Peter Jacques

Born: May 17th, 1935, Františkovy Lázně = Franzensbad (Czechoslovakia, nowadays Czech Republic)
Nationality: Swiss

Eurovision record
In 1975 and in 1977, Peter Jacques, at that time co-Kapellmeister of the big band of German-Swiss radio, conducted the Swiss entries to the Eurovision Song Contest. Both songs, Simone Drexel’s ‘Mikado’ and ‘Swiss lady’, interpreted by the Pepe Lienhard Band, landed a respectable sixth position on the scoreboard.

Peter Jacques was the son of a Swiss mother and a Belarusian father, a violinist who was the concertmaster of the Winterthur Municipal Orchestra, but he worked as a violin soloist in the Czech spa Františkovy Láznĕ during the summer seasons. It was here that Peter was born in 1935. This town, Franzensbad in German, was occupied by the Nazis as part of the Sudetenland in October 1938. “According to the Germans, it was a liberation”, Peter Jacques comments, “but to my parents it meant they were stuck and could not return to Switzerland. Being a Russian, my father was in fact quite lucky to escape imprisonment or worse, but his violin was no longer in demand and he was put to work in an aeroplane factory in Eger (in Czech: Cheb). That is how he got through the war. Though these were difficult years, my parents allowed me to take piano lessons. One way or another, I had taken up an interest in this instrument at a very early age. I was only four when I became the student of Herr Kernich, who used to be my father’s piano accompanist in Franzensbad. In 1942, I performed on stage for the first time. One year later, I was lucky to be smuggled out of Germany by the Red Cross, back to Winterthur where my grandparents lived. It was only in 1948 that I was reunited with my father and mother, who had had to wait for three long years until being repatriated to Switzerland.”

Young Peter at seven years of age with his first piano teacher, Herr Kernich, in Františkovy Láznĕ, c1942

Between 1945 and 1955, Peter Jacques studied the piano with Professor Pina Pozzi at the Winterthur Conservatory, whilst he also took private piano lessons with Edwin Fischer. Jacques: “Initially, it was my ambition to become a concert pianist, but, thank goodness, there was Edwin Fischer, who was farsighted and explained me it would be virtually impossible to make a career as a classical pianist. When I was twelve, he bluntly told me: “You can learn to play thirty piano concerts, or, when you are diligent, even forty… then you can play them in different ways, a little slower or faster, slightly softer or louder – but make sure you get married to a rich wife! Otherwise, for the rest of your days, you will have to work as a teacher and lie to parents about how talented their son or daughter is. Um Gottes willen, you are a creative guy… find your niche in the music business, but forget about that whole concert pianist thing!” A little later, a fellow student at the conservatory drew my attention to some jazz records. It was not the first time I had heard jazz, because the Americans who liberated Franzensbad late in ’44, brought the tunes of Glenn Miller and others with them, but it was only in Winterthur that I started trying my hand at playing that kind of music myself. Before long, I was more passionate about jazz than about the classical music I was supposed to be focusing on. All my teachers at the conservatory knew about my predilections, but, in all fairness, they were far more open-minded than most classical musicians back then or even today and never chastised me about it. However, when I indicated I wanted to play Gershwins Concerto in F as my exam, this proved a bridge too far. At that time, Gershwin’s music was considered negro music - and therefore unacceptable. I refused to compromise and decided to forget about the conservatory altogether.”

Upon graduating from high school, Peter had taken up studying graphics at Zürich’s Art Academy. Meanwhile, in 1953, he had won major recognition as a jazz pianist by winning first prize as a solo pianist at Zürich’s Jazz Festival, whilst, with guitarist Peter Breithaupt and bass player Erich Peter, he was awarded with a second prize in the bands’ competition at the same event. In the following years, Jacques remained heavily involved in Zürich’s small jazz circuit. He accompanied trumpeter Chet Baker at one concert in Milan (Italy, 1954). In 1956, with Peter Breithaupt, he decided to join Danish bass player Niels Foss on a year’s tour in Denmark and Sweden. In ’57, this Niels Foss Trio became the nucleus of the band of Kurt Weil (1932-2012), a Swiss trombone and vibraphone player who worked in Sweden. “Though I was only twenty-one at that time, going to Scandinavia was less radical than it might seem at first sight”, Jacques explains. “The US and England aside, Sweden was the place to be for jazz musicians. With its many jazz cafés and extensive summer tour circuits, it was possibly the only country in mainland Europe with a reasonable possibility to make a living in jazz – and that was exactly my ambition! The Kurt Weil Orchestra first played at Berzelii Terrassen, a dance-palace in Stockholm. In the summer months, we toured all of Sweden to perform in Folketsparks, open-air venues where people gathered for an evening of live entertainment. You could drive for hours on end through the endless woods in some faraway corner of Sweden without seeing a living soul and then all of a sudden there was a giant square in the middle of nowhere, on which 7,000 people gathered in the evening hours for a night of entertainment… incredible!”

