Thursday, 13 November 2014

LA CHANSON EST LA VIE #1: Claude Nougaro


 Cécile ma fille
[To My Daughter Cécile]
[Lyrics: C. Nougaro, Music: J. Datin]
Clip from French television, c. 1963


She wanted a child
Me, I didn't want one
But her arguments
Made it easy
To become a father 
To my daughter Cécile

When her belly was round
Feeling cheerful from your kicks
She said to me: 'Go on, celebrate,
It'll be a boy!'
And here you are
My daughter Cécile

And here you are
And I'm here with you
I'm thirty years old
And you're six months old
We're nose to nose
Our eyes locked together
Who's the most surprised?

Long before I had you
I had other girls
Playing heads or tails with my heart
I won from a brunette
I lost to a blonde
My daughter Cécile

And I know that soon
You too will have 
Ideas and affairs of your own
With words sweet as sweet can be
And hands grabbing at your stockings
My daughter Cécile 

Me, I'll wait up all night
I'll hear you come in without a sound
But in the morning I'll be the one to blush
In front of you, your eyes clearer than ever

Still we touch each other
Like I'm touching you now
My breath on your eyelids
My kiss on your mouth
In your sweet childlike sleep
My daughter Cécile


 Translated by BR 

Le Chansonnier:  Claude Nougaro was born in the southern French city of Toulouse –– a city he would later immortalize in his 1967 chanson of the same name –– on 9 September 1929.  His French father Pierre Nougaro was a well-respected opera singer while his Italian-born mother, Liette Tellini, was a noted piano teacher.  Despite this strong musical background, Nougaro himself never learned to play an instrument nor to read music.  Still, his lack of formal training did not prevent him from developing a lifelong admiration for the work of French composers such as Jules Massenet and Gabriel Fauré.

His 'real' musical training came in the form of the American jazz, blues, and swing recordings he heard as a boy on Radio-Toulouse, with performers like Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Glenn Miller becoming firm favorites as well as crucial influences on what would become his future singing style.  He was also inspired by French chansonniers Charles Trénet and Edith Piaf, the latter of whom launched his career as a songwriter when two of his poems, Méphisto and La Sentier de la guerre [The Path to War], were recorded by her in the early 1950s.  Before this could happen, Nougaro first had to fail his baccalauréat (the French equivalent of the American SAT exam, the British A-Level exam and the Australian HSC exam) and begin a career as a journalist, working first for Le Journal des curistes de Vichy, an in-house trade publication produced for those involved with prescribing and promoting the 'Vichy water cure,' and then for the French-based Algerian pied-noir newspaper L'Echo d'Alger.  

Nougaro's careers as journalist and fledgling poet/performer were interrupted by his national military service, which saw him inducted into the Foreign Legion in 1949 and posted to the Moroccan city of Rabat for the next two years.  After returning to France he resumed his poetic activities and, from 1954, regularly recited his poems at the Montmartre cabaret Le Lapin Agile (once patronized by, among others, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and the young Pablo Picasso) and other Paris nightclubs.  During this period he began to work as a lyricist for other artists, with several of his songs being recorded by popular French singers of the day including Colette Renard, Marcel Amont, Philippe Clay, and Richard Anthony.  Important friendships were also formed at this time with the Absurdist poet, novelist, and playwright Jacques Audiberti and with chansonnier Georges Brassens, who became his musical mentor.  

It seemed natural for Nougaro to go from writing lyrics for others to performing them himself, a progression which, in 1958, saw him enter the studio to record his debut LP Il y avait une ville [There Was A City] –– an interesting mixture of jazz motifs and chanson-inspired lyrics created with the help of future Gallic songwriting legend Michel Legrand.  But it was not until Nougaro signed with the Philips label in 1962 and released the songs Une petite fille [A Little Girl] and Cécile ma fille [To My Daughter Cécile] that his music truly began to find an audience, his jazz and Bossa Nova influenced style making him the ideal performer for the coming decade and, as many have suggested, a pioneer of what's since come to be known as 'World Music.' 

