Jean Musy

Born: December 18th, 1947, Levallois-Perret, Greater Paris (France)
Nationality: French

Eurovision record
Jean Musy, who extensively worked in the Parisian record studios as an arranger in the 1970s, was involved in orchestrating and conducting two Eurovision entries: ‘Et bonjour à toi l’artiste’, with which Nicole Rieu represented France in 1975, finishing fourth; and ‘L’amour ça fait chanter la vie’, one of the most exquisite songs ever to have graced the Eurovision stage, performed by Jean Vallée, who came second for Belgium in the 1978 contest held in Paris.

Biography
Jean Musy was born into a working-class family, his father being a type-setter. His parents spent half of the year in the Parisian suburb Levallois-Perret, while they moved to Capestang, near Béziers in the far south of France, for the remaining part. Young Jean discovered the piano at age three. Musy: “At Levallois, we lived in a department building. Our Italian neighbours owned a piano. However, this piano was in the corridor rather than inside their tiny apartment. From the very moment I discovered this instrument, I was fascinated by it. One way or another, I managed to teach myself to play the piano by copying songs I heard on the radio. It was not long before my mother dragged me around everywhere as a circus attraction. Of course, she was very proud of my skills at the piano, but, already at that age, I disliked being at the centre of attention. Otherwise, my parents were absolutely lovely and very supportive, recognizing that music was the only thing that truly interested me. In high school, I did not excel; apart from history and French literature, I could not really be bothered by any of the subjects. I guess I only passed because my teachers liked me! At home, I played or listened to the radio… I preferred classical music, while loving the chansons of Brel, Brassens, Vian, and Ferré as well.”

Jean’s parents could not afford sending their son to a music teacher. As a young adolescent, Jean was caught by jazz music. He discovered the Hammond organ and played this instrument in different jazz bands, with which he performed in Parisian clubs such as ‘Le Chat qui Pêche’ and ‘Les Rois Maillets’. “When I was sixteen years old”, Musy recalls, “a journalist introduced me to Mickey Baker, an American guitarist who worked in France as a musician and studio arranger for artists such as Johnny Hallyday. We got along very well and, occasionally, played together in jazz clubs. One day I confided to him that my girlfriend was expecting a baby. The logics of those days dictated that we had to marry… in other words: I needed to really start earning money now to maintain a family. Mickey understood and helped me getting into the accompanying band of Nino Ferrer, a very popular singer at that time. Nino’s organist Bernard Estardy had left and I became his replacement. For one year, I toured with Nino’s band and, in 1965, we recorded the album ‘Je voudrais être noir’ in a studio in Dijon. I have to admit that I was bitterly disappointed after this year on the road… Having been raised in a poor family, I had always expected musicians to be people who would enrich me intellectually, broadening my outlook on the world. In reality, however, many of them were quite vulgar and one-dimensional. Being a shy seventeen year old boy, I felt very uncomfortable amongst Nino’s musicians. Therefore, I turned to my friend Mickey again and asked him if he could perhaps get me another job.”

Twenty years old, 1968

Thanks to Mickey Baker’s connections, Musy was introduced to Joe Dassin, an American singer who was rapidly conquering the French market with his chanson repertoire. Eventually, he stayed with Dassin for four years (1965-’69), playing the piano and organ in his band. “I immediately felt a connection with Joe”, Musy recalls. “He was sophisticated and friendly – and, perhaps even more important, he liked jazz! With him, I toured France and several other countries, but I also played the piano for him in the recording studio. Sometime in the fall of 1968, out of the blue, Joe asked me to write the score to a song for him. Usually, Joe’s repertoire was arranged by Johnny Arthey from England. At that time, however, Johnny was ill and Joe needed this arrangement within a couple of days, because he was about to record the song. He must have thought that in every pianist there is a capable arranger… whereas I was only nineteen years old and very much intimidated by this request. Nonetheless, I said yes and I wrote a tiny arrangement to this song, consisting of four instruments only: soprano saxophone, piano, bass guitar, and drums. It was due to appear as the flipside of a single release. Being an American, Joe thought that my given name sounded too feminine and he decided on my behalf that I would be credited on the release as John Musy. The song’s name? ‘Les Champs Elysées’!”