Peter Jacques (far left) with three Swedish composers/arrangers, from left to right: (at the piano) Gunnar Svensson, Georg Riedel (bass player), and Bengt-Arne Wallin (trumpeter) (c1960)

In the end, Jacques worked and lived in Sweden for eight years (1956-’64). He played the piano in many different jazz combos, including the Jørgen Gottlieb Orchestra, and the bands of Ernie Englund and Putte Wickmann. “Especially the Gottlieb Septett was important”, Peter Jacques comments. “We were the house band at the Nalen Jazz Club in Stockholm. Regularly, international jazz artists were invited to perform at Nalen and we accompanied them. These included the big names from America: Lester Young, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz, Paul Gonsalves, and Benny Bailey, to name just a few. I also met Toots Thielemans there. In 1962, I recorded the first version of Toots’ classic ‘Bluesette’ on the Hammond Organ, and, the following summer, we toured Sweden together. Apart from playing the piano in Gottlieb’s band, I also started singing and gradually writing the vocal arrangements myself.” In the live circuit, Peter Jacques – or Pete Jacques, as he was commonly referred to by his Swedish colleagues – also accompanied Sarah Vaughn in Copenhagen’s Tivoli and Mel Torme in Stockholm’s Gröna Lund Open Air Park. In June 1963, he led a ten-piece all star band with musicians of his own choice at the Stockholm Festspel, a summer festival.

Gradually, Jacques started receiving commissions in other fields of the music industry as well. In the recording studio, he worked as a background singer for the likes of Povel Ramel and Alice Babs, whilst he accompanied revue star Karl Gerhard and troubadour Evert Taube on stage. For the Knäpp-Upp label, he composed and produced a series of recordings with singer Ruth Linn, in which the duo sang up to ten voices together using the first multiple recording technique. In 1960, radio producer Olle Helander signed Jacques as one of the arrangers for Harry Arnold’s Radio Big Band. “Of course, I said yes to Helander”, Jacques laughs. “Who would have turned down working for Harry Arnold? To be honest, though, I was at a loss about how to proceed. I was a jazz pianist, which is probably why I had been asked, but I had never written an orchestral jazz arrangement in my life… and at conservatory they did not have classes in arranging for jazz big bands either! In the end, I bought several textbooks, teaching myself the range of every instrument – diese ganze Elementarscheisse! Slowly, with trial and error, I began writing. Around the same time, I met Russell Garcia, who happened to be in Stockholm. What a stroke of luck that was! He was one of America’s best-known film composers and arrangers for the biggest recording artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, and many others. Russell and I became the best of friends and he invited me over to Los Angeles, suggesting teaching me arranging privately. I spent most of 1962 and 1963 in LA. This was one of the key moments in my professional life, because, thanks to Russell’s lessons, I was able to make a career as an arranger and conductor in the following decades.”

Jacques with Swedish singer and actress Bibi Johns, c1968

Not very long after his year in Los Angeles, Peter Jacques moved from Stockholm to Munich in West Germany (1964). Why was that? “In many respects, Sweden was a nice country to live and work. The jazz scene was the best on the European mainland and people were open-minded and modern in their outlook. The main problem, however, was the ridiculous taxation system, which deducted up to eighty percent of your income. Some people only worked for half a week to avoid losing money. In the early 1960s, I had begun writing some film scores, but usually as a ghost writer to avoid having to give away all my profit to the taxman. While I was underway in Sweden with Toots Thielemans and bass player Jimmy Woody, Jimmy suggested coming along with him to Germany to do a tour with Bibi Johns, a Swedish singer and actress with a successful career over there. Bibi mostly worked in Munich and I settled down there, as well. I left Sweden really only because at that time you could not afford being successful!”

Based in Munich, Peter Jacques worked as a freelance studio musician and arranger for nine years (1964-’73), developing a wide range of professional activities. First and foremost, he became heavily involved in writing arrangements for almost all of the West German broadcasting orchestras, such as those of Alfred Hause and Franz Thon (NDR, Hamburg), Rolf-Hans Müller (SWF, Baden-Baden), Erwin Lehn (SDR, Stuttgart), Kurt Edelhagen (WDR, Cologne), Paul Kuhn (SFB, West Berlin), and Max Greger (ZDF, Mainz). For NDR television, Peter Jacques co-produced two big jazz work shops with Swedish musicians and a broadcast of the Ruhrfestspiele in Recklinghausen, whilst he also wrote arrangements for big television shows with pop stars such as Katja Ebstein as well as for a programme featuring American jazz trumpeter Art Farmer. Moreover, Jacques penned the orchestrations to studio albums for Horst Jankowski and Rolf Kühn and released instrumental compositions of his own in collaboration with Heinz Kiessling which were later rereleased on the Sonorama label.

