands and recording sessions and with a more then 40 years career in music, he seems now complete forgotten by the younger generation. What a shame! You won’t find his name listed in great handbooks like The World of Swing by Stanley Dance, The Big Bands by George T. Simon or The Swing Era written by Gunther Schuller. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz is an exception, as it has a small entry written by Robert Pernet, the Belgian Jazz historian and discographer pre-eminently. Well, prejudiced or not, fact is that Coleman Hawkins in person, labelled Jean Robert as one of the best tenor saxophone improvisators in Europe, so ……….
Thanks to his grandchildren Michelle and Bas I can share with you some photos from Jean Robert’s own personal scrap books in some contributions to follow. Some people on the photo’s were easily to identify; others not – that’s why we ask for your help identifying the musicians on the pictures. Today the first contribution about Jean Robert titled: Jean Robert: The start of his musical career. More contributions later. Jean Robert on a Jazz Wereld drawing ( photo courtesy Jean Robert archive)
He was born in Brussels (Belgium) June 1908 and became a professional musician in 1927 in the orchestra of Pierre Pacquet, better known as Peter Packay. He started to play the piano, his main instrument in those days, but changed to the tenor saxophone soon. His first recordings were in London for Edison Bell Winners with the Red Robins, a band directed by Peter Packay. Listen to a tune, titled Desperado Shuffle, which he recorded June-July 1928 as a member of the The Red Robins. The personel of this band is: Peter Packay trumpet and director, Paul D’Hondt trumpet, Almeida De Pereira trombone, Philippe Maniet alto saxophone and clarinet, Richard Dutoin alto, bass saxophone and clarinet, Jean Robert tenor saxophone and hawaiian-guitar (sorry, not on this tune), Armand Courtois piano, Van Est, sousaphone and Louis Gourmet drums.
His first recordings in Belgium were with the Chas. Remue Big Band (September 1929), in which he played, except the tenor saxophone, also the bass saxophone and clarinet.
During the 1930s he developed into a sought after musician and he played in the great Belgium swing bands, like the band of Gus Deloof, a Belgian musician, who started in the band of the German bandleader Bernard Ette. In 1931 Jean is to be found on two Pathé-recordings with this band of Gus Deloof and he is asked to become a member of the Albert Sykes Orchestra, that has a gig during the summer months in some Belgian clubs along the North Sea coast. In 1932 he had his own orchestra, The Atlanta Band, with Jean Omer, Pierre Parent, Jean Damm, John Ouwerx, Chas. Dolne, Pol Serluppens and Gustave Douffet. It is remarkable to learn, that he was only present on a few recording sessions and his saxophone playing is only to be heard on a few records of this period. He often played in The Netherlands too, like in the orchestra of Henk Bruyns, the former trumpet player in Melle Weersma’s band and in the Freddie Bierman Cracker Jacks. Robert De Kers ( photo courtesy Jean Robert archive)
Jean Robert was a regular member of the Robert De Kers Orchestra , early 1930s. Robert De Kers played with Oscar Alemán in the Harry Fleming band and when that band broke, he introduced Oscar Alemán to Josephine Baker, who needed a guitar player. Oscar Alemán should develop into a legendary guitar player and leader of The Baker Boys.
The band of Robert De Kers belonged to the best bands of that period. In 1937 the band played at a gig in the Rotterdam Pschorr Jazz club – it is possible that Jean Robert was one of the members of the band. In 1938 Jean Robert founded his own band at toured to Switzerland and performed at the Cotton Club in Brussels, the fore runner of Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit, a cabaret, founded by Jean Omer for which its Parisian namesake served as an example. Robert De Kers Orchestra. Robert is behind the keys and Jean Robert is the 4th one standing behind the grand piano. Who's that lady in the middle? ( Photo courstesy Jean Robert archive)
One of the guests to play in the Cotton Club was piano player Freddy Johnson, who brought in his trio. Freddy Johnson had entered The Netherlands in 1934 with his Harmelites and he had hanged around in Holland, playing with bands like Harry Pohl’s, The Ramblers Dance Orchestra, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins. In the next contribution: Jean Robert: The European Hawkins, I hope to tell you more about that.
Love to thank Michelle and Bas for sharing photo's from their grandfather's archive - photo's which need some identification. Please contact us if you can identify musicians and bands.Charles Boogaert ( photo courtesy Jean Robert archive)
Who was this Charles Boogaert? Is this, maybe, Gaston Bogaert, the drummer, Jean Roberts played with in the Jean Omer bands? More info requested.
One of the best record releases that contains a survey of Belgian jazz is the 2CD Jazz in little Belgium ( The collection Robert Pernet). It contains almost 50 tracks with the complete Belgian jazz history and an extensive illustrated and informative booklet. ( No English, sorry – only a French and a Flemish version exists). A must-have !!
According this contribution, the album contains:
GUS DELOOF and his RACKETEERS
March Of The Hoodlums - 42173
Recorded in Brussels (Belgium) on the 24th of March 1931
Gus Deloof director and cornet player - Lucien Devroye trumpet - Jos Breyre trombone - Jean Omer clarinet and alto sax - Arthur Saguet tenor sax and clarinet - Jean Robert bass sax and tenor sax - John Ouwerx piano - Reggie Denys guitar - Arthur Peeters bass and Jos Aerts drums
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