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Jacques Loussier, Pianist Who Jazzed Up Bach, Dies at 84 – The New York Times

Jacques Loussier, Pianist Who Jazzed Up Bach, Dies at 84 - The New York Times
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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/obituaries/jacques-loussier-dies.html?action=click
 
Jacques Loussier, Pianist Who Jazzed Up Bach, Dies at 84
March 12, 2019
The French pianist Jacques Loussier, who became famous for fusing Bach and jazz, in concert in London in 1970.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images

The French pianist Jacques Loussier, who became famous for fusing Bach and jazz, in concert in London in 1970.Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images
Jacques Loussier, a French pianist who led a trio that performed jazzy interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach, selling millions of albums and touring the world, died on March 5 at a hospital in Blois, in France’s Loire Valley. He was 84.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Hélène Loussier Oziouls Toulouse. His son Julien said the cause was complications of a degenerative disease.
Mr. Loussier was classically trained, but he had dabbled in jazz improvisation for years when he formed the Jacques Loussier Trio in 1959. The other members were the drummer Christian Garros, who had played with Django Reinhardt, and the bassist Pierre Michelot, who had recorded with Miles Davis.
The trio played recognizable Bach melodies or pieces, like “Air on a G String” and the Prelude No. 1 in C, then took flight into bebop improvisations. They quickly found a devoted audience and released a popular series of albums on Decca under the overall title “Play Bach” beginning in the early 1960s.
Many critics bridled at the idea of jazzing up the work of Bach. John Rockwell of The New York Times, reviewing a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1975, wrote that he was “actively appalled by the very notion of ‘popularizing’ Bach — or any classical composer, for that matter.”
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“Mostly,” Mr. Rockwell continued, the trio “stuck too close to Bach for jazz and too close to cocktail/salon jazz for satisfaction.”
Mr. Loussier at the San Sebastian International Jazz Festival in Spain in 2006. His original trio, formed in 1959, and a later version, formed in 1985, performed all over the world.Javier Echezarreta/European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Loussier at the San Sebastian International Jazz Festival in Spain in 2006. His original trio, formed in 1959, and a later version, formed in 1985, performed all over the world.Javier Echezarreta/European Pressphoto Agency
In 2002, Mr. Loussier told the British newspaper The Independent that such criticism did not bother him. “Bach himself,” he noted, “was improvising on these pieces for many years.”
Other critics were more positive about Mr. Loussier’s playful style, including Robert Sherman, who reviewed another Carnegie Hall performance by the trio in The Times in 1966.
“Mr. Loussier is a man with a fertile imagination, excellent musical instincts (given the basic premise of his transcriptions) and a powerhouse technique,” Mr. Sherman wrote. “The snippets he played ‘straight,’ or reasonably so, showed flair and intelligence, and even when poor old Bach was left far behind, Mr. Loussier’s volatile pianism was never less than compelling.”
The Jacques Loussier Trio broke up in the late 1970s, and Mr. Loussier went on to compose original works, including music for French films and television.
In 1985, the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth, Mr. Loussier rebuilt the trio with André Arpino on percussion and Vincent Charbonnier on bass. The new trio embraced other composers in its jazz adaptations, including Satie, Debussy, Ravel, Vivaldi and Beethoven, and released more albums. His last new release, on the Telarc label, was a version of Schumann’s “Kinderszenen,” in 2011.
Mr. Loussier was born on Oct. 26, 1934, in Angers, in western France, to René Loussier, who worked in a bank, and Marguerite (Duvat) Loussier, a homemaker. He started playing the piano at 10, and later said that his distinctive approach to Bach developed while he practiced the Prelude in G Minor.
“I played it 100 times or so,” he said. “Then one day I started to change the melody, then the left-hand harmonies. It was a natural instinct.”
The Jacques Loussier Trio released a series of popular albums under the overall title “Play Bach” beginning in the early 1960s.
The Jacques Loussier Trio released a series of popular albums under the overall title “Play Bach” beginning in the early 1960s.
He studied for a time at the National Conservatory of Paris.
“My fellow students would always ask me to play some Bach with my improvisations,” he said. “At that time, the Modern Jazz Quartet was doing this thing already: I heard them, and that gave me the idea to transform it with bass and drums.”
In 1959, the year the Jacques Loussier Trio released its first album, he married Sylvie de Tournemire. Their marriage ended in divorce. In 1998 he married Elizabeth Note.
In addition to his wife, with whom he lived in Cour-sur-Loire, France, and his son and daughter, Mr. Loussier is survived by three other sons, Thomas, Jean-Baptiste and Pierre; 13 grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
In a case that brought Mr. Loussier renewed attention, he sued Eminem and Dr. Dre for $10 million in 2002, charging that they had used his music without credit. He asserted that “Kill You,” the first song on Eminem’s album “The Marshall Mathers LP” (2000), was suspiciously similar to one of his compositions, “Pulsion.”
Mr. Loussier said that he thought Eminem or Dr. Dre, who produced most of “The Marshall Mathers LP,” had heard a snippet of “Pulsion” that he had played on one of his Bach recordings and “thought it was Bach’s music, not mine.”
“So they used it without asking permission,” he continued. “If they had come to me, I would have accepted, and allowed them to use it for nothing, but they didn’t, which is not nice.”
The case was settled out of court.
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.
Follow Daniel E. Slotnik on Twitter: @dslotnik
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