Sunday, May 03, 2009

Alix Combelle - the first French "black" jazz musician

Alix Combelle - the first French "black" jazz musician (English) Alix Combelle - de eerste Franse "zwarte" jazzmuzikant (Nederlands)

A limited Alix Combelle Discography

1912 - 1978
Alix Combelle - the first French "black" jazz musician
Georg Lankester
Translation: Hans Koert

In the early European jazz history, especially the 1930s in France, the years of the foundation of the Hot Club du France and the birth of the famous record label Swing, you will often find the name of Alix Combelle mentioned in combination with other great musicians like Stéphane Grappelli (written as ‘Grappelly’ in those days), Django Reinhardt, Louis Vola and André Ekyan. Let’s spotlight Alix Combelle today! This versatile musician played the tenor saxophone, the clarinet, was a vocalist, director of his orchestra, composer and arranger. The French nicknamed him: “Le premier négre du jazz, made in France” (= The first “black” French jazz musician).
Alix Combelle with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly
A musical start ………….
Alix was born in Paris on the 15th of June, 1912. His father was an alto saxophone player in the band of the Garde Républicaine, the Republican Garde, so ….. like father, like son. His first instrument was the drum, but soon he started to play the tenor saxophone although he also studied the alto and baritone saxophone as well as the clarinet. During the second half of the 1920s he wanted to become an engineer, but, fascinated by the music played in the Parisian dance halls, he stopped his study and became a fulltime jazz player.
He was often to be found at the l’Abbaye de Théléme, one of the first Parisian venues where Jazz was played. The pioneers of jazz, like trumpet player Alex Renard, Pierre Allier and Philippe Brun, trombone player Guy Paquinet, alto saxophonist André Ekyan, violin player Stephane Grappelli, guitar player Roger Chaput and the bass players Roger Allier and Roger Grasset played often in that venue.
Le Jazz de Paris of Alix Combelle. (photo: Les Grands Orchestres de Music Hall en France )
The 1930s.
In 1931 Combelle became part of the Bruno Orchestra and a year later he was one of the members of the Krikor Kelekian band. Krikor Kelekian, better known as the founder of the famous French band: Grégor et ses Grégoriens. Enjoy one of the records by Gregor et ses Gregoriens, titled Doin’ The Raccoon featuring Alix Combelle as part of the saxophone section.

He played in that band for one year and performed in other bands like Le Jazz du Poste Parisien from Lucien Moreweck, “Le Jazz Patrick” directed by trombone player Guy Paquinet and the Orchestre de Michel Warlop, which recorded for the new Swing label.
Enjoy the Gus Deloof composition Bouncin’ Around on a Swing record with Philippe Bruin and his Swingband ( featuring Philippe Brun, Gus Deloof, André Cornille (trumpets); Guy Paquinet, Joysse Breyere (trombone); Max Blanc, Charles Lisee (alto sax); Noel Chiboust, Alix Combelle (tenor sax); Stephane Grappelly (piano )(!); Django Reinhardt (guitar); Louis Vola (bass); Maurice Chaillou (drums) ( (March 1938)

Hugues Panassié and Charles Delaunay from the Hot Club de France asked Alix to accompany some US musicians, Freddie Johnson, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Bill Coleman to record as part of a quintet. In March 1935 Alix recorded two tunes with the new born Quintette du Hot Club de France, titled Crazy Rhythm and The Sheik of Araby.
L'Orchestre d' Alix Combelle (with vocalist Claude Nell) (photo: Les Grands Orchestres de Music-Hall en France)
In 1937 and 1938 Alix visited the States where he met Tommy Dorsey who invited him to join his band; it proofs his quality as a saxophone player.
Returned to France he became a member of the band of Ray Ventura; a great bands that needs to be spotlighted later.
The war and post-war period
During the German occupation he was the director of one of the best French jazz bands, labelled as Le Jazz de Paris, featuring some skilled trumpet players like Aimé Barelli and Christian Bellest. In the early 1940s he founded his own band, which would be active until the 1950s and featured a lot of skilful musicians. After the liberation from the German he accompanied some Americans visiting Europe like
Buck Clayton and Lionel Hampton.
In the 1950s and onwards Jazz is for Alix no longer the only music to make a living. During the 1960s and 1970s he composed and arranged music for films, radio and tv. His son Phillipe becomes a well known and active drummer in the Parisian jazz scene
Alix Combelle passed away in Mantes, a place near Paris. He is, together with
André Ekyan, one of the best saxophone players of the European jazz scene.

