He is an institution in France where the debonair octogenarian
represents perhaps the last of the great French singers, at least
in terms of the chanson as we know it, the Napoleonic Aznavour of
the sexy gravelly tenor that has earned him the sobriquet of
‘the French Frank Sinatra.’ The charm lies in
perhaps a certain East-meets-West quality - Aznavour says his
voice has something of the muezzin in it, but that his
style of writing is Western, and that the arrangements are always
an amalgam of various influences - tango, jazz, samba, bossa nova,
in 1924 in Paris to Armenian immigrants, he began his career by
singing in local cabarets. Aznavour, something of the
Hugoesque gamin, had from his earliest days a darker side
to his songs - something rougher, more street-smart.
Discovered as a youth by Édith Piaf, who responded to this
quality in him, he is perhaps the last of the poète-chanteurs,
great performers who charmed audiences with their personal
charisma and the poetic quality of the lyrics that they wrote…Brassens,
Brel, Trenet, Montand. On stage he has a certain alluring
raffishness, a magnetic rakish quality, and Jean Cocteau once said
that before Aznavour, “…despair was unpopular.”
Aznavour has always been in love with the song, the chanson.
He has said, “The chanson Francaise is the text.
It’s the text that conditions the music...most French
songwriters are people without high school education, like me.
I left school at 11. They're people who come from the
streets. In the chanson Francaise, a sort of street
wisdom suddenly becomes literature...The songs tell stories,
sometimes puerile, but always well written.''
believes, as do many French critics, that the chanson
tradition of the text-song has been reincarnated in a sense with
French hip hop - rappers like MC Solaar with their agile lyrics,
deft wordplay, and allusions to the chansonniers of old,
and that this is where the new lies.
standards include Que c’est triste Venise, La Mamma, and Non
je n’ai rien oublié. In 1972, She was an
international success. And the man can still croon; Aznavour,
the inimitably French chanteur (oui, l’amour!) is
at 85 still going for a song… don’t miss him in New York at
the end of this month!
Aznavour in New York, City Center, April 29 - May 3, 2009