INTERVIEW: Emile Parisien

Emile Parisien. Photo credit: ACT MUSIC/ Grosse Geldermann


In advance of his quartet's appearance at the Vortex on Tuesday Nov 18th (previewed here), Alison Bentley interviewed saxophonist Emile Parisien:


Alison Bentley: What made you want to be a jazz musician?

Émile Parisien: My parents used to listen to music. My father played flute. One day he wanted to try playing saxophone so he rented one. I tried too. My parents used to listen to jazz, so I was happy to try to blow into this saxophone! It was the beginning, when I was 8 years old.

AB: Did you study Classical music too?

EP: I studied jazz. I went to the special Music College in Marciac [SW France]. But after this I went to the Conservatoire in Toulouse, and here I studied Classical music and saxophone. And when I was 18 years old I came to Paris.

AB: The Jazz Festival at Marciac sounds like a wonderful event. You met Wynton Marsalis and others there?

EP: It was a big thing for me, when I was young. And of course, Wynton was a special teacher for us. We saw him once a year. He spent two or three days with us. He’s a very good teacher- a pedagogue. Everybody helped us to develop.

AB: I read that Wynton Marsalis said this to you: ‘Music is the sound of doors or a barking dog’!

EP: Yes, that’s true actually. Of course, Wynton is a really straight jazz musician. But what was interesting was learning about expression. That is a strong part of what I do. It spoke to me.

AB: There were other saxophonists who influenced you- Coltrane, Shorter…

EP: They were the first. And later Steve Lacy, and I liked him very much. But Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and many musicians I’ve come across in my life gave me something. I’m like a sponge! Ornette Coleman- free jazz- what I liked was the freedom of expression. This way of playing music is really important to me. I did a trio album [Yes, Ornette!] with [bassist] Jean-Paul Celea and [drummer] Wolfgang Reisinger- he had a trio for a long time with Dave Liebman. It was a tribute to Ornette Coleman- he is really important for me.

AB: You used to play with [Joe Zawinul’s drummer] Paco Séry? So you have a background in funk and African music as well?

EP: Yes, and I’m happy because it was with one of the best drummers in this kind of music. We met a long time ago when I arrived in Paris, when I was 20 years old. We spent five years playing a tribute to Zawinul. When Zawinul died, the musicians decided to continue the Zawinul Syndicate and I took part in this. It was Zawinul’s last band. It was really nice!

AB: Are you interested in folk music- Balkan? French chansons?

EP: It’s not the most important part of what I do, but it’s brought me many things I can use. I like it, I like the spirit. But I’m more on the modern jazz side! My parents used to listen to French songs and it’s also a big part of my universe. All these things contribute to making what I am today.

AB: Classical composers?

EP: This is really important. Ligeti, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel- really a strong influence.

AB: The Surrealists?

EP: This is also another influence- Duchamp and the Dada universe. All these artists and their way of thinking. It’s not just me- it’s what is important to the whole Quartet. This is a band, a collective, and we’re all interested in this.

AB: Is there a cinematic feel to your compositions?

EP: I watch a lot of movies and I’m interested in film music. Many people feel that our music is cinematographic, because we like to tell stories. It’s like Surrealism- there’s a link with certain images and pictures. I like narrative music.

AB: Did the Quartet meet at the Toulouse Conservatoire?

EP: Julian Touéry, the piano-player, and I met at the school in Marciac when we were really young. We studied jazz together. Then Julien met the two other guys, Sylvain Darrifourcq and Ivan Gélugne in the Conservatoire in Toulouse. One day Julien called me- maybe we could do something together? It was a revelation. It was something really strong- a perfect meeting. We started composing- at first it was more like classic jazz. And we’ve spent ten years together, and we’ve developed our sound. It’s a wonderful story! Over the ten years we’ve had different ways of working. We started with individual compositions that we worked on all together. For the second album [Original Pimpant, 2009] we composed all together- it’s the most collective album. When we were young we had a lot of time to spend together, like a rock band. But it became harder to do that, so we brought some compositions for Chien Guêpe [2012] and arranged them all together. With Spezial Snack [2014] we had more individual composition- it was also like an anniversary.

AB: Your new album is on the ACT Label.

EP: I’m happy that more people can know about our music. We don’t make compromises, and this is important. Sometimes they try to push us a particular direction but we stay strong! [laughs]

AB: What’s the most important thing to you about your music?

EP: Humans! The most important thing is to do the music with people we love, and share it with them.

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