Alix Combelle was in the 1930s inspired by the white Chicagoan jazz style, but later he became fascinated by the black saxophone players Benny Carter, Chu Berry and especially Coleman Hawkins. He is one of the first European musicians to hold his own with the American musicians of those days. He is compared with musicians like Hawkins and Carter; a great compliment.
In the late 1930s his style of playing has been changed, due to the first Count Basie records with musicians like Herschel Evans and, of course,
Lester Young.
After the war he tried to bring, like Don Byas, both Hawkins and Young together.
All these influences mentioned above gave him his own personal style of playing his instrument; lively, sometimes a bit rough, with short phrases, but always with fresh ideas.
Georg Lankester -
(translation: Hans Koert)

Hans Koert
A reference list of orchestra's under his own name:
Alix Combelle solo (with the Quintette du Hot club de France) ( 1935)
Alix Combelle et son Orchestre ( 1937)
Alix Combelle's Hot four (1938)
Alix Combelle and his Swing Band (1940)
Trio de Saxophones Alix Combelle (1940-1941)
Alix Combelle et le "Jazz de Paris" (1941)
Alix Combelle et son Ensemble (1942-1945)
Alix Combelle et son Orchestra ( 1951-1960)
Alix Combelle et son quintette (1954)
A list of orchestra's witch Alix Combelle as a sideman

Gregor et son Gregoriens (1929-1934)
Michel Warlop et son Orchestra (1934-1936)
Le Jazz du Poste Parisien ( 1934)
Germaine Sablon (1934)
Patrick et son Orchestre (1934-1935)
Coleman Hawkins ( Michel Warlop et son Orchestra ) (1935)
Andre Eykan et son Orchestre (1935)
Adelaide Hall (John Ellsworth and his Orchestra (1936)
Coleman Hawkins and his All Star Jam Band (1937)
Philippe Brun and his Swing Band (1937-1938)
Philippe Brun and his Jam Band (1937-1938 1940)
Orchestre Jazz Victor (1938)
Ray Ventura and his Orchestra (1938)
Benny Carter and his Orchestra (1938)
Fletcher Allen and his Orchestra (1938)
Eddie Brunner and his Orchestra (1938)
The Hot Club Swing Stars (1938)
Jazz Victor (1939)
Danny Polo and his Orchestra (1939)
Freddie Johnson and his Orchestra (1939)
Arthur Briggs and his Swing Band (1940)
Django's Music (1940)Hubert Rostaing-Aime Barelli et leur Orchstre (1940)
Quintette du Hot Club de France (1940)
Christian Wagner et son Orchestre (1930)
Aime Barelli et son Orchestre (1941)
Pierre Fouad Quintette (1942)
Buck Clayton and his Orchestra (1949)
Andre Persiany et son Orchestre (1952)
Lionel Hampton (1953)
Buck Clayton Quintet/All Stars (1965)



Blogger Jo said...

Great article, thanks a lot to George for pointing us to an almost forgotten pioneer of the saxophone. Alix Combelle definitely belongs to the giants!


11:25 AM  
Anonymous BlueRhythm said...

Great article, please see the observations by his son , Phillippe and others about Alix Combelle's visit to Calcutta

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8:35 PM  
Anonymous BlueRhythm said...

We just found a photo of Alix Combelle in Calcutta..1952 approx..

And a letter that references his stay in Calcutta


5:30 PM  

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