Following a serious 1963 car accident which kept him out of concert halls and the recording studio for most of the year, Nougaro travelled to Brazil where, in addition to meeting and working with some of that country's finest musicians, he also found time to father a son.  (His daughter Cécile had been born in 1951 to his first wife Sylvie, a former waitress whom he'd met when both had been working at Le Lapin Agile.  His son was the product of a shortlived liaison with a Brazilian woman.)  His return to France saw him perform to sell-out crowds at iconic venues like L'Olympia and Le Théatre de la Ville in Paris.  In the meantime his music continued to be heavily influenced by modern jazz and began to feature performers like renowned French organist Eddy Louiss, bassist Pierre Michelot, and saxophonist Michel Portal as well as visiting US superstars like Ornette Coleman.  The late 1960s saw Nougaro go from strength to strength as a performer, with albums like Petit Taureau [Little Bull, the nickname given to him by his recently-deceased friend Jacques Audiberti] and Une Soirée avec Claude Nougaro [An Evening with Claude Nougaro] topping the charts in France and becoming popular in many parts of Europe as well as South America.  

The late 1970s were less kind to Nougaro, with his second label Barclay ultimately choosing to drop him from its roster in 1985 –– a move which caused him to sell his Paris home and relocate to New York where he recorded a successful 1987 'comeback' LP, Nougayork, for his new label WEA.  For four consecutive years, beginning in 1993, he won the awards for both Best Album and Best Artist at the Victoires de la musique, the French equivalent to the Grammy Awards.  In the mid 1990s, however, his health began to fail, seeing him enter hospital in 1995 to undergo open heart surgery –– the first of several operations that would lead to a gradual deterioration of his condition over the next nine years, forcing him to cancel concerts and finally abandon stage work altogether so his limited time and energy could be put to more effective use in the studio.  This policy allowed him to record what would prove to be his final and possibly greatest album, La Note Bleue [The Blue Note], in 2002-2003.  This album, released by the US jazz label of the same name, featured him and others performing stunning new versions of some of his most iconic songs including Dansez sur moi [Dance With Me], Armstrong, and, of course, his signature tune Toulouse (albeit in a completely reworked instrumental arrangement).  Unfortunately he didn't live to see the October 2004 release of La Note Bleue or read its universally positive reviews, having died of pancreatic cancer in March of that year.

Thankfully, the legacy of Claude Nougaro lives on.  Le Prix Claude Nougaro [The Claude Nougaro Prize] was established in 2007 in the Midi-Pyrénées, the région where he was born, to help nurture and encourage young talent while 2009 was declared L'année Nougaro [The Year of Nougaro] in honor of what would have been his eightieth birthday.  The July 2014 Bastille Day celebrations in his home city Toulouse saw him publicly honored again and were followed, two months later, by the unveiling of a statue of him in that city's Square de Gaulle.     

Click HERE to visit the website of CLAUDE NOUGARO (unfortunately available only in French).  To listen to more great music by CLAUDE NOUGARO, please click HERE. 

Special thanks to those who take the time to upload music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere. 

Cécile Nougaro avec son papa, 1963


Elle voulait un enfant
Moi je n'en voulais pas
Mais il lui fut pourtant facile
Avec ses arguments
De te faire un papa
Cécile ma fille

Quand son ventre fut rond
En riant aux éclats
Elle me dit : " Allons, jubile
Ce sera un garçon "
Et te voilà
Cécile ma fille

Et te voilà
Et me voici moi
Moi j'ai trente ans
Toi six mois
On est nez à nez
Les yeux dans les yeux
Quel est le plus étonné des deux ?

Bien avant que je t'aie
Des filles j'en avais eu
Jouant mon coeur à face ou pile
De la brune gagnée
À la blonde perdue
Cécile ma fille

Et je sais que bientôt
Toi aussi tu auras
Des idées et puis des idylles
Des mots doux sur tes hauts
Et des mains sur tes bas
Cécile ma fille

Moi je t'attendrai toute la nuit
T'entendrai rentrer sans bruit
Mais au matin, c'est moi qui rougirai
Devant tes yeux plus clairs que jamais

Que toujours on te touche
Comme moi maintenant
Comme mon souffle sur tes cils
Mon baiser sur ta bouche
Dans ton sommeil d'enfant
Cécile ma fille.

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