Gonzo in Vienne

By Michael Stevenson

“Let me hear your balls, Vienne!”

On June 29, I was among the lucky 7000 concert-goers gathered in Theater Antiques to behold piano man Chilly Gonzales perform at the 2019 Vienne Jazz Festival. Jazz à Vienne has been celebrating the world of jazz since 1981. The festival has a variety of concerts and different stages – the grandest being the Roman theater, built in 1 AD.

As the show started, most of us sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the arena were fanning ourselves with our programs, as the temps rose over 110 degrees before the sun went down. Chilly, it was not. But the performer nicknamed “Gonzo” cooled the audience with his humor, original songs and an impressive array of piano styles – not strictly jazz, but also blues, classical and his own uniquely “Gonzo” flavorings.

Between songs, Gonzo joked with the audience in both french and english. His french dialect has a Montreal flavor (he was born there). And I detected a slight Brooklynese present in his English – especially