Peter Jacques with German singer Katja Ebstein, early 1970s

In the second half of the 1960s, some interesting international jobs came Jacques’ way. In 1965-’66, he first appeared as a conductor on stage on a one-month-tour with Alice and Ellen Kessler in Japan, and he was invited to the Netherlands to be the arranger and musical director of ‘Houdoe Philippine’, a musical comedy production commemorating the seventy-fifth birthday of electronics multinational Philips (1966). In 1969, he was the musical director of a TV special broadcast recorded in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia (Brazil) featuring the biggest stars of Brazilian music, such as Sergio Mendes, Jorge Ben, Vinicius de Moraes, and Tom Jobim. “Musically speaking, that was one of the highlights of my career”, Jacques comments. “I had long been fascinated by the bossa nova phenomenon. Michael Pfleghar, a German TV director who was a friend of mine, caught the virus and I convinced him to film a documentary about Brazilian music. Sergio Mendes hosted the programme. It was truly inspirational to meet Sergio, Jobim, Elis Regina, Gal Costa and all those other geniuses – if it had not been for this TV special, I would never have had the opportunity to work with them. The tour with the Kessler Twins in Japan was also very special, conducting the five best big bands of the country. The Kesslers were joined by a host of Japanese supporting acts, who I got to conduct as well. Communication with local musicians was not always easy, but they were amongst the best professionals I have ever worked with.”

For the Bavaria Film Production Company in Munich, Peter Jacques composed the soundtracks to several movies, but, more significantly, he was involved as an arranger in many TV broadcasts which were co-produced by Bavaria Film and the BBC. As such, he worked with the likes of comedians Rolf Harris and Millicent Martin as well as with pop vocalists such as Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck. “One of the managers at Bavaria Film”, Jacques explains, “was fond of British comedy, particularly the Goon Show and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He even got the Monty Pythons to do a production at the Bavaria studios in Munich. One thing led to another, more specifically: Bavaria Film was regularly commissioned to co-produce entertainment programmes for the BBC in the early 1970s. I arranged for many of these programmes and, what was more, I had the opportunity to work with the very best English session players while recording these arrangements in London.”

On stage in the DRS radio studio in Zürich, providing the piano accompaniment to a Toots Thielemans performance (c1975)

In 1973, after seventeen years of absence, Peter Jacques returned to Switzerland, accepting the offer to become Second Kapellmeister at the DRS Radio Big Band, the orchestra of German Swiss radio in Zürich. Jacques: “In 1972, when the Olympic Games were held in Munich, at the request of Cédric Dumont of DRS, I had organised an evening of entertainment for the Swiss participants to the games. Dumont was Head of Entertainment at the radio service and he was about to be promoted to Head of Radio. He wanted a Second Kapellmeister behind Hans Moeckel, who had succeeded him as the musical director of the orchestra some years before, and he wondered if I was interested. Though it meant a decline in income, I decided to accept the offer to come to Zürich. I had had enough of travelling around anyway and a steady nine to five job… well, why not? Hans Moeckel was an excellent musician and I got along with him excellently. In practice, we worked together on the same level and shared the arranging and conducting job on a fifty-fifty basis.”

With the orchestra, Jacques recorded concerts featuring international jazz greats including Eddie Daniels, Kai Winding, Sal Nistico, Bill Holman, Art Farmer, and Toots Thielemans. He also released some albums with the radio band, including a tribute to Michel Legrand (1986). After Moeckel’s untimely death in 1983, Peter Jacques took over the musical directorship of the orchestra until it was disbanded in ’86. “Though the orchestra was coined the Radio Big Band”, Jacques comments, “we often performed for television as well, as Schweizer Fernsehen (SF) did not have an orchestra of its own. Given the high level of the musicians in the orchestra, working with it was a joy. American soloists who came over to perform with the radio band were always impressed by its quality. As I usually had to write some four arrangements a week myself, there was hardly any time left for freelance work during my years with the DRS orchestra, though I composed a soundtrack for a Swiss film production in 1976, ‘Die plötzliche Einsamkeit des Konrad Steiner’. The orchestra was disbanded due to the machinations of a new radio chief who was extremely hostile to us. As I more or less foresaw our fate, I encouraged the musicians to look for freelance work – a. in fact we did a successful tour of forty-five concerts for UBS, one of Switzerland’s main banks, in 1985. Unfortunately, once the orchestra players had been fired, they lacked the initiative to survive on their own.”

