Jean ClaudricBorn: September 13th, 1930, Bab El-Oued (Alger (French Algeria))
When Jean-Claude turned twenty, he was called up for military service; there, he was invited to join the 5th Region Air Force Band, but not as a pianist, because, as his captain put it: “Our band plays its music whilst marching down the street and I will not have you marching down the street with your piano! We are desperately in need of French horn players. I am sending you to conservatory now to study the horn.” Overjoyed at this unexpected opportunity, Bacri entered the Alger Conservatory, where he studied (1950-’51) the French horn under the aegis of Joseph Barboteu as well as counterpoint, chamber music, solfège, and harmony, walking away with first prizes in the two last-mentioned subjects. It was not long before he became the horn soloist in the symphony orchestra of the French air forces in Algeria. After being demobilized in 1951, Bacri worked as a substitute in various classical orchestras and played the piano in a cabaret in the beach resort of Baïnem for a short while.
Still in 1951, Lucien Attard, conductor of the light entertainment orchestra of Radio Alger, wanted Bacri to become the pianist in his band. Radio director Jack Redson agreed, on the condition that the young musician chose a pseudonym which sounded better when announced during radio broadcasts. On the spot, Redson and Bacri came up with ‘Jean Claudric’, the last three letters being an anagram of his genuine family name. Bacri used this name for the remainder of his professional career. He stayed at Radio Alger until 1955, not only playing in Attard’s band, but also accompanying children’s performances and playing in the weekly broadcasts with Lucky Starway’s jazz orchestra. “Little did I know that Lucky Starway and his entire band would be bombed to death by a terrorist attack on the Casino de la Corniche in Alger in 1959”, Claudric says. “I adored playing in his band, because it was my ambition to succeed as a jazz pianist. For that reason, my wife urged me to move to France as soon as possible to try my luck in the Parisian music scene. In October 1955, I crossed the Mediterranean and travelled to Paris. My wife and child joined me a couple of months later. The first couple of years in France were by no means easy: nobody knew me and it was quite impossible to find my way into the world of jazz. Therefore, I worked as a music teacher and a piano accompanist in bars and cabarets, and occasionally did some studio sessions, arranging songs for artists of the B category.”
In those early years, Claudric’s first minor success came when Bourvil recorded his composition ‘Mon bon vieux phono’. In 1956-’57, he was a member of the Solon Gonzalvès Orchestra, which played in Club Le Rêve and specialized in Brazilian music. Subsequently, Claudric accompanied popular vedettes Léo Marjane and Lucette Raillat during their stage shows whilst also being the arranger and musical director of Guy Magenta’s operetta ‘Coquin de printemps’, which was performed at the Européen theatre (1958-’59). His breakthrough as an arranger came in 1958. Claudric: “A friend of mine, singer Jean Siegfried, invited me to write the arrangements to his record, which was released at Decca. That company’s director was so impressed by my work, that he commissioned me to do an entire album with Maurice Chevalier, who wanted new, modern arrangements to his successes of old such as ‘Y’a de la joie’ and ‘Boum’. I arranged all twelve songs for that album, conducting the studio orchestra – and the album was released! From that moment onwards, I have never had to look for work anymore… I was engaged full time, writing and recording my arrangements with scores of different chanson artists. I had to say goodbye to my passion, playing jazz; there simply was no time left for that.”
