16 March 2017

Late night tracks / Jean Chaumont

From a September 2016 concert with pianist Michael Bond in Hopewell, New Jersey

Recently I've been on a bit of a jazzy kick, thanks to the movie musical La La Land. My feet have been tapping ever since I left the theater. That opening scene alone is worth the watch, but the rest of the soundtrack is a great repeated listen for its splendid fusion of jazz, pop, latin, and bits in between. For better or worse, I find that Ryan Gosling's character and I have a similar taste for big band jazz. I like my horns brassy, my rhythms quick, my saxes sassy. (Fun fact: No body doubles for that pianist!)

And yet, I'm drawn to tonight's listen: a more melodic and contemplative form of the genre, courtesy of French guitarist and composer. Jean Chaumont. It's not exactly music to fall asleep to. It's no Kenny G (thank goodness -- no offense, KG). Clearly it's kept me awake. It's thoughtful, sometimes challenging, hitting me in a way I can't quite place.

Just to get it out there, Jean is a friend -- one of the first people the Tall Man and I met after moving to Princeton. We felt like fish out of water in the suburbs, and Jean and his wife, city transplants themselves from Paris, could relate. When I heard Jean was a musician, I asked him what kind. He said he was a jazz guitarist and composer, and I was initially at a loss for words. I've often thought of jazz as an intellectual form of music, and my music theory and middle school jazz band days seemed pretty darn far off. These days, I could nod my head appreciatively to the beat, but what could I say of chord progressions or improv techniques?

Turns out, it doesn't matter. My initial intimidation melted away along with my image of the stern jazz persona. Jean is clearly serious about his music (see that face of concentration in the above photo?), but he is also a goofy guy with a passion for family, friends, faith, and justice.

Caught him!

I attended a concert of his back in September of last year, him on acoustic guitar and Jersey-native Michael Bond on piano. It was my first time hearing him play, and I rode on waves of intricate riffs and transforming melodies. Half the songs were recent compositions, written in his last few years of living in Princeton. Many were strongly autobiographical, including one he had written as a joyful tribute to his wife Andrea. Despite knowing Andrea myself, I found the song's building motifs gave an intimate glimpse into their relationship. If that isn't a musician baring all, I don't know what is.

Below is a recent recording of one of the songs he performed, "Renewed Perspective."

This composition, along with seven others, are fruits of Jean's daily labor in his years of living and reflecting in Princeton. Tonight, I've found myself scrounging around to listen to more. Some of his previous work is his website and Bandcamp site as part of the French duo Tema. More is on his recently-launched Kickstarter (now through April 14th) in support of his debut album The Beauty of Differences -- an expression of his own family's multiculturalism and the diversity to be embraced around us.

Album art featuring "A Broken Culture" by sculptor Emily Nelms Perez

And as I said, Jean finds inspiration in very personal and visceral ways, even from communicating with his daughter before she was born:
"... While Audrey was in Andrea's womb I started tactile communication, as we read it was a great way to start bonding with our child. I will always remember that day when she answered back. We started some kind of a morse code back and forth. I knocked 'tic tic tic' and she answered 'tac tac tac.' It inspired me to compose 'Audrey's Code' that you'll hear on the album."
I have to wait alongside everyone else for this album, but I'm truly looking forward to it. Nope, not just trying to get friend brownie points -- I genuinely have found this music worth staying up for.

Even better: Proceeds for the album will go towards a charity bringing fresh water to villages in Malawi, Africa -- a demonstration of Creative Good, Jean using his artistic abilities to support those in need.

Stay tuned: I'll hopefully be back with updates on the album. Maybe I'll get a sneak peek? Until then, I'll say good night.

/ / /

P.S. In my forays into Jean's past musical works, I came across his compositions for short films. This one made me smile and chuckle aloud -- and not just because I'm an architect with a soft spot for physical models and animation. It's the perfect dose of whimsy to make any day a sunny one, a jaunty combo of music and sound for this stopmotion film, part of the 2014 animation exhibition "Motion Factory" at La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. (Watch for the sheep!)

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