Christian Jacob

Born: May 8th, 1958, Metz (France)
Nationality: French

Eurovision record
Jazz pianist and arranger Christian Jacob took part in the Eurovision Song Contest on one occasion, in 1992 (Malmö). He conducted the Luxembourg entry ‘Sou fräi’, performed by Marion Welter & Kontinent. This song scored ten points and finished 21st among 23 competing countries.

Close-up, 2009

Biography
Christian Jacob hails from the Lorraine region, North-Eastern France. Attracted to the music of Ravel and Debussy, he began playing the piano at the age of four. In 1964, he entered the Conservatoire National de Région in Metz, where, for eight years, he studied the piano as well as harmony and solfege. In ’72, he took some private courses and learnt to play the trombone. Between 1973 and 1978, he was a student of the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique, Paris. There, he studied music analysis and sight-reading, whilst following Pierre Sancan’s piano lessons. He graduated with a first prize at the tender age of twenty. During his Paris years, he occasionally gave in to his penchant for jazz (particularly Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson), playing the piano in combos in Lorraine and Paris as a hobby.

After having completed his army service, Jacob found a job as a teacher at the Metz conservatory (1981-’82). Meanwhile, he occasionally worked as a session musician, mostly in the studio of producer Jang Linster in Frisange, Luxembourg. Amongst other things, he played the piano and the synthesizer for British folk band Magna Carta, when their album ‘Sweet deceiver’ was recorded in Luxembourg; moreover, Linster asked him to write an orchestration to one of the group’s new songs, ‘Wind on the water’, which was subsequently taped with the backing of the Luxembourg Symphony Orchestra.

In 1983, Jacob moved to the United States, starting studies at the Berklee College of Music, Boston Mass. There, he studied jazz harmony, arranging, and conducting. While at Berklee, he won a number of prizes, including the Oscar Peterson Jazz Masters Award, the Joe Zawinul Jazz Masters Award, the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, and Downbeat Magazine’s distinction as Top Collegiate Jazz Soloist. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985. Between 1985 and 1989, Christian Jacob served as a staff member at Berklee, teaching jazz piano.

During a soundcheck at the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles (2001)

In 1987, Jacob composed and arranged the piece ‘Cool train’ for the album ‘Whiz kids’ by one of his mentors at Berklee, vibraphone virtuoso Gary Burton; the next two years, he was a member of Burton’s accompanying group and toured the US with him. Another important musician in his career was Canadian jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006), for whom he wrote and arranged many pieces in the course of the 1990s; he also performed with Ferguson, being the musical director of his Big Bop Nouveau Band between 1990 and 1992. It was this association that brought about Jacob’s first CD recording as a solo pianist, ‘Maynard Ferguson presents Christian Jacob’ (1997), with Peter Erskine (drums) and John Patitucci (double-bass). In the 1990s, Jacob composed and arranged for Swiss saxophonist Markus Hauser and played the piano in studio recordings for various jazz artists, including Anita O’Day, Jack Sheldon, and Miki Coltrane.

Conducting in a studio session, August 2003

With Swiss saxophonist Fritz Renold, Jacob formed ‘The Bostonian Friends’, resulting in various albums which they recorded between 1992 and 1999. Renold introduced him to the Swiss Youth Orchestra, for which they wrote a considerable amount of new repertoire; moreover, Jacob served the orchestra as an arranger and educator throughout the 1990s. He joined forces with Renold once again in 1998, composing a classical work, ‘The Helvetic Suite’, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Swiss constitution. Between 1992 and 1994, he served as Director in Residence of the Regional Jazz Orchestra of Lorraine in Nancy, France, composing several pieces for this ensemble in the course of those years. He played with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in ’98, which brought about a second project, ‘The Six Cycles’, a classical work which he wrote as a birthday gift for king Bhumibol of Thailand and which he performed with the Thai Symphony Orchestra (1999). In 2000, he took a group of musicians to Thailand for an all-night jam session with the king, who has a particular liking for jazz.