The list of artists with whom Jean Claudric worked as an arranger in the course of the 1960s is quite impressive: Fernandel, Josephine Baker, Philippe Clay, Jean-Claude Pascal, Jean-Paul Mauric, Dany Dauberson, Colette Rivat, Michel Polnareff, Jean Sablon, Johnny Hallyday, Les Surfs, France Gall, Dalida, Patricia Carli, Guy Mardel, Rika Zaraï, Minouche Barelli, and Les Compagnons de la Chanson. For Alain Barrière, Claudric arranged his first successes, such as ‘Cathy’ (1961) and ‘Je reviendrai d’Alcantara’ (1962). Moreover, he worked with Tino Rossi for almost twenty years, not only in the studio, but on television as well. In 1960, Claudric collaborated with his brother Roland (lyricist, producer) and vocalists Dénise Benoît and Raymond Devos on the album ‘Le petit poète de Roland Bacri’, for which they were awarded with the Grand Prix National du Disque. Claudric also wrote all arrangements for chansonnier Pierre Perret for almost ten years, including his hit singles ‘Le Tord-Boyaux’ (1963), ‘Les jolies colonies de vacances’ (1966), and ‘La cage aux oiseaux’ (1971). Perret’s almost-namesake Pierre Perrin recorded his song ‘Le clair de lune à Maubeuge’ with Claudric (1962). Under another pseudonym, Sam Clayton, Claudric orchestrated the entire repertoire of Sheila between 1963 and 1972, including her million selling debut ‘L’école est finie’. In 1968, he was responsible for writing the arrangement to another number-one-record in France, ‘My year is a day’ by the psychedelic boy band Les Irrésistibles.
“Arranging was my main source of income”, Claudric comments. “I could have composed more, but there was little time left for that. Moreover, it also was a matter of character. Many a time, artists came to me to record an EP with four songs; usually, one of the four songs they came up with was below par… or, to put it differently: not as good as the other three. On every occasion, I could have suggested them to record a composition by me instead, which would have earned me a lot of money! I did not do this, however, because they had turned to me to arrange their work and not to have a song forced upon them. I felt I did not have the right to do that – for me, it was some sort of code of honour that needed to be respected.”
Perhaps the most important artistic collaboration for Jean Claudric was with chansonnier Enrico Macias, an Algerian Jew as well, who had fled the hostilities in his homeland in 1961. From the early 1960s onwards, Macias became one of France’s most successful recording artists, mostly with songs composed by himself with lyrics by Pierre Cour and arrangements by Jean Claudric. How did Claudric get to work with Macias? “Although we were both born and raised in Algeria, we did not know each other. After all, Enrico was from Constantine, not from Alger. In 1962, producer Roland Berger commissioned me to write the arrangements for an EP with Maya Casabianca. One of the songs we recorded was Enrico’s ‘J’ai quitté mon pays’. Enrico himself played the guitar solo for this recording. He was so impressed by my orchestration, that he had tears in his eyes and embraced me. One month later, the director of Pathé-Marconi telephoned me to invite me to write the arrangements for Enrico’s new record. They had decided Macias needed the accompaniment of a full orchestra from now on and Enrico himself had insisted on me as his arranger, because he felt I was the only person able to write scores which matched his style of songwriting. A friendship which has stood the test of time to this day was born as well as a working relationship which lasted over thirty years! For me, Enrico has become some sort of brother.”
Most of Enrico Macias’ recordings since 1963 were arranged by Jean Claudric, including the international successes ‘Mon coeur d’attache’ (1966), ‘Noël à Jerusalem’ (1968), ‘Aux talons de ses souliers’ (1968), ‘Un berger vient de tomber’ (1981), and ‘Aie, aie, aie, je l’aime’ (1989). Moreover, he also composed some of Macias’ best-known hit recordings: ‘Les filles de mon pays’ (1964), ‘Les gens du nord’ (1967), and ‘Dis-moi ce qui ne va pas’ (1968), to name just a few. With Macias, Claudric travelled around the world, conducting the orchestra for him in stage shows in prestigious venues such as London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1971 and New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1972. He extensively toured Japan with Macias for four consecutive years and gave a concert with him and a 70-man-strong orchestra on Saint-Mark’s Square, Venice.
Jean Claudric was frequently commissioned to conduct orchestras in live manifestations with other artists as well. In the 1960s, he was the musical director of hundreds of stage shows in Paris’ Olympia Music Hall. Between 1962 and 1968, he was the resident conductor of the International Mediterranean Song Festival, annually held in Barcelona, leading the orchestra for all competing entries. In 1964, 1965, and 1966, Claudric was the musical director of the Grand Gala des Variétés. Moreover, he conducted the orchestra in the first four editions of the Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale (MIDEM) manifestation in Cannes (1967-1970). As a composer, he sometimes competed in music festivals, winning first prize in Las Palma de Mallorca with ‘Quand Palma chantait’, interpreted by Frida Boccara (1964) and walking away with the victor’s trophy in Barcelona as well with a song he composed for Maya Casabianca.
