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Saturday, April 4, 2015
André Ekyan (1907 – 1972) – A French Saxophone Player, Part 1 (1930s)
expert in pre-WW II French jazz history, introduces in this entry André Ekyan's pre-war
career, the 1930s.
post war years of André Ekyan will be discussed in another entry, here
André Ekyan (1907-1972)
highly talented musician was born in Meudon. Who could suspect that he would
become one of the pioneers of the French pre-war jazz and play an important
role in it as a soloist? Here is the
story of his career:
Non- French parents
mother was of Hungarian origin, while his father was born in Armenia – the
official family name was Echkyan. His parents emigrated to France and it was
there that the young André in 1907 was
born and further grew up. Already as a boy he started to play alto-sax. André
first started to follow a medical study in order to become a dentist. During
his study he saved money to buy a clarinet which took quite some time. Finally
he got the instrument and it seems that he could play a bit on it within a few
the end of the Twenties, however, he stopped his dental study and chose for a
professional career in music. Soon he joined the orchestra of Perroquet which
played in Paris; furthermore he was working continuously to improve his
Cabaret performances and orchestra sideman
1930-32 he was active with a small formation under his own name and appeared
frequently in the cabaret “La croix du
Sud”, where – according to Charles Delaunay – also Django Reinhardt came to
listen to him.
Ekyan and Django
also joined various big bands. In 1931 he became member of the well-knownEnglish ‘Jack Hylton Orchestra’ and somewhat
later he played in the band of Fred Astaire. Our active reed man could – in
1933 – be found playing with “Grégor & ses Grégoriens” which was quite popular
in Paris those days. Also Stéphane Grappelli joined this orchestra, as we can
see in some old film fragments! In ’34
and ’35 André was playing in“Le Jazz du
should be mentioned that starting from 1932 Ekyan also arranged and supervised
studio recordings e.g. in parts of “Jazz symphonique Salabert” and in two
recordings of his own group called “the French Hot Boys”. They recorded: ‘St.
Louis Blues’ and ‘Moonglow’.
André Ekyan, saxophonist and clarinetist
André, as a band leader, played an important role in the famous cabaret “Boeuf
sur le Toit” where many excellent musicians regularly met. Under his
supervision several recordings were made
in his name, released by “Ultraphone”.
lots of activities in France André then travelled to the USA where he played
with stars like trombonist ‘Tommy Dorsey & the piano giants“Joe Turner”and
back in France he opened a cabaret called ‘Swing Time” where he showed his own
new orchestra. This was the place where terrific ‘jam sessions’ (in French: ‘de
Boeufs’) took place, so remembered tenor saxophonist Alix Combelle. André could
there also be heard with the piano players Léo Chauliac & George Manion, in
addition to his own band.
was in those times a swinging town, full of theatres, cabarets and cafés
offering jazz. In one of them called “au Florence” the American trumpet
player/saxophonist Benny Carter played. In the early morning, also there unforgettable
jam sessions were held with American and French jazzmen like Coleman Hawkins,
Django Reinhardt and Bill Coleman. After their performances in other cabarets
and cafés, they liked to meet and play spontaneously in unique formations. Note: Carter and Hawkins, who stayed in
Paris, were promoted by the Hot Club de France leaders secretary Charles
Delaunay and president Hugues Panassié.
was a great year for the European jazz. Because of the World Exhibition in the
capital the Hot Club leaders had invited many American jazz giants for big concert
and recording sessions and…….they met
the best French players of that time –
including André Ekyan. This resulted in many unique recordings, all of them
realised under the supervision of Charles Delaunay who had just launched his
exclusive jazz record label ‘Swing”.
Discque Swing, SW. 1
started recording in the spring and possibly
with the best pre-war formation in Europe ever, called “Coleman Hawkins and his
All Star band” featuring Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, André Ekyan, Alix
Combelle, Django Reinhardt, Eugène d’Hellemmes and Tommy Benford.
April 28 two titles in this formation were recorded ‘’Honeysuckle rose’ & ‘Crazy
Rhythm’.In the same line-up HMV recorded: ‘Out of nowhere’ and ‘Sweet Georgia
Brown’. For those interested marked SW
no.1 and HMV(E) B 8812.
still in a very good shape, can also be heard with Django in five tracks which
were recorded in 1939 in a small formation under his name. The titles: ‘The Sheyk’, ‘Dream Ship’, ‘ I can’t
believe’, Dark Town Strutters Ball’’ and Blues of Yesterdays’. Three tracks included
trumpet player/saxophonist ‘Big Boy’ Goodie, who originally came from Louisiana
but already lived in Paris from the early Twenties.