Meanwhile, the 1997 recording produced by Maynard Ferguson had resulted in the formation of the Christian Jacob Trio, in which, over the years, Jacob has been accompanied by various bassists and percussionists; between 1999 and 2006, he recorded three trio albums, ‘Time lines’ (1999), ‘Styne and mine’, a tribute to Jule Styne (2004), and ‘Contradictions’, an homage to the compositions of pianist Michel Petrucciani (2006); moreover, a live album was released after a successful 2007 tour in Japan.

A final check of the arrangements with Tierney Sutton (2004)

In 1998, Jacob became the pianist and arranger of female jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton and the Tierney Sutton Band. With Sutton, he recorded eight albums between 1998 and 2009; the CDs ‘I’m with the band’ (2005) and ‘On the other side’ (2007) were nominated for a Grammy. Other artists with whom he worked in the studio as an arranger and conductor include Terje Gewelt, Flora Purim, Carl Saunders, and Tom Garling. He toured the US with Purim as well as with other jazz soloists such as Randy Brecker and Bill Holman. Since 1989, Christian Jacob has lived in Los Angeles Ca.

Christian Jacob in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1992, Luxembourg was represented by singer Marion Welter, backed by a group called Kontinent; they performed the song ‘Sou fräi’, penned by Jang Linster and Ab van Goor – one of only two Luxembourg entries in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest to be entirely sung in the native Luxembourgish language (the other one being Camillo Felgen’s ‘So laang we’s du do bast’ in 1960). Welter’s up-tempo pop song failed to impress the Eurovision juries and finished 21st in the 1992 contest held in Malmö, Sweden. Christian Jacob arranged and conducted ‘Sou fräi’. At that time, he had already lived in the United States for seven years and he had experienced his first successes as a jazz musician. This makes the question of how on earth he got involved in conducting a Eurovision entry all the more interesting.

Jacob recalls: “Jang Linster called me and told me he had been given carte blanche for the Eurovision Song Contest by Luxembourg’s broadcaster RTL. I had known Jang and Ab van Goor, the other composer, for a long time already, since I had worked as a session musician in their studio in Frisange during my days as a student at the Paris Conservatory. I usually did keyboard parts or piano for any given project, be it pop or rock music. Occasionally, I had also written arrangements for them and Jang knew I was capable of working with orchestras. So that is why he wanted me for this Eurovision project.”

Marion Welter with some members of the Luxembourg delegation in Malmö; second from right, with glasses: Christian Jacob

“RTL had chosen singer Marion Welter and had commissioned Jang and Ab to write a song for her. Together, they had written a great ballad, ‘Iwerall doheem’. Both composers were friends of mine, which was the main reason why I agreed to collaborate on their project, the other one being that I thought it would simply be fun and exciting to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest, which I had known since I was a child. From America, I came over to Europe for about a month to write the orchestration to the song and to record the music with the Nancy Symphony Orchestra. We were all happy with the recording and looked forward to going to the contest with ‘Iwerall doheem’. Because Jang planned to release it as a single record after the festival, a second song was needed for the flip side. Jang and Ab chose another song which they had written, which was ‘Sou fräi’, and we made a recording with Marion of that as well; however, not much effort was put into it – for example, no trouble was taken to write an orchestration.”

“It was only then that the same RTL producer who had previously promised Ab and Jang to accept any proposal they would come up with, now demanded that there would be some sort of open selection in which the TV audience would have the last say. Eventually, it was decided upon that Marion would sing both ‘Iwerall doheem’ and ‘Sou fräi’ in a TV show, upon which the viewers decided the outcome by writing postcards. All of this made us a little nervous, because he had really devoted all our energy to ‘Iwerall doheem’. And of course… the public voted for ‘Sou fräi’, which, to my mind, was a wrong choice, because, although it is a catchy tune, it lacked the quality of the other piece. When the result of the public voting transpired, I quickly had to write an orchestration for the Eurovision orchestra to ‘Sou fräi’. This arrangement was far less extensive than that of ‘Iwerall doheem’; the only thing I did was add some simple string and brass elements to the synth track which Jang and Ab had recorded in their studio.”