Quite unexpectedly for both Joe Dassin and his record company, ‘Les Champs Elysées’ was an instant success. It went on to become Dassin’s trademark song. As for Jean Musy, the four-instrument-arrangement changed his life completely. Musy: “Since I was sixteen, I had regularly worked as a session musician already, while I did those tours with Nino Ferrer and Joe Dassin… but I did not have any ambitions at that time. Remember, it was 1968, the year of the student strikes in Paris and I was politically very much involved. Being a communist in those days, I was not thinking of advancing my career or writing million-seller arrangements. We never knew what tomorrow would bring! But the accidental success of ‘Les Champs Elysées’ more or less forced me to choose for a life in the recording studio once and for all. All of a sudden, producers and musicians started calling me to write arrangements for them. I was happy at the prospect of working in the studio more often, but, I did not have the right level of knowledge yet to write proper arrangements. I realized I had to learn – and fast. Some very friendly guys in the business, such as the brothers Jacques and Claude Denjean, helped me with important advice, but my main guide was a great book called ‘Grand traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes’ by 19th century French composer Hector Berlioz. It contains priceless information about the possibilities of all musical instruments, keys, and everything else which a good arranger needs to know. You start learning right from the moment when you open it.”

Although being completely autodidact, Jean Musy soon became one of France’s most sought-after studio arrangers. In the 1970s, he teamed up with an incredible amount of French artists of popular music as well as interpreters of more sophisticated repertoire. Musy wrote orchestrations for, amongst many others, Dalida, Cathérine Lara, Philippe Clay, Serge Reggiani, Gilbert Bécaud, Guy Mardel, Adamo, Mort Shuman, Henri Salvador, Jeanne Moreau, Mireille Mathieu, Georges Moustaki, Barbara, Françoise Hardy, Véronique Sanson, Dave, Noëlle Cordier, Joseph Reynaerts, Michel Murty, Gérard Lenorman, Pierre Haralambon, and Marcel Mouloudji. He is responsible for the all-important orchestrations to several hit records and evergreens, including ‘Une femme avec toi’ for Nicole Croisille (1973), ‘Bruxelles’ for Dick Annegarn (1974), ‘J’ai encôre rêvé d’elle’ for Il Etait Une Fois (1975), ‘So far away from L.A.’ for Nicolas Peyrac (1975), ‘L’arbre d’amour’ for Frida Boccara (1976), and ‘Je voulais te dire que je t’attends’ for Michel Jonasz (1976). Moreover, Musy penned the arrangements to Yves Duteil’s signature melody ‘Prendre un enfant’ from 1977. On an exotic note, Musy collaborated with Turkish songstress Ajda Pekkan on her francophone single release ‘Mediterranée’ in ’76.

In the recording studio with Yves Duteil, 1990s

“At the very beginning”, Musy recalls, “I kept on working for Joe Dassin too, but the number of arrangements I wrote for him cannot have exceeded ten. I was lucky enough to be asked for more and more studio work, which allowed me to give up touring altogether. One of the first artists to put trust in me was Patrick Abrial, with whom I recorded two albums. The lion’s share of work came my way thanks to the trust and friendship of two record producers, Claude Dejacques and Jacques Bedos. They introduced me to some of the country’s most popular singers of the 1970s. Another important mentor was Yvon Rioland, the bass player in many of my recording sessions in the 1970s. Yvon helped me by bringing the musicians together in the studio, something I did not do myself in those days; moreover, he gave me some much-needed reassurance, which was priceless, as I was still very young and lacked self-confidence. True, I worked on songs of different genres and quality: popular songs as well as more refined repertoire. I was very proud to get the opportunity to work with high-level artists I admired, such as Serge Reggiani and Barbara. Although I violently disliked working on certain other songs and with certain other artists, I have never loathed the more commercial genre. As a rule, I tried to get the best of both worlds: working on projects that I thought were genuinely beautiful, as well as writing the scores for pop artists who were pleasant to be with. I have never succeeded in working with people I do not like for a long time.”

