In Conversation With Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Jean-Yves Thibaudet interview

L'cinda: Conversations With Bill Evans is a masterful work and is a fine tribute to Bill. Did you at any moment have reservations about recording the work of such a beloved artist?

Jean-Yves: Yes, it was very difficult in the beginning when I was offered the project. I was at the same time very excited by him. I admire him so much and I adore his music, and at the same being a classical artist, not a professional jazz player, I knew it was going to be a dangerous project. So I really thought a lot about it. I think what was important, was that I wanted in no way to wanted to imitate him, that was totally out of the question. The way I looked at the album and decided to approach Bill, was to treat him as a composer, because I think he was a great composer. Just as I make recordings of Chopin or Ravel or Liszt, I decided to make a recording of Bill Evans. It is more a tribute to the composer that it is to the pianist. I took his material and his music and played it with my interpretation, with my heart and my soul. I know there are tons of recordings of him playing, if people want him they'll buy him. It's not that. I think it's more a tribute to the composer that I wanted to do. I think that it's just too bad that there's always such a distinction between classical and jazz, music is just music and great music should be shared by everybody. I think it's interesting to see how a classical person will approach jazz and how a jazz person will approach classical. I think we can all learn from that. So that was really my approach.

L'cinda: Bill was able to bring jazz to classical audiences. You have a desire to bring classical music to more people--especially young people--using the genre of jazz as a vehicle also. Why is it so important to expose classical music to more people now?

Jean-Yves: I think it's very important because it is the audience of the future for us young artists. If you look at classical music, very often the subscribers at concert halls on average are really much older people. You begin to worry a bit. You start thinking in twenty or thirty years who will come to my concert.? So we have to start educating the younger people and we have to grab their attention with a lot of different things. I think they have a totally wrong idea and image of classical music. I think it's supposed to be something so stiff and so boring, conservative and traditional, that they are not attracted to it. So by showing them that they can relate to the artists--that some of us are young and we have normal lives--they can relate and can understand a little better and will come to the concerts. I always try to meet as many people as I can. Sometimes we have discussions, which I think is important.

L'cinda: You've cited Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson as some of your favorite jazz artists. What is it about their styles that attracted you to them?

Jean-Yves: Definitely in Art Tatum and Fats Waller it's the pianistic part that is absolutely mind boggling I think for any pianist whether classical or jazz. I mean when you hear them you wonder how can they do that. And when you think sometimes they were not even trained--it's unbelievable how they do that. So I think we all really admire them tremendously. The technical part of it is just unbelievable. I don't know how they did it. So, it's really exciting, for me it's electric. It takes you and you just want to jump up and down. It's so exciting.

L'cinda: It has been noted that jazz influences can be heard in your performances. Has your appreciation of jazz evolved to the point that it has become an organic part of your playing?

Jean-Yves: I think in a way it has and in a way it still hasn't. It will take a while because as I said I was not trained as a jazz musician. The only thing was that I always loved it and always listened to a lot of it. I still have to learn a lot about it. But I think definitely it's been a very enriching project. And, I would say that as you said, it really does come out in whatever I do. Like a sponge, we take all those different inputs--different people. different music, different traditions--they kind of get mixed in you brain and they all come out another way, there's no question. And there is such an influence between classical and jazz. Its amazing. So many composers of the classical world, especially in this century, were tremendously influenced by jazz and vice versa.

L'cinda: From the artists you have recorded--including Bill Evans, Ravel, Rachmaninov, and Debussy--you seem to like to challenge yourself creatively and artistically. Are there any other jazz musicians' that would afford such a challenge that you would consider recording?

Jean-Yves: Absolutely. We have started researching the next project. I wanted to do a follow up on the Bill Evans work because it was so well received. I was really happy and I had so much fun I wanted to do it again. And I didn't think it had to be Bill Evans again. So I had to look for something. I think that it is very important that when you do a project like that there has to be a really strong link--a theme, a reason to do it. Bill was really the link with the Impressionists and classical music. So the next person I thought would be really interesting to do was Duke Ellington. We're working on that now, and I hope next year we'll be able to start recording an album of his music.

L'cinda: Jazz seems to be like a canvas upon which artists have the freedom to express themselves--to improvise imaginatively, inventively, creatively--and it seems the method the French Impressionists created also allowed them to express their feelings and emotions. With jazz, did its qualities, especially its improvisational nature, attract you to the genre?

Jean-Yves: My first two discoveries in jazz is first of all is the improvisation part. In jazz there is a freedom that is not equalled in any other music. With classical music we are just trained to play. We're given a score and we look at it and we play everything that is written, pay attention to every little detail. We have to be as close as we can to the text. This is one thing that does not exist in jazz, nobody cares about it. So I think it gives you a freedom. You have a theme whatever it is and from there you create everything, your own world. And, in a way it's a very personal way to play music. As far as I'm concerned, it's the kind of music where I give most of myself--from inside myself. I think it's amazing because there's nothing there, you have to create it. So I think in a way when you play jazz people can almost look through you--can look inside you. You feel almost naked sometimes. It's so personal. You give so much from inside of yourself. It's an incredible freedom and I think that it is really wonderful. It's so fast, it touches you right away. It's like speaking to yourself.

L'cinda: Thank you very much Jean-Yves. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

You can find out more about Jean-Yves Thibaudet's life and work here.

© L'cinda Scott-McCall