Jacques Loussier (1934-2019)
The French pianist and composer Jacques Loussier, best known for his trio’s best-selling string of albums re-interpreting the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in a jazz style, passed away on Monday aged 84. One of the original “cross-over” artists, Loussier was blessed with the ability to play both classical and jazz and merge them convincingly into his own unique hybrid. Unlike many classical artists' efforts to “go jazz”, the Jacques Loussier Trio could truly swing, helping it sell over 7 million records in its sixties and early seventies heyday.
Born on 26 October 1934 in Angers, France, Loussier started piano lessons aged ten and after three months had his first encounter with the music of J. S. Bach through the little prelude in G minor. He quickly became obsessed and played it 'tens, hundreds of times', embellishing by dropping or adding notes, changing the tempo, and recontextualising the music. At the age of 13 he was taken to Paris and introduced to Yves Nat, who took him on as a long-distance student, giving Loussier pieces to study, and every three months the boy would return to Paris for advice and further instruction. Moving to Paris at the tender age of 16, Loussier played in jazz bars to help finance his studies at the Conservatoire National Musique. When nerves got the better of him whilst playing Bach in a piano competition at the conservatory he started improvising, arguing that he was only following the tradition of the great masters.
In 1959 he formed the Jacques Loussier Trio with two of France’s finest jazz musicians, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Christian Garros. Chiming perfectly with the mood of the era, a copy of the Jacques Loussier Trio Play Bach became de rigeur for any aspiring bohemian’s record collection, alongside Brubeck’s Time Out, Getz/Gilberto and Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations. Many people of a certain age will remember “Happiness… is a cigar called Hamlet”, the adverts famously accompanied by the trio’s brilliant take on Air on the G String. Aside from Bach the trio would go on to explore the music of Debussy, Chopin, Vivaldi and many more.
From the early sixties onwards Loussier composed a huge amount of film and television soundtracks, including the theme for popular French TV hit Thierry la Fronde. After the trio broke up in the late seventies Loussier built his own recording studio in Provence and focussed on his own compositions. He also worked with some of the most prominent rock musicians of the era including Yes, Elton John, and Pink Floyd. He was also an early artist to take a stand against copyright infringement when he brought a lawsuit against Eminem and Dr. Dre over a sampled beat, which was settled out of court.
Ultimately Jacques Loussier will be best remembered as a bold yet tasteful re-interpreter of Bach, and a musician who did a great deal to introduce new listeners to both the classical and jazz music. He died on 5 March 2019.