Jacques (to the right) meeting up in Zürich with his old friend and mentor, American master-arranger Russell Garcia (c1980)

Peter Jacques himself hopped from radio to television, working as a music editor at German Swiss Television (SF) for seven more years (1986-’93). His entrance at SF was facilitated by the fact that he had already been hosting a late night jazz show, ‘Jazz in Concert’, since 1983. This programme, later renamed ‘Jazz-In’, ran for ten years (1983-’93) and featured countless international jazz stars, including Klaus Doldinger, Horst Jankowski, Toots Thielemans, Palle Mikkelborg, Ack van Rooyen, Allan Botschinsky, Art Farmer, Randy Brecker, and Tony Lakatos. Jacques: “It was great working on that show. Thanks to our connections in Sweden and America, we succeeded in getting virtually all jazz musicians we wanted on our programme, even though we worked with a limited budget. Our aim was to create unique concerts of European and American soloists collaborating. My years at SF were particularly happy, as my work as an editor consisted solely of jazz projects. Amongst other things, I worked on broadcasts of jazz festivals in Bern, Montreux, and Lugano.”

Away from broadcasting, Peter Jacques was the musical director and co-host of ‘Bernhard-Apero’, a weekly live show in a small theatre in Zürich featuring Swiss and international singers, actors, and comedians, for seven years (1981-’88). In a one-off stint, he played the mad pianist in BBC's TV version of Scott Fitzgerald’s play ‘Tender is the night’, which was filmed in Switzerland (1985). In 1993, he made the step to S Plus, the new second channel of Swiss German television, where he worked as the Head of the Classical Music Department and was responsible for selecting and buying foreign music programmes to be broadcast in Switzerland. Two years later, he decided to go into retirement, winning back his status as an independent musician, composer, and arranger. Since, he has been invited to perform at several jazz festivals, while he has immersed himself in electronic music and became one of the first to start to work with electronic sampling and computer programming to be able to sing live and at the same time play any type of big orchestra or big band with a minimum of technical equipment. In this way, in 1999, he gave a command performance at the private residence of W. Esposito in Accra, Ghana for Kofi Annan, at that time UNO’s Secretary-General. He also worked as an arranger and piano accompanist on two Christmas tours with Marie Louise Werth (2005-’06) and a concert with Michael von der Heide, Sina, and the Zürich Symphony Orchestra (2010).

At work in his subterranean home studio in Ebmatingen, 2013

Peter Jacques in the Eurovision Song Contest
From 1973 onwards, Peter Jacques was the Second Kapellmeister of the DRS Big Band, the orchestra of German-Swiss radio, and, in that capacity, he was twice requested to conduct Switzerland’s contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest, the first time being in 1975. The Swiss pre-selection in Lausanne had been won by a young girl from Sankt-Gallen, Simone Drexel, with a particularly catchy song called ‘Mikado’, composed by Drexel herself and arranged by Sylvester Levay. In the international final held in Stockholm, Sweden, this Swiss entry did quite well, picking up seventy-seven points and a sixth place

To Peter Jacques, participating in the Eurovision Song Contest was not exactly a career highlight: “To be honest, Eurovision was not my kind of entertainment and I did not really want to go there. Hans Moeckel, my conducting colleague at DRS, felt the same way about the festival. It was kind of ambivalent… on the one hand, it was a nice idea to help some young artist on his or her way on what perhaps would turn into a wonderful career in pop music, but, on a more realistic note, we realized that this almost never occurred. The contest was and still is a stage which destroys artists’ careers before it has even begun. Sadly, in spite of her good result, Simone Drexel did not have any career to speak of in Switzerland afterwards. Having said all that, her song was not bad at all and I had no reason whatsoever to be ashamed being associated with her performance. I genuinely did my best to help her getting the best possible result. I never really considered the possibility of winning… I was always convinced that every song in such a competition could be the winner, as they sounded so much alike! Because the festival was held in Stockholm, where I had lived for eight years, I had the advantage of speaking the language, being able to communicate with the orchestra musicians easily. I even recognized one or two familiar faces in the band from my time in Sweden, which was nice.”