Like in everything else, Jean Musy was an autodidact at conducting as well. How did he learn how it was done? “Mostly by watching conductors for whom I played the piano in the studio in the late 1960s”, Musy explains. “Jean Claudric, for example, who, with François Rauber and Christophe Chevalier, was amongst the technically most advanced of French popular music conductors. I also liked attending concerts of classical music. At one time, Leonard Bernstein was in Paris, performing Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with a French classical orchestra. As I decided this opportunity was too good to pass up, I attended all rehearsals. I simply went to the concert hall for two whole days, took a seat, and marvelled as the maestro worked his miracles. In those two days, I learnt more about conducting than I did in the rest of my life. Bernstein was a quiet man, very elegant, friendly to the orchestra musicians… in every inch the opposite of many French conductors, who are in the habit of treating their musicians badly. By being nice to them, Bernstein got far more out of the orchestra than any other conductor could ever have done by shouting and misbehaving!”

Musy the very young studio conductor, early 1970s

In the course of the 1970s, Jean Musy developed several other professional activities. In 1976, he conducted the Vancouver concert by singer-songwriter Véronique Sanson at the Olympia Concert Hall in Paris for five weeks. Three years before, he was the conductor for Nicole Croisille, who represented France in the Tokyo Music Festival with ‘Une femme avec toi’. Moreover, like many other French arrangers in those days, Musy was given the opportunity to record some instrumental work using his own name, most importantly the organ-dominated album ‘What I’d say (Tribute to Ray Charles)’. On top of that, he composed the occasional chanson himself, amongst others for Dalida and Mireille Mathieu. “It was not that I preferred arranging to composing”, Musy comments, “but I was always asked to write arrangements rather than come up with songs of my own. It is almost as if there is this label on your forehead saying ‘arranger’. You are not even a musician anymore, just an arranger. The amount of arranging work in the studio was such that there was hardly any time left to even consider composing songs myself. As for the instrumental recordings I did, I am not very proud of those. Being so young, I was technically and intellectually not ready yet to make a good record of my own.”

Due to other activities and the profound changes in the recording business, Musy’s involvement in writing arrangements for chansons diminished from the late 1970s onwards. Nevertheless, he still wrote scores for some interesting artists from the 1980s onwards, including Yves Duteil, Isabelle Aubret, Jean-Paul Dréau, Lucide Beausonge, Jeane Manson, Isabelle Mayereau, and Anne-Marie David. For Charles Aznavour, he penned the all-important orchestration to his hit success ‘Une vie d’amour’ (1980). In 1986, Musy even sang a duet with Isabelle Spade, ‘Pourquoi tu viens’. One year later, he recorded the album ‘Poésies, contes et nouvelles du Québec’ with Canadian artists Ghislaine Paradis and Jean Fauber. Much later, in 1996, he teamed up with Polish artist Anna Prucnal to record the album ‘Rêve d’ouest-rêve d’est’.

In the studio, putting the last hand to an orchestration

In 1976, Jean Musy met film composer Francis Lai. The two men developed a working relationship which lasted several years. Musy wrote the orchestrations to Lai’s soundtracks to films such as ‘Bilitis’ (1977), ‘Les ringards’ (1978), and ‘Les uns et les autres’ (1981). Moreover, Musy penned the arrangements to Lai’s solo album ‘Paris-New York’ (1980). “Thanks to Francis, I got into the world of film music. Francis is a fine artist and a marvellous character. Initially, I just wrote the orchestrations to his work, but, as Francis himself was not fond of flying and many of his compositions had to be recorded abroad, he also left that to me. This gave me the opportunity to conduct symphony orchestras in countries such as Britain, Germany, Italy, the United States, and even Japan. For me, it was artistically most satisfying to be able to work independently with those huge orchestras. As a result of my name being on the list of credits of these big budget movies, I started being invited to compose film music myself – which has been my main source of income since!”