In 1959 and 1960, Jean Claudric played the piano in the radio music show ‘Paris Cocktail’, which was broadcast live from Paris’ Marcadet Palace. It was not long before he made his mark in the world of television as well, conducting live orchestras and composing theme music for many different programmes. His first commission was Raymond Marcillac’s ‘Sport dimanche’ (1960). In the 1960s, he conducted in several entertainment programmes, such as ‘Age tendre et tête de bois’, Guy Lux’ ‘Le palmarès de la chanson’ as well as all TV shows of Maritie and Gilbert Carpentier for five years. Much later, in 1985, Michel Drucker invited him to conduct an orchestra of 45 pieces on the occasion of the opening of the new Palais des Festivals in Cannes. Subsequently, he became the musical director of Drucker’s regular TV show ‘Champs Elysées’ between 1985 and 1990. In the 1980s, he also teamed up frequently with show master Patrick Sabatier.
In the 1970s, Claudric continued to be very much in demand as a studio arranger, working with the likes of Marcel Amont, Hervé Vilard, Salim Halali, Gigliola Cinquetti, Romuald, Patrick Topaloff, Séverine, Michel Sardou, Cathérine Desage, Avi Toledano, Joe Dassin, David Alexandre Winter, Annie Cordy, Michèle Torr, Joël Prévost, Stone & Eric Charden, John Gabilou, and Demis Roussos. He recorded several albums with Michel Delpech and conducted the orchestra for him in the Olympia Music Hall. Claudric also helped Dutch songstress Lenny Kuhr on her way on the French market by arranging her studio album ‘Tout ce que j’aime’ (1972). In 1977, he orchestrated Richard Clayderman’s international hit single ‘A comme amour’. He also arranged the soundtracks for several motion pictures, including ‘Les patates’ (1969), ‘Le tueur’ (1972), and ‘La triangle écorchée’ (1975).
Besides working for other artists, Claudric released several disco instrumental recordings under his own name, such as ‘Keep moving right on’ and ‘En se prenant par la main’. After a well-liked television performance from Strasbourg with Michel Sardou and a symphony orchestra on the occasion of Quatorze Juillet, producer Jacques Revaux commissioned Claudric to record an instrumental album with the most popular of Sardou’s songs played in symphonic style. ‘Le Monde Symphonique de Michel Sardou’ (1976) was an instant success and sold over 200,000 copies. “At first I was terrified at the prospect of working with a classical orchestra”, Claudric recalls. “After all, my name is not Karajan or Maazel and conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is not really my speciality! Moreover, playing pop music without a rhythm section was completely new to me too. Luckily, everything turned out just fine.” After the commercial success of the 1976 album, Claudric recorded ‘Le Monde Symphonique de Michel Sardou 2’ with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1977 and ‘Le Monde Symphonique de Jacques Brel’ with the RTL Grand Symphony Orchestra in Luxembourg in 1980. His 1979 album ‘April Orchestra’ was recorded with the Czechoslovakian National Theatre Orchestra in Prague.
From the mid-1970s onwards, Jean Claudric has been the musical director of Mireille Mathieu on her concert tours around the world. With her, he performed on stage in many European countries as well as in Turkey, Korea, China, Mexico, and Brazil. “The most memorable of our concerts together must have been those in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, in which I conducted 140 persons simultaneously: apart from my own rhythm players from France, there were the fantastic jazz orchestra of Television Moscow, the Moscow Symphonic, and the combined Red Army Choirs. The concert in Moscow was attended by some 18,000 spectators. I met Mireille during a recording session somewhere in the 1970s. She was so impressed by my arrangements and the quality of my session musicians, that she persuaded us to accompany her on stage. Meanwhile, all of my musicians have been replaced, but I am still going strong with Mireille on stage!”
