Daniel Zimmermann, 49, is one of the most brilliant and endearing jazz trombonists on the French contemporary music scene. For twenty years, the native of Châtenay-Malabry, who has toured alongside Claude Nougaro, Manu Dibango and Tony Allen among countless artists, has collaborated over time with musicians such as accordionist Vincent Peirani with which he formed a trio, but also Thomas de Pourquery for a group with a rock spirit, DPZ. In recent years, we have seen him play in groups such as the Sacre du Tympan, the National Jazz Orchestra or in the group of double bassist Jacques Vidal.
Meanwhile, in 2013, Daniel Zimmermann launched his own career, master of his artistic projects, with BoneMachine which earned him a nomination for the Victoires du jazz, the first for a trombonist. On stage, his talent as an improviser and his tongue-in-cheek humor work wonders. In November 2022, Daniel Zimmermann released his fourth album, dedicated to an icon of French song, Serge Gainsbourg. The Cabbage-headed Man in Uruguay (Label bleu), contraction of two song titles, was recorded with an excellent group – who officiated on Russian mountains (2016), the trombonist’s second album – formed by Pierre Durand (guitar), Jérôme Regard (bass) and Julien Charlet (drums).
With astonishing intelligence and creativity, Daniel Zimmermann and his accomplices make us rediscover nine songs dating from roughly the first fifteen years of Serge Gainsbourg’s career. This program was presented on December 1st at the Bal Blomet, in Paris, in front of an enthusiastic audience. Monday, February 20, the group gives a free concert at the Center Pompidou on the occasion of the exhibition “Serge Gainsbourg, the exact word”, before other dates. Interview.
Franceinfo Culture: How did the music of Serge Gainsbourg enter your life?
Daniel Zimmerman : I discovered it three times. A first time when I was a teenager: it was the Gainsbourg of the 80s, a rock icon. It’s not my favorite but it’s the one I liked when I was 12, in real time if I dare say, since the album at the Casino de Paris ( Gainsbourg Live, 1985) had just been released. Then, when I was 14 I think, I discovered Melody Nelson’s Story (1971) and there, it was a big slap. In the aftermath, The Man with the Cabbage Head (1976) of course. And then, maybe another two years later, at 16, I discovered the Gainsbourg jazz found in his first five albums and partly in the sixth, Gainsbourg Percussion (1964). There, as much as the music, it’s the character that made me crack. His humor, his fallible dandyism if I dare say, this kind of elegance, but with such fragility, visible, on edge… I find the mixture of all that touching.
Have you had the opportunity to see him in concert?
No. When he died, I was 17, and I wasn’t crazy about the last album he released, You’re Under Arrest.
Today, according to your perspective as a professional musician, what does Serge Gainsbourg represent in French song, music and pop culture?
What he represents in the media interests me little, personally. If I really want to talk about music, he is an outstanding melodist who knew how to evolve, adapt according to the times. And he is a lyricist who had an unrivaled sense of formula.
How did you approach this particular repertoire?
I did everything to stand out from Gainsbourg, respecting him. I didn’t hijack it, I didn’t make fun of it, but above all I didn’t try to stick to the originals. Because of my admiration for the composer Gainsbourg, I preferred to stay away from him. I tried to distinguish myself from it and to use it almost as a pretext to express a personality, mine and that of my group.
Do you have a particular way of playing the trombone with this type of repertoire, songs in this case?
I always use my instrument in the same way, whether on Gainsbourg, on jazz standards or on my compositions. I try to be a singer with my instrument. I try to have a flow, a management of space and a way of linking ideas such that the speech seems obvious, whatever I say, as obvious as someone speaking.
Was the work on the arrangements easy or complicated?
It came spontaneously based on ideas. I think I’m more of a composer than an arranger. And when I pick up an instrument to write music, I can’t help but rewrite things. I recomposed more than arranged. The first track on the album is emblematic of my approach: it’s a sort of considerably reworked mashup of two songs by Gainsbourg, The Man with the Cabbage Head for harmonies and SS in Uruguay for the melody.
How did you choose the songs? They all date from the 60s and 70s. Was it a choice by taste? Or rather according to what you could do with it?
Exactly. Empirically, I have tried everything. There is indeed a bass line of “Gainsbarre” in reggae albums… But in fact, the more Gainsbourg advances, the less he sings and the more he talks. As I play a melodic instrument and I don’t have the lyrics, it turned out pretty quickly that what worked best was the songs where there was the most melodic material. After, the melodic material, it can also be a bass line, or a principle of composition like the drone of Bonnie and Clyde. But overall, I tried to sing the melodies with the trombone and I saw what went well.
A few words about the group around you, with whom you have already worked…
The group is that of the album Russian mountains from 2016, an album with which I toured a lot. We get along extremely well. There is an absolutely perfect complementarity. It’s the most obvious band to play the music I write. Julien Charlet plays the drums exactly as I hear it, for example. We are super well-honed, and this acquisition of a hundred concerts allowed us to record a disc. This had not been the case for Russian mountains which had been recorded before we shot.
You have a distinguished guest on the record, trumpeter Erik Truffaz.
I needed a guest on the disc. Bonnie and Clyde, it is a dialogue. I adopted this principle. I made many quintets with saxophonists with whom I had quite strong musical relationships, such as Thomas de Pourquery, Éric Séva, or also Pierrick Pedron with whom I have been playing for fifteen years in the groups of double bassist Jacques Vidal. But there, while thinking about a guest, and while I was writing, I thought quite quickly of a trumpet. Truffaz was the ideal person. He knew Julien Charlet very well, who is one of his old friends. And he, too, has always made music very influenced by rock and contemporary music. I listened to him a lot especially when I was young, I like how he plays. Besides, I knew he was someone deeply sympathetic, not precious. He’s a gentleman, that’s the term that suits him best. We tried it and it stuck very well, which was no surprise.
Do you have an arrangement that you are particularly proud of on this record?
I’m pretty happy with the whole disc. But I really like the arrangement of New York – USA, it is a simple and very strong idea. This is the first arrangement that I wrote before having the idea of setting up the project. I had it in store for a long time.
What conclusions do you draw from this work on the repertoire of another artist?
I’m happy because I had no idea if it was going to work. What matters is finding inspiration. And for me, it’s not in the technique or in the arrangement. I deduce that there is a way to do it in exercises other than composition.
Daniel Zimmermann in concert with “The Cabbage-Headed Man in Uruguay”
Monday, February 20, 2023 in Paris, Center Pompidou, Petite Salle, 8 p.m. (free admission)
Tuesday March 14 in Amiens, Maison de la Culture, 8:30 p.m.
> Daniel Zimmermann’s concert agenda