Jean Musy (to the left) with Francis Lai, late 1970s

From the late 1970s onwards, Jean Musy composed the soundtracks to over two-hundred movie pictures, such as ‘La carapatte’ (1978) and ‘Vanille fraise’ (1989) for director Gérard Oury, ‘Clair de femme’ (1979) for Costa-Gavras, ‘Papy fait de la résistance’ (1983) for Jean Marie Poiré, and ‘Noce blanche’ (featuring Vanessa Paradis and Bruno Cremer, 1989) and ‘L’ange noir’ (1994) for Jean-Claude Brisseau. Later onwards, Musy composed the music to many TV films, most notably some forty productions with director Franck Apprederis, such as ‘Ah, c’était la vie’ (2009) and ‘Le temps du silence’ (2011). “Although most of the films I have worked on were low-budget productions”, Musy comments, “titles such as ‘Papy fait de la résistance’ were huge box-office earners in France. Being personally asked by none other than Costa-Gavras to compose his film’s soundtrack was an honour. He was an inspirational man to work with. For ‘Vanilla fraise’, I reworked some well-known Italian songs such as ‘Come prima’ and ‘Volare’ for the Gipsy Kings. Productions that I absolutely adore composing music to, however, are historical films. With Apprederis, I worked on film scripts by Jorge Semprun, a former Spanish politician who wrote some marvellous film scenarios about profound themes such as the persecution of Jews in the Second World War.”

What are the most important qualities of a soundtrack composer? Jean Musy explains: “The main thing is savoir servir, in other words: keeping a low profile by writing a score that does not dominate the content of the film, while staying close to the ideas of the director. Of course, this means that it is hard to put all your creativity into a soundtrack. To be honest, the lion’s share of the movies I worked on were not very interesting… in a way, to me, composing film music is like making love to a woman who you do not love for the full one-hundred percent: she chose me rather than I chose her! Nowadays, I would prefer composing classical music to writing soundtracks. In my spare time, I wrote an opera, which I recorded with professional singers. I also composed music to poems of Stefan Zweig and Rainer Maria Rilke, while I created a musical called ‘Gumran’ about the Death Sea Scrolls and the Middle East conflict. Most of this probably will never be published or staged, but I find working on such projects intellectually too interesting to not keep spending a part of my time on.”

Jean Musy in the Eurovision Song Contest
Jean Musy was involved in arranging and conducting two songs in the Eurovision Song Contest, the first of which being ‘Et bonjour à toi l’artiste’, composed by Jeff Barnel with lyrics by Pierre Delanoë. Interpreted by Nicole Rieu, this ballad was the French entry in the 1975 contest held in Stockholm, where it finished fourth amongst competitors from eighteen other countries.

For most young studio musicians, the prospect of conducting the Eurovision orchestra in front of millions of TV viewers must have been an exciting prospect, but Jean Musy, twenty-seven-year old at that time, had to be reminded at the very last moment about his trip to Sweden. Musy, laughingly: “Frankly, I had completely forgotten about my flight to Stockholm and I was still asleep, blissfully unaware that the remainder of the French delegation was nervously waiting for me at the airport just outside Paris. It was Nicole Rieu’s producer, Claude Righi, who called me to ask why I was not there with them. I got dressed as quickly as I could and rushed from my home in Paris’ city-centre to the airport… I did not bring any luggage as there was no time to pack; I even forgot my wallet. Having arrived at the airport, I soon discovered that my passport was still at home. What to do? We decided to simply explain my situation to the custom-house officers and, to everybody’s surprise, they believed me and allowed me to board the plane. Same story upon arrival in Stockholm… when the officials on the airport there learnt I was there for the Eurovision Song Contest, they let me pass without further ado.”

