Back in the mid / late 1960s I was heavily into jazz and particularly some of the avant grade and jazz/rock stuff coming out of America at the time e.g. Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Miles Davis, Weather Report etc.
At the time a friend of mine, knowing of my interest in jazz asked me if I had even come across the Jacques Loussier trio who played jazz versions of classical music, particularly the music of J S Bach.
Being the purist that I was at the time I more or less dismissed the suggestion but was eventually persuaded to listen to one of the groups LPs (ask your parents if you don’t know what that is).
The first thing that my friend played to me was Prelude No 1 by Bach which starts off in the classical manner, then in comes the walking bass and eventually the trio move away from the score and start to improvise.
The whole piece lasts just over five minutes but it is five minutes of simple beauty with wonderful interplay between the three instrumentalists.
In 1959 he formed the Jacques Loussier Trio with string bass player Pierre Michelot who had previously played with Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and percussionist Christian Garros. They used Bach’s compositions as a base for jazz improvisation and had many live appearances, tours, and concerts, as well as a number of recordings.
Originally the trio recorded for Decca Records but in 1973 changed to Philips/Phonogram. The trio sold over six million albums in 15 years. Their most famous recording is “Air on the G String” which was used for the Hamlet cigar advertisements in the UK for over 35 years.
In 1978, the trio broke up, and Loussier set up his own recording studio in Provence, where he worked on compositions for acoustic and electric instruments. He also worked with musicians like Pink Floyd, Elton John, Sting, and Yes. Allegedly, parts of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall were recorded at his studio.
I remember going to see the trio perform in Manchester in the in the late 1960s and near thirty years later taking my daughter (then aged about twenty) to see Loussiers then group at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
Loussier has often been dismissed by hard-line music critics from both the jazz and classical world, but that is often down to snobbery and elitism. The man is a wonderful musician and the video I have posted is of the original recording of Bach’s Prelude No 1 by the trio, and it still sounds as good today as when I first heard it.