Marion Welter with her backing group and the other Luxembourg delegates in the greenroom in Malmö. Far left: Christian Jacob

“It was a pleasure going to Malmö – an interesting experience. What surprised me, though, was the number of people at such a contest with big egos… not all of them, but it was obvious that many thought they were quite important. The best thing was working with the Swedish orchestra. The musicians in it were good and my score was very easy anyway, so I did not have a hard time, in spite of the fact that I was – and still am – more of an arranger than a schooled conductor. Our performance in the live broadcast was good. But all of us could not help feeling a little disappointed, because we did not have the song we really wanted to play; I do not know if the singer felt that way, but Jang and Ab certainly did. Nevertheless, we were determined to finish our project in style at the Eurovision Song Contest. I was not doing it to win, but the final result was all the more disappointing, knowing we would have had a better chance with ‘Iwerall doheem’.”

“It is fair to say that the Eurovision Song Contest was an odd-one-out experience in my career. Jazz and improvisation have always been my main interests in music. However, I was classically trained, so I can also appreciate arranged music. To me, pop music is a little simple, but I certainly do not reject it altogether. And I was happy to help my friends by arranging and conducting their song.”

Other artists on Christian Jacob
Jang Linster, composer of ‘Sou fräi’ and owner of the recording studio in Frisange where Christian Jacob often worked as a session musician: “Christian Jacob is so talented that no musician can be jealous of him; one simply admires him. When he departed for the USA, he did not have a car, no piano of his own, no job… he simply bought a ticket and left to fulfil his dream of studying at Berklee College. And within two years, he was a professor there! Moreover, he married Wilder, the beautiful daughter of our idol Maynard Ferguson. He is a ‘great’, a ‘master’ of all trades.” (2010)

Marion Welter, singer of ‘Sou fräi’: “I had the chance to meet Christian in the Linster Studios during the recording of my songs written for the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest. Although I only worked with him once, I remember him well: he was a friendly, modest, and amiable man. What was perhaps even more important: I found out he was a very competent musician. Our cooperation was one of a high artistic level, thanks to his undeniable professionalism. Time and again, he knew how to inspire me with the necessary amount of calm and confidence. When talking about the song itself, I must admit that, at that time, I genuinely believed in ‘Sou fräi’. It was not until long after the Eurovision Song Contest that I agreed with Jang Linster and Christian that ‘Iwerall doheem’ would have been a better choice. Musically speaking, it was simply so much more convincing.” (2010)

Peter Erskine, an accomplished jazz musician and teacher in his own right, played the drums on Christian Jacob’s first solo recording in 1997: “Christian’s piano playing is fluid, unpredictable, evocative, worldly, and yet innocent. These are the qualities of an interesting musician – of an artist! I have great admiration for Christian’s musicality.” (2010)

The Christian Jacob Trio in 2005, from left to right: Ray Brinker (drums), Trey Henry (bass), and Christian Jacob (piano)

Links & sources
  • In order to compile this biography, Bas Tukker did an interview with Christian Jacob, August 2010.
  • A wealth of information can be found on Christian Jacob’s website, www.christianjacob.com.
  • Thanks to Jang Linster and Marion Welter for providing us with important additional information as well as their comments about Christian Jacob. More information about them can be found at their respective websites: www.linsterstudios.com and www.marion-welter.com.
  • Thanks to Magna Carta aficionado Walter Goyen for providing the details about the group’s Luxembourg recording in 1983. His website www.magna-carta.info is warmly recommended to your attention.
  • Thanks to Peter Erskine for his comments. More information about Peter Erskine can be found on his website www.petererskine.com.
  • Pictures of the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest courtesy of Marion Welter; all other pictures courtesy of Christian Jacob. Many thanks to both of them for allowing us to use these illustrations.

Website(s):
www.christianjacob.com  

  

Songs conducted
1992: Sou fräi