Born in Lorraine, France, Christian Jacob began playing classical music at age 4 and became immersed in the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, whose harmonic universe was influential on jazz. “I was 9 or 10 when I discovered jazz,” Christian reminisces, “and the very first thing that appealed to me was the harmony, the chords. Later, when I learned it was improvised, I couldn’t believe it. The first time I heard Oscar Peterson, I kept going to the store to order the part–of course I never received it.”
“I’ve always had perfect pitch, so I was known for hearing anything and knowing the notes. However, although I had a good solfege teacher, my training was not open to improvisation….
It was ‘learn the piece, interpret it.’ Even at that age they would basically interpret it for you. In retrospect that probably taught me what is the basic musical feel. Later when I was in Paris [at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique], my teacher, Maestro Pierre Sancan, worked on the transmission of your musical thought into the arm.”
Christian continued to play jazz “as a hobby” during his years of rigorous study, working in combos in Lorraine and Paris, and began to develop a style. “Dave Brubeck was my first discovery,” he relates, “then Oscar was a big step, another dimension. I could hear his classical technique, but his personality was there too. What he says, he means, and you can hear him having so much fun doing it.”
In 1978 Christian was one of the youngest students to graduate with a First Prize from the conservatory. He later studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “I’d say the first thing that shocked me when I arrived was that I discovered I wasn’t bad,” he laughs. “I began to concentrate 100 percent on jazz, on improvising and building it slowly into something personal.”
While at Berklee Christian won a number of awards, including the Oscar Peterson Jazz Masters Award, the Great American Jazz Piano Competition and “Downbeat” magazine’s distinction as Top Collegiate Jazz Soloist.
Christian joined the Berklee faculty after a 1985 graduation. “Teaching jazz is an interesting question,” Christian muses. “To me transcription is basic, because you hear what’s happening and try to do it.”
“I’d ask the student who he likes. If you’re interested in Monk, then transcribe Monk. I’d try to make the student conscious of his strengths, and strip it away and see what’s left. Doing your own transcription, inventing your own exercises is ten times more beneficial.
Christian toured with one of his mentors at Berklee, Gary Burton, from 1987 to 1989. He then joined ebullient big-sound trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band as Music Director in 1990. He’s spent much of the 90s writing and arranging for Ferguson and it was this association that brought about his 1st CD for Concord Records Maynard Ferguson Presents Christian Jacob, a trio recording with Peter Erskine on drums and John Patitucci on bass.
Since then, Christian and Swiss saxophonist Fritz Renold started the group, the Bostonian Friends. They write a new repertoire every year for the Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Increasing his involvement as an orchestrator after several performances with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, Christian joined with Renold to write a suite for the 200th anniversary of the Helvetic Constitution. This brought about a second project, written and performed as a birthday gift for the King of Thailand. Both pieces were sponsored by the Swiss government and written for the Jazz 5tet and Symphony Orchestra. Both The Helvetic Suite and The Six Cycles were released on CD.
In 2000, Christian took a group to Thailand for an all night jam session with His Majesty The King. “It was an amazing life experience, and a great way to start the new century. We played from 10pm until 8:30am. His Majesty never got tired. He played alto sax, clarinet and trumpet.”
In recent years, Christian has concentrated on taking his personal style to a new level with his recordings with The Christian Jacob Trio. He has also continued to tour and record with some great ladies of jazz, Flora Purim and Tierney Sutton. His tours include Europe, Asia, and the US. Check his tour schedule and his discography to see what’s new and available to you.
Christian Jacob is an amazing classically trained French pianist who crossed over to jazz and is now living in Los Angeles, CA. Christian has recorded two CDs for Concord Records, “Maynard Ferguson Presents Christian Jacob” and “Time Lines”. Christian also records, composes and arranges for many big bands and orchestras, as well as performing with his own trio, Flora Purim and The Tierney Sutton Band.