At the piano, +/- 1975

In Stockholm, Musy realized that he faced another problem: what to wear for the Eurovision concert? “I had travelled to Sweden in jeans… At the rehearsals, I met André Popp, who conducted the entry for Monaco; such a nice man! Immediately, he suggested taking a cab to the city-centre of Stockholm to find me something suitable. Max Amphoux, who was Nicole’s publisher at that time, came with us – another great character and great friend, who unfortunately died far too young. Clumsily enough, we failed to find anything in my size. In the end, André offered me one of his dress shirts. All other pieces of clothing I was wearing for the concert, including the shoes, were borrowed from different members of the French delegation – except for the underwear! I looked bizarre, because none of the elements fitted me well. The shirt, for a start, was far too tight, as André was so much thinner than me.”

Jean Musy and singer Nicole Rieu knew each other well; Rieu had recorded the single ‘Si les oiseaux pouvaient parler’ with an orchestration by Musy at the very beginning of his studio career (1969) and they worked together on other occasions in the years preceding the contest in Stockholm as well. As it turned out, Nicole’s trust in Musy’s qualities as a musical director were quite unconditional. Musy explains: “During rehearsals, Nicole freaked out because of the way the pianist of the Swedish orchestra played her song; according to her, he ruined it. She wanted me to play the piano part, because I had done so during the recording of the song in the studio in Paris too. Although I felt embarrassed, I had to ask the Swedish guy if it was all right to him if I replaced him at the piano. He took it well – as did the organisation of the festival, who honoured our request. Therefore, in the live broadcast, I played the piano in the midst of the orchestra instead of conducting it… the other musicians all knew their parts thoroughly and the only thing I had to do was coordinating the end. As for ‘Et bonjour à toi l’artiste’… it was a pretty little song in itself, but it never really convinced me – later onwards in her career, Nicole recorded much more interesting material. In Stockholm, when the votes came in and it dawned to Nicole that she was not going to win, she could not hold back the tears and I ended up consoling this nervous and disappointed young lady.”


Jean Musy leading the orchestra and playing the piano in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest

Three years later, in 1978, Jean Musy conducted the Belgian entry ‘L’amour ça fait chanter la vie’, composed and interpreted by Jean Vallée. This wonderful chanson, perhaps the best-ever francophone effort to have graced the Eurovision Song Contest, came close to winning, but had to settle for second place behind Israel’s ‘Abanibi’, a song from the other end of the music spectrum: disco. As is the case with many of Eurovision’s best songs, ‘L’amour ça fait chanter la vie’ was not specifically written for the competition. Jean Musy recalls: “Jean Vallée was a Belgian living in Paris, who recorded all his material in France. He worked with different arrangers – and I was one. We recorded this song in the studio together when there was no talk about Eurovision yet. It was only afterwards that it was submitted to the broadcaster in Brussels and selected to represent Belgium in the festival. It was and still is a fantastic song and Jean Vallée is a true artist and a gentleman. I feel privileged having been asked by him to arrange that song and conduct it for him in the Eurovision Song Contest.”

The 1978 edition of the contest was held in the Palais des Congrès in a western suburb of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine. “To be perfectly honest”, Jean Musy laughs, “the French organisation of the contest was un bordel sans fin, a shambles! In the days before the broadcast, people from the organisation were running around without any idea what to do and nobody was sure which rehearsals were at what time. Amidst all chaos, there was one man who kept his calm and reassured all of us: François Rauber. François was the musical director of the festival and was a perfect host for all conductors of the other delegations… the perfect gentleman! François, who I knew well from the recording studios, is one of the very few persons to whom I never considered using ‘tu’, the informal word for ‘you’ – I always stuck to ‘vous’… simply because I had such respect for him. I have wonderful memories of a long day spent with François, Jacques Brel, and producer Jacques Bedos. François and Brel were supposed to be recording material at Studio Davout in Paris, as were Jacques Bedos and I; instead, when Brel saw Bedos, with whom he had worked in Algeria years before, he was over the moon and we decided to go and have a drink together. We prolonged our conversation for hours and hours. We had simply forgotten there were session orchestras waiting for us in the studio! When we were reminded by some official we had been wasting our respective record company’s money, Brel responded: ‘I could not care less; it is far more important that we had such a pleasant time together!’ A great memory…”


