Sax Hero

Originally written April 2017

Forget about La La Land, I found a man who will make you give jazz a shot and he does not need to dance around in a pretty dress for that – for real! Meet Jean-Marc Larché who, as part of the Tarkovsky Quartet, just released the album Nuit Blanche.

Oh I remember it like it was yesterday! Kids, let me tell you a little story! Let me take you a few years back, it’s a Saturday night, mid-February. I’m walking through the streets of some small medieval city in Eastern France – it’s hella cold. So I’m walking from narrow paved streets to narrower paved-er streets, until I find what I came for – well, what I was dragged outside in the cold for: a basement that they have now decided to call a jazz club – it used to be a wine cellar and by then I’m thinking they should have kept it this way. So I get down there, even for me that’s one low ceiling. It’s crowded – surprising for a jazz gig, I’m getting suspicious… could this actually be… fun? I sit down, I wait. The music starts. And bang! This, kids, is the story of how I decided to give jazz a chance. And I can make that happen for you too! You won’t get the trip to France or the gig, but I think we can make that Jazz thing happen anyway.

The man behind that groovy awakening was saxophonist and teacher Jean-Marc Larché. I got the opportunity to catch up with him again recently to get his thoughts on art, jazz, music education and more! Now looking at and talking to him, you wouldn’t think he’s one of them jazzers. We’re far from drugged up Charlie Parker or moody Stan Getz, no rowdy stories to be told here – in fact I can’t help thinking of that Austrian monk I used to know (Brother Simon Petrus) when I see him. He sits there, very straight, kind of regal in a way. Yet he still seems perfectly relaxed and comfortable sitting upright like that. He talks politely, pleasantly, and smiles at people; even as we’re casually chatting, he sounds like he is giving the most interesting and exciting lecture that ever was.

Jean-Marc Larché has been teaching saxophone since the mid 1980s in different conservatoires throughout North-eastern France. Meanwhile he has taken part in a variety of projects, collaborating with jazz, classical and world musicians. And this, my friends, is where you should start getting enthusiastic. “Jazz is not only made up of standards! Most musicians write and defend their own music” he tells me after I express my I’m-over-it-ness towards the aging classics.  See this is no dusty old standards you’ll be served again with him and his jazzy posse or musical “family” as he prefers to call it – no, no, no – but some delicious pieces of music freshly squeezed out of 21st century brains. 

Larché has been saxing around with many, but since 2006, he’s been a permanent fixture of the Tarkovsky Quartet along with its creator – doubling up as pianist – François Couturier, cellist Anja Lechner and accordionist Jean-Louis Martinier. This project, homage to the Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, has fostered the birth of delicate songs, expertly blending jazz with classical and a hint of world music. Last month, they released album number three: Nuit Blanche. With some melancholic and haunting but also surprising melodies, they explore the concepts of dream and memory. Throughout this new opus, again, they make references to the Russian director’s work. Finding inspiration in art, culture and life is at the centre of the musical creations and collaborations of Larché.

“I think the current society does not give priority to culture which elevates the mind, develops critical thinking and fosters self-realisation.” This is the idea at the centre of Larché’s teaching at the music conservatoire, hoping it will shed its “dusty and elitist” image to reach a larger number of people, and mostly children, from all backgrounds, and help education heighten awareness and not relegate the teaching of artistic subjects to the bottom. And this is precisely what, according to him, will be the driving force of tomorrow’s jazz and music industry as a whole too; musicians that can bring influences form a vast variety of genres and breaking the traditions. This point of view is also reflected in the many projects of his – in the Akasha Quartet, with music inspired by the elements, or with the duo Continuum, for which he teamed up with double bass player Yves Rousseau to compose some smooth tunes, to name just a few. 

Like Mr Larché – dare I say your soon to be favourite musician? – who believes we can make music education less elitist and dusty, I believe we can do the same for jazz. Reaching out to a wider variety of music broadens our understanding of art and culture, it can make us think and experience all sort of abstract concepts, so why not try and mix it up?

I don’t know if I’ve convinced you to switch off your rock, pop and other indie favourites and try something new, but I hope you’ll consider a jazzier alternative for one night at least – worst case scenario, it will only make going back to familiar sounds sweeter. So let’s not be scared my friends, and let’s all go get down and dirty at the jazz club! If not, well maybe we can just stay at home and try Jean-Marc Larché and the Tarkovsky Quartet?

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