In the 1980s, Jean Claudric was Charles Aznavour’s concert conductor for two years, whilst he also arranged some of his new recordings, including ‘La salle et la terrasse’ (1983). He recorded a symphonic concert with the Armenian-French superstar and the Orchestre Colonne in the Châtelet Theatre in Paris, but due to contractual problems, the show was neither broadcast nor released as an album. In 1987, Claudric was awarded with the Grand Prix de la Musique Legère for his entire oeuvre by the French Association of Authors, Composers, and Publishers (SACEM).
Though his involvement in recording projects diminished from the mid-1980s onwards, Claudric still worked on some interesting projects, most notably a Christmas album with Jeane Manson and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the combined Red Army Choirs (1999). In 2000 and 2003, he arranged two albums with music by songwriter Francis Lopez (1916-1995): ‘La perle des Antilles’ and ‘Brasilia’. In 2003, he founded a big band, with which he regularly performs in the jazz club Le Petit Journal Montparnasse in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. “To have this big band is a dream come true”, says Claudric. “For all my working life, I have had to follow all trends in popular music, from twist to hully-gully, from rock-‘n-roll to disco… after all, we were trying to sell huge numbers of records. I immensely enjoyed working in the recording business, mind you, but my main passion in music has always been jazz. Now, I finally have the opportunity to play the music that I like best!”
Jean Claudric in the Eurovision Song Contest
Before representing France in 1973, Jean Claudric made his debut on the festival stage in 1971 in Dublin, where he conducted ‘Pomme pomme pomme’ for young singer Monique Melsen; she was Luxembourg’s candidate for Eurovision glory. The songwriters for this upbeat entry were Pierre Cour and Hubert Giraud, with whom Claudric worked on many other occasions throughout his career. That year, Luxembourg had to settle for thirteenth place. How did Claudric like ‘doing’ the Eurovision Song Contest? “It was most pleasant… I don’t mind staying in a five-star-hotel for a week, you know! You were always taken good care of in a contest such as this. Moreover, being in a foreign country with a tight team of a conductor, a singer, and background vocalists all trying to achieve the same goal was inspirational. For me as a conductor, it was interesting to see what the orchestra musicians in another country – Ireland in this case – were capable of. Communication with the orchestra was not really a problem, although my English is very bad indeed… luckily, the language of music does not have a very rich vocabulary. ‘Please, two bars before B’ – simple instructions like that were enough to get what I wanted from the musicians. The manifestation was also quite important for me professionally. To be able to meet colleagues from all over Europe, to have my arrangement heard by viewers and listeners all over Europe and to conduct live on TV for an audience of millions of spectators were things that are momentous in a musician’s career.”
In 1973, Jean Claudric was the first musical director of a French Eurovision pre-selection after the ‘Pourcel era’. On the 6th of March in the Butte-Chaumont TV studios, he conducted all six competing entries, of which three were performed by Martine Clémenceau, two by Anne-Marie Godart (who had been the representative of Monaco in the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest), and one by Jean-Pierre Savelli. All songs were arranged by Claudric himself. The piece ‘Sans toi’, composed by Paul Koulak with lyrics by Anne Grégory, was selected to represent France in the international contest in Luxembourg. Perhaps not the strongest French effort in the history of the contest, ‘Sans toi’ and singer Martine Clémenceau failed to impress the European jurors and finished fifteenth in a field of seventeen competing countries. “Of course, I was not happy either with this result, although it was not my song”, Claudric recalls. “We were all in it together, after all. Usually, in situations like this, the composer blames the vocalist for not interpreting his work correctly, while the singer feels the songwriter should have composed a better song. Martine Clémenceau was an artist with whom I worked on more occasions, arranging and recording her songs and conducting musical comedies in which she was one of the actors.”