Jean Musy conducting ‘L’amour ça fait chanter la vie’ in the 1978 Eurovision Song Contest

“When Israel won the festival”, Musy continues, “many people in the audience gathered in the hall, who were very much on Jean Vallée’s side, felt that the juries chose the Israeli song for political reasons. There was even some booing going on. Jean, on the other hand, could not be bothered. Like me, he was not competitive at all… A couple of months after the contest, something incredible happened. I travelled to Spa in Belgium with Cathérine Lara, who represented France in an important pop music festival over there. I was due to conduct the orchestra for her. To my amazement, however, the musical director of the festival, Jo Carlier, forbade me to conduct his orchestra! It turned out that the trade union of Belgian musicians was so angry that a French conductor had represented Belgium and thereby taken the place of a Belgian, they had decided to refuse granting me permission to work in their country. Carlier literally blocked me on my way up to the stage. I thought it was ridiculous… to my mind, music does not have a nationality: I am not a French musician, but a musician who happens to be French. Moreover, it was Jean Vallée who had invited me to conduct his entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. I did not really mind, but being forbidden to conduct an orchestra was a grotesque situation!”

“Those two Eurovisions were not really important moments in my career”, Musy concludes. “They did not change the course of my professional activities. I did not really like working in such a huge show with all that much noise around me. What was more, the status of the contest in France was already on the decline in the 1970s. Everyone knew that the selection programme used to determine which song would represent France was a put-up job, which was not the case before. In spite of all of that, both festivals are very dear in my memory, because I could go there with artists who I absolutely adored: Jean Vallée and Nicole Rieu were both wonderful characters.”

Other artists on Jean Musy
The winning singer of the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, Anne-Marie David, interpreted Jean Musy’s songs in the 2000s and 2010s. In the theatre season 2012-’13, she toured France with poems of Stefan Zweig put to music by Musy: “Many songs to which Jean added the arrangements in the past, were so successful thanks to the soul he put into them. He always succeeded in putting in a personal touch, which often makes all the difference. Also in his compositions, several of which I have had the privilege to interpret, he puts in the richness of the passion which lives in him, the tenderness which incarnates him and the power of romanticism. It is the composer in Jean Musy that deserves to be discovered by the general public... to me, he is a genius and one of the contemporary classical composers who most deserves to bear that name. In him, everything is measure, elegance, refinement. He has the touch of a pianist which one recognizes immediately and which leaves all breath to the piece while he is playing. For an interpreter such as I am, there is nothing more comfortable and magic than that... I hear his respiration, his silences, his passionate inspiration. Jean has the intelligence and the genius to get the essence from poetry by putting the music to it which is right. I slip into the landscape that he creates in music and I let myself go; it is a pure enjoyment to interpret his work. Jean Musy simply is music... it has been offered to him since his childhood, and as long as he lives, he will serve it with humility, tenderness, passion, and love. As a person, he is a man of passion, a man of convictions – strong and fragile at the same time.” (2012)

Jean Musy in 2012 as photographed by Anne-Marie David. Photo courtesy of Anne-Marie David / Mad Productions

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Jean Musy in Paris, August 2011.
  • An overview of Jean Musy’s soundtracks can be found at the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com).
  • Many thanks to Anne-Marie David for her comments about Jean Musy. More information about Anne-Marie David can be found on her websites www.anne-mariedavid.net and www.moncinemasansimage.com.
  • All photos courtesy of Jean Musy, Yvon Rioland and Anne-Marie David.

Website(s):
www.myspace.com/jeanmusy  

  

Songs conducted
1975: Et bonjour à toi l'artiste
1978: L'amour ça fait chanter la vie