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Jean Jacques Perrey
One of the great names of space age pop, Jean Jacques Perrey has been pushing the envelope of recorded music for over 4 decades. Inspired by inventor Georges Jenny, Perrey became the greatest proponent of the Ondioline, exporting it to the U.S. and introducing its spacey sound to American pop. His first album with Gershon Kingsley, The In Sound from Way Out, is one of the milestone albums of space age pop, and his last Vanguard album, Moog Indigo, is still sampled by DJs today. And when other musicians might be seeking to relax in retirement, Perrey continues to create and perform, spurred on by a new generation of admirers.
Given his first instrument, the accordion, at the young age of 4, he attempted to study music at the Amiens Conservatory, but was kicked out for violating school rules and performing in public. Instead, he headed for Paris to study medicine in 1951. A chance meeting with Jenny in 1952 introduced Perrey to the Ondioline, a tiny keyboard that could produce fascinating flute-like sounds full of vibrato. Within a year, Perrey dropped out of med school and went to work for Jenny as a travelling sales rep and Ondioline demonstrator.
Out of these demonstrations grew a cabaret act in which Perrey played piano and Ondioline, at times simultaneously. Titled "Around the World in 80 Ways," the show was quite popular and Perrey took it on tour throughout western Europe. Working the nightclub circuit, Perrey became acquainted with singer/songwriter Charles Trenet ("Beyond the Sea," "Boom"). With Trenet and legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhart, Perrey recorded several songs, one of which, "The Soul of a Poet," became a major hit in Europe.
From Trenet, Perrey went on to work with France's leading star, singer Edith Piaf. He appeared in her show at the Olympia Theatre in Paris in 1959, at the height of Piaf's success. Piaf was a tremendous supporter of Perrey's work, and she arranged for him to have the use of a recording studio and tape machines. Perrey had become interested in tape manipulation following a meeting with another French musical innovator, musique concrete creator Pierre Schaeffer.
But Piaf's biggest contribution was to send one of these tapes to Carroll Bratman, a music contractor in New York City. Bratman responded immediately, sending plane tickets to Perrey with one word marked on the envelope: "Come!"
Bratman's Carroll Music Service supplied musical instruments, especially percussion, to orchestras and studios throughout New York. A long-time supporter of innovative music, Bratman had hosted a historic all-percussion recording session in 1957 led by arranger Jimmy Carroll that included Phil Kraus, Terry Snyder, and Harry Breuer that was released on the Cook Laboratory label as Hi-Fi Bull in a China Shop.
Bratman set Perrey up in his own studio above Carroll Music on Ninth Avenue, arranged for his green card and union membership, and got Perrey guest appearances on a number of television shows, including "The Jack Paar Show," "Arthur Godfrey," and even "Captain Kangaroo." He also set up Perrey as the U.S. sales rep for the Ondioline.
Perrey wanted to adapt Schaeffer's tape editing techniques to lighter material. Working with a growing library of prerecorded sounds, Perrey measured out teeny-tiny tape bits with a special ruler that marked lengths in notes, then spliced these together into songs. In one early experiment, Perrey spent a week to cut and glue excerpts from a field recording of live bees into the melody from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee."
Carroll regular Harry Breuer became one of Perrey's early collaborators. Breuer would recorded percussion parts on tape, and he and Perrey would then mix these with edited tape passages. Within a few months, they began selling these creations as jingles for Madison Avenue advertising agencies.
Perrey kept performing during this period. He was able to pay for regular first-class crossings on the S.S. France luxury liner by performing in its nightclub, and in 1962, he played Radio City Music Hall for four shows a day for six weeks.
Along with Breuer, Perrey worked with arrangers Andy Badale (later known as Angelo Baddalamenti, of "Twin Peaks" fame) and Billy Goldberg. With Goldberg, he recorded incidental music for an off-Broadway production of Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine." But it was through Kingsley and his connection with Vanguard Records that Perrey achieved his greatest success.
Most of The In Sound from Way Out! consisted of original tunes, some taken from jingles, others destined to be used for them. The follow-up album, Kaleidoscopic Variations, added another innovation, the Moog synthesizer, while bringing in current hits such as "One Note Samba" and even that space age pop warhorse, "The Third Man Theme." Walt Disney, who first met Perrey in 1963, asked to use one original, "Baroque Hoedown," as the theme music for the Electrical Parade on Main Street in Disneyland. The music was later adapted for similar attractions at the Disneylands in Japan and France, and Perrey and Kingsley's tune has now been heard by over 100 million visitors.
Kingsley went on to do his own work with the Moog, while Perrey joined with producer John Mack and arranger Dave Mullaney and their company, Laurie Productions, to compose and record, mostly for radio and television advertisements. Perrey recorded two more albums for Vanguard, The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sounds of Jean Jacques Perrey and Moog Indigo. One cut from the latter album, "E.V.A.," became a favorite source for sampling by hip hop and rap artists and DJs, including Ice T, DJ Premier, and Fat Boy Slim.
Perrey returned to France in 1970 and became the musical director of a ballet company. He wrote and recorded music for a tevelsion commercials and a number of French cartoons, and released several albums of this music on the Montparnasse label. He also continued to work on music for therapeutic purposes, including one project that involved recording with dolphins in the waters near Vancouver, Canada. Young French musician David Chazam lured Perrey out of semi-retirement in the mid-1990s and stirred him to perform again. Perrey performed live at several venues in the U.S. in 1998 and may yet have some tricks up his sleeve to bring out for the new millennium.
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