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Of the three big names in French easy listening music--Raymond Lefevre, Paul Mauriat, and Frank Pourcel--Pourcel comes out ahead by a nose in my book, given his slightly stronger tendency to incorporate jazz and rock effects into his arrangements. Saleswise, he probably rates a distant third.
Pourcel attended the Conservatoire in Paris, focusing on studying the violin. While in school, he became acquainted with Stephane Grapelli, the jazz violinist whose Hot Club recordings with guitarist Django Reinhardt were the first major original European contributions to jazz. Pourcel himself tried to follow in Grapelli's footsteps, playing jazz violin in a number of different groups before he helped form the French Fiddlers in the late 1940s.
The French Fiddlers were a precursor to Claude Bolling, Jacques Loussier, and the Swingle Singers, all of whom tried to blend classical--particularly baroque--material and jazz. They were classically trained violinists, but they aimed for a popular audience. By the early 1950s, the Fiddlers were one of the most successful instrumental groups in France, and their 1952 version of Leroy Anderson's "Blue Tango" was a big hit.
The Fiddlers continued to stay up with the latest trends in pop, and as rock and roll became more popular, Pourcel began to shift his rhythms from swing to rock. Although numerous space age pop musicians--Eric Jupp, Ray Martin, and Stu Phillips among others--added a rock rhythm section and electric guitars to the standard easy listening orchestra, Pourcel was perhaps the earliest, and certainly his cover of the Platter's hit, "Only You," was the most successful example of this approach, reaching the U.S. Top Ten list in 1959.
Pourcel also deserves mention as the earliest artist to pay tribute to Les Baxter. Pourcel recorded Baxter's "La Femme," a lush and very "serious" suite of thematically linked numbers that's probably sought after now more for the female nude on the cover than for any of the music within. Several others from his early Capitol albums also include tracks Baxter composed especially for Pourcel.
Pourcel's recordings can easily be confused with that of his countryman, Paul Mauriat, which isn't surprising, given that the two men were also collaborators. Their most successful work together was done under pseudonyms--J. W. Stole (Pourcel) and Del Roma (Mauriat)--was the melody for a 1961 tune, "Chariot." If that title doesn't sound familiar to American listeners, it's because we know it as "I Will Follow Him," which was a Top 10 hit for Little Peggy March in 1963.
You can learn more about Franck Pourcel at www.pourcel.com.
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