Peter Jacques conducting the orchestral accompaniment to the Swiss entry in the 1975 Eurovision Song Contest, Simone Drexel’s ‘Mikado’

Two years later, in 1977, Peter Jacques conducted the Swiss Eurovision pre-selection show in Zürich. Subsequently, he joined the winners of these heats, the Pepe Lienhard Band, to the Eurovision Song Contest, making his second and last appearance in the event, this time conducting ‘Swiss lady’, composed by Peter Reber. This original creation, featuring parts for alphorn and piccolo – quite an unusual combination –, managed to obtain a respectable sixth position for Switzerland in the festival final, held in the Wembley Conference Centre in London. Before that, a studio version of the song had been recorded. The single release included ‘Warum’, a song written by Peter Jacques and Hansjörg Bahl, as its B-side. Jacques: “It is purely coincidental that I wrote the B-side of the single release of the song I conducted in the Eurovision Song Contest. In those days, I occasionally wrote pop songs when requested. Hansjörg Bahl was someone with connections in the record business and he was probably the one who succeeded in drawing Pepe Lienhard’s attention to our creation.”

In a nice coincidence, for his second Eurovision performance, Peter Jacques again found himself on familiar ground, as he had extensively worked as an arranger in London’s recording studios in the early 1970s. Jacques recalls: “The drummer and the alto saxophone player in that Eurovision orchestra had featured on virtually all my sessions. They were amongst the very best session players in England. For this particular song, ‘Swiss lady’, the orchestra was not particularly important, as all main instruments in the arrangement were played by Pepe and his band. In fact, we only used the orchestra because it was obligatory to involve it in the performance. That is where I came in: at the band’s request, I wrote a tiny string arrangement and this made me the obvious choice to conduct it in London as well. The record version of ‘Swiss lady’ does not include these strings! I could not help being enormously impressed by the guy in Pepe’s band who played the alphorn (an Iranian musician called Mostafa Kafa’i Azimi, BT). With a mouthpiece on the horn, he was able produce the most amazing sounds. For the Eurovision performance, his parts were pre-recorded, but I can assure you he could just as well have done it live, which in fact he had to do on many occasions in Switzerland after the contest, as the song did quite well in the charts and the poor devils had to play it night after night wherever they performed.”

Jacques recalls an incredible anecdote involving Pepe Lienhard, the band leader who played the piccolo on stage for ‘Swiss lady’. “A couple of days before the contest, I was awoken in my hotel room by Pepe. He telephoned me from his room, which was down the corridor, simply to have a chat about music. All of a sudden, he asked me: “Does the sun shine so awkwardly into your room as well? I can hardly see anything!” I thought it was a weird question, as I did not notice anything abnormal. Shortly after we had finished our conversation, I heard the alarm sound. What had happened? Before calling me, Pepe had filled the bath, but he had forgotten to close the tap and the water had started flowing into his room! Being extremely near-sighted and not yet having inserted his contact lenses, he did not even see the water in the room when the sun reflected heavily in it. When fire-fighters entered the building, the water had already started flushing onto the corridor and down the stairs into the main reception. When I later told the band’s manager what had happened, he could hardly believe it, as it was such an improbable story.”

In the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, the gaps between the songs were not bridged by films, as was customary, but by shots of the audience and piano improvisations in the background. Peter Jacques remembers why. “That contest was directed by Stewart Morris, quite a high-handed and tyrannical character of which the English crew liked saying behind his back: ”Hitler is alive and doing very well in the body of Stewart Morris”. This chap actually had a good idea: he organized a banquet and invited all delegations to attend. While the cocktail party was going on, a camera crew filmed the various delegations with the intention of using these images in between the participating songs. What Morris had not realized, though, was that several television and radio chiefs from across Europe attended the party with someone else than their own wife. As the evening progressed, more and more people got quite drunk and there was a lot of flirting going on. As a result, literally on the day of the broadcast, some of the most important TV managers of Europe gathered at Stewart Morris’ desk, imploring him not to use the images: um Gottes willen, nicht senden!. Morris could do little else than skipping the items. Instead, he asked the pianist of the orchestra to play instrumental bridges in between all songs. This pianist doubtlessly made more money than anyone else from this contest. All pieces he played were compositions of his own and they were broadcast in over twenty countries. He literally earned a fortune!”

Jacques conducting the string arrangement to ‘Swiss lady’, with which the Pepe Lienhard Band represented Switzerland in Eurovision 1977, London

Other artists on Peter Jacques
So far, we have not been able to gather memories of other artists about Peter Jacques.

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Peter Jacques in Ebmatingen (Switzerland), July 2013.
  • All photos courtesy of Peter Jacques.


Songs conducted
1975: Mikado
1977: Swiss lady