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John Robert Brown
I first heard of Aurélie Tropez via my friend the outstanding clarinettist James Evans. James is to be seen on YouTube, on many clips. In several of these he appears in jazz clarinet duets with Tropez, where the two players play superb swing clarinet together. A link to their performance of I Got Rhythm (complete with a final super C from James!) is given at the foot of this page.
Naturally enough, through James Evans I made contact with Aurelie. The following interview was originally conducted in French, by email.
“My husband, Stéphane Gillot, is a saxophonist. He leads the Red Hot Reedwarmers (www.reedwarmers.com). Actually, I met Stéphane during a jazz festival in Burgundy in 2003, where he was performing with a band. I was there with The Jazzticots, my family orchestra. Since we had good feelings about music, we decided to build a band together. That began the Red Hot Reedwarmers. Little by little, something other than music developed between us. We became parents in 2010, and got married last year.
“We have a marvellous baby son, called Evan. He is an enthusiastic and uncritical fan of the Aristocats. He uses chopsticks as drumsticks, to imitate drum solos, and can sing the trumpet part in the well-known song Everyone Wants to be a Cat (‘Tout le Monde Veut Devenir Un Chat’)”
Now, Tropez lives in suburban Paris, at Noisy-le-Grand. “I began to play the clarinet at the age of eight, when I lived in a small village. A school of music opened, where the only professor played the clarinet. Therefore, I played the clarinet!
“As far as I can recall, the first player I heard was Benny Goodman, but I don’t remember specifically. I listened to what my parents listened to, without asking any questions. My musical tastes are divided into two categories: my favourite musicians, to whom I can listen on record, and those who I can hear and see live.
“I am too young to have seen any of the jazz masters in action. I appreciate them, but only know their playing by proxy from records, which distorts the feeling a little. Naturally, therefore, I find compensation in listening to members of my entourage. They have become references for me.” Tropez lists her favourite clarinettists as Benny Goodman, Buddy de Franco, Edmond Hall, Kenny Davern, Buster Bailey and Omer Siméon. Nearer home, her favourite clarinettists include Evan Christopher, Matthias Seuffert, Jean-François Bonnel and Alain Marque.
“In jazz generally, there are too many names to mention,” she says, “But they include Ruby Braff, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Pat Metheney, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Paul Desmond, Colman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson , Stan Getz, Errol Garner, and many others. Because I have such a huge admiration for them I would also include: Jérôme Etcheberry (tpt), Philippe Milanta (piano), Nicolas Montier, Nicolas Dary and André Villéger (saxophones), Stan Laferrière (piano, guitar, voice, arranger and drums), Spats Langham (banjo and voice) and Nick Ward (drums). In classical music I must mention romantic and post-romantic musicians such as Chopin, Satie, Beethoven, Debussy, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.”
Tropez didn’t learn to play the piano when young, so she tried to learn piano four years ago. “But I didn't have enough time,” she says. “Since I’ve had my baby it has become difficult to find time to do anything else!” Tropez learned to play the clarinet from the age of 8, with a teacher in a small music school. “But he wasn't a good teacher,” she says. “Then I started to learn classical saxophone at the conservatory in Nice. I won awards for saxophone and chamber music. At the same time I continued to play clarinet in jazz orchestras, as I took the course.
“I resumed the study of jazz clarinet studies in Aix-en-Provence with Jean-François Bonnell. He opened my ears, and helped me to discover the pleasure of listening. He also helped me to discover great jazz solos. In turn, this pushed me to become a professional musician!
“I then studied with Nicolas Dary in Paris, who made me work at harmony. Now, I can improvise on a piece without hearing it previously Then I took a few courses with André Villéger. He also made me work at harmony, learning tunes and developing my clarinet sound.”Do you ever take consultation lessons today?
“No. I stopped during my pregnancy. My life as a young mother, and as a professional musician, left me no time to study.”
Did you become a professional musician straight from school?
“I earned some of my living by playing the clarinet from the age of 20, but I became really professional at the age of 25 years.
Do you (or have you ever) transcribed (written down) great jazz solos from records?
“YES! I did it a lot. When I have time I still do it, and I love it”
Have you ever studied the classical clarinet repertoire - Weber, Mozart, Poulenc, Milhaud, etc.?
“No, never, I only studied classical saxophone repertoire.”
When do you plan to visit Britain again?
“For the moment I have no concert in Britain. However, my husband will perform at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party next October.
What do you like most about playing professionally?
“Playing professionally has helped me, in that I play regularly with wonderful artists. It's a huge pleasure to share my passion with talented musicians. I also much appreciate meeting and creating links with people across the world. To be able to live one’s passion is great good luck!”
Is there any aspect of playing professionally that you dislike? That is, apart from tiresome Englishmen trying to interview you!
“This interview is funny. I like it! Sometimes to earn a living and to feed his family, a musician should not be expected to play in poor conditions ('rules') for people who not heed his music, I don't like that. This job calls years of personal work. During our entire lives, almost daily the working hours are long. Some people see only the "fun" side. Such lack of respect hurts me deeply.There is also the darker side of touring. I constantly have a suitcase at home, ready to travel. Sometimes I feel as though I’m living out of a suitcase.”
I play a Selmer Recital clarinet, with a Vandoren mouthpiece (5JB), and Vandoren V12 reeds (N°3).
- Jazzticots “Static Strut” (2000), “High Fever”(2006)
- Red hot Reedwarmers “King Joe”(2005), “Apex Blues”(2007) (Stomp Off Records)
- Kirby Memory “Pastel Blue”(2006)
- Pink Turtle “ Pop in swing”(2007), “A la mode”(2012)
- Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra “Duke Ellington is alive”(2009)(Grand prix du Hot Club de France), “Ellington French Touch”(2012)(Columbia/ Sony Music)
- China Moses and Raphael Lemonier “This one’s for Dinah”(2009)
- Stan Laferriere “To my guitar Heroes”(2009)
- Laurent Mignard Duke Orchestra
- Swingberries “Laughing at life”(2012)
Future CD issues:
“I recorded a CD with one of my bands, the Swingberries, in 2012. Then I plan to record a second CD with "Djangobop", Stan Laferriere's band.”
John Robert Brown