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CHARLES AZNAVOUR

 
 

Still Going For A Song! 

   

 

  

 

Aznavour!  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, Gypsy music.

Born 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.''

Aznavour 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. 

Aznavour 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!  

 

 
See: Charles Aznavour in New York, City Center, April 29 - May 3, 2009 

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