In 1976, Claudric composed and conducted the disco-esque ‘Ne dis pas que tu m’aimes’ for the French Eurovision pre-selection programme. This song, with lyrics by Vline Buggy and interpreted by Harmony 5, finished third with Cathérine Ferry’s unstoppable ‘1, 2, 3’ storming to victory. Furthermore, in the second half of the 1980s, he conducted several entries in the French Eurovision selection programmes for artists such as Pierre Charley, Maxime Piolot, Violette Vial, and Malvina. It was not until 1980, however, that Claudric made his third appearance in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor… for yet another country: Morocco! It was the first and last time to date that the Northern African state submitted an entry for the festival. Samira Bensaïd, destined to become a superstar in Arab show business, represented her country in The Hague (Netherlands) with a gentle song containing a message of peace composed by Abdelati Amenna and Malou Rouane: ‘Bitakat hob’. The Moroccan decision to withdraw from further participation after the 1980 contest may very well have been fostered by the mere seven points and a second-last position on the scoreboard which were awarded to this interesting effort.
Jean Claudric remembers well how he got involved in arranging and conducting this Moroccan entry: “After having conducted a television show, I came home late. It must have been one o’clock in the morning. Now remember: this was a time when there were no mobile telephones yet. My wife told me to call someone back. She had not written down the name, just a phone number. I was tired and wanted to postpone this call until the next day, but she was adamant that I immediately telephoned this gentleman, because he had told her it was an urgent matter. I was kind of surprised when the person on the other end of the line turned out to be Morocco’s ambassador to France. ‘Monsieur Claudric’, he exclaimed, ‘we count on you to help Morocco in the Eurovision Song Contest! We have got a song and we insist that you write the arrangement and conduct the orchestra for us.’ Obviously, I was astonished to be asked this question, but I agreed… of course, it was an interesting commission. They must have called me because they knew I was Enrico Macias’ arranger. Macias was and still is very popular in the whole of Northern Africa. His music required arrangements with a slight Arab flavour… a style which I had invented for him. Apparently the Moroccans felt their Eurovision song needed such an arrangement too. To be honest, I never asked why they wanted me. Perhaps they remembered my name from the 1950s, when I still lived and worked in Algeria. Radio Alger was listened to in Morocco and Tunisia as well and, without being too boastful, I was quite famous as a pianist there. Anyway, I wrote an arrangement for ‘Bitakat hob’ in the style of Enrico Macias. I did not have to go to Morocco; we simply recorded the song in Paris.”
For a younger generation, it might be hard to understand why an Arab state such as Morocco had no reservations about being represented on an international stage by a conductor with Jewish roots. Claudric: “In Algeria and the whole of Northern Africa, Jews and Mohammedans lived together in peace. It is only due to modern global politics that Jews and Arabs have become each other’s enemies. I for one was often invited by singers with Arab roots here in Paris to write arrangements for them: Takfarinas for example.” What does Jean Claudric remember of the 1980 international contest final in The Hague? “Well, the musicians in the orchestra really liked my score. These oriental sounds were totally different to what they usually got to play and, for them, this variation was attractive. Most of those Eurovision orchestras were excellent, consisting of the best music professionals available. The girl, who sang the song, Samira, was very good indeed. It was obvious that the Moroccan delegation had high expectations of this festival and they were extremely disappointed when things turned out far worse than anticipated.”
Jean Claudric participated in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor for the fourth and last time in 1982, when the festival was held in Harrogate (England) and he was the musical director of Luxembourg’s delegation once more. The Grand-Duchy internally selected a song written by Michel Jouveaux and Cyril Assous, ‘Cours après le temps’. Svetlana, a girl with a remarkably high-pitched voice, was the performer. Her ballad scored quite well, picking up 78 points and finishing sixth. Claudric only worked with Svetlana for this Eurovision Song Contest: “Usually, I arranged and recorded music for artists who I knew from previous experiences and who wanted me as their conductor; they completely trusted me and we worked together for years. For the Eurovision Song Contest, things were quite different… most of the times, the producer of the song called to tell that he had an artist who was chosen for the contest. In the case of Svetlana, this was Cyril Assous. He hoped I was interested to work on his Eurovision entry, because I had a good reputation as an arranger and conductor in the French music business. But it was a one-off-experience. If the artist did well in the contest, a producer usually brought together a group of five or six musicians to accompany him or her on a tour in France afterwards. Because I was completely absorbed by my work in the recording studios in Paris, there was no question whatsoever that I would join this group. As for Svetlana, I never met her again after the festival.”
“Just like in 1980 with the Moroccan song”, Claudric continues, “I chose the Costa brothers, Georges and Michel, for the background choir. We had recorded the song with them and they were extremely good at what they did… very professional guys indeed. My most lasting memory of this festival in Harrogate, however, is something trivial… I had asked my brother Roland what souvenir he wanted me to buy for him in England. He asked for the typically English hat of detective Sherlock Holmes. On my free afternoon, I found myself in a shop full of hats in the centre of Harrogate, trying to explain in my horrible English accent that I wanted the hat of Cherloke Olmèss. They did not understand. I tried again: ”Cherloke Olmèss! Investigation! Digital imprint! Elementary, my dear Watson!”. It took me about half an hour to explain to these poor British hat sellers what I was looking for. Of course they had the hat of Sherlock Holmes! So at last I left the shop, thoroughly satisfied that I had found the hat my brother had asked for.”
Although ‘Cours après le temps’ was the last Eurovision entry Jean Claudric conducted, it was not his last Eurovision involvement. The 1990 Turkish entry, Kayahan’s ‘Gözlerinin hapsindeyım’, was arranged by him, but this arrangement was never used for the record release or the Eurovision Song Contest! Claudric with another wonderful anecdote: “All of a sudden, I received this phone call from Turkey. A guy who introduced himself as Kayahan told me he had won the Turkish selection programme for the Eurovision Song Contest. He wondered if I was interested to write the arrangement for the song… not to conduct it in the Eurovision Song Contest, only to do the studio recording with him. His song was written in the style of Enrico Macias and therefore he thought I was the only person capable of writing a suitable arrangement. I said: ‘Of course, when do you want to come to Paris?’ But he wanted me to come over to Istanbul instead! I told him I always recorded my arrangements in Paris only and that I was not interested to travel to Turkey for this one song. So that was the end of our conversation and I said goodbye to him. But Kayahan did not give up that easily and he called me back three or four times a day! He got on my nerves, so I thought I had a good way of bringing our discussion to an end: ‘Listen, I will come to Istanbul on the condition that I can bring my own sound technician with me.’ I was convinced that Kayahan would refuse. But he said yes! Desperately, I said that I also wanted to bring the synthesizer player of my choice with me. Kayahan explained he had an excellent synthesizer player in Istanbul, but I persisted. And in the end he said yes again! He explained he also wanted an accordionist for the recording, but even when I demanded that I could bring the accordion player of my own choice, that was all right with him! There I was – I did not want to go to Istanbul, but I had no objections left to bring up…”
There was no other option but to go to Turkey. Claudric: “So there we were in a recording studio in Istanbul – me, my accordionist, my synthesizer player, my sound technician; all good friends from Paris. When we arrived, Kayahan told me his proper conductor (this must be Ümit Eroğlu, BT) had written four different arrangements to the song. When I listened to those scores, I thought they were quite all right, but Kayahan clearly did not: he had refused all of them. When I played him my arrangement, he embraced me and told me it was just what he wanted. Subsequently, we made a good recording of the song. I really felt sorry for Kayahan’s conductor, however. He was in the studio during the recording and I would not have blamed him if he felt quite jealous. A couple of weeks later, it was the day of the Eurovision final. I invited the accordionist, the synthesizer player and the sound technician to come to my place to have dinner and to watch the TV broadcast Eurovision Song Contest together. We were anxious to find out what our arrangement would sound like with the grand orchestra! We were astonished, however, when we heard the Turkish song and found out that it was played with another arrangement! It had been completely redone, although it was clear that it was inspired on what I had written. In the end, Kayahan’s song finished amongst the last on the scoreboard. So I had been paid for an orchestration that was never used… well, it was a waste of everybody’s time, really, but we had a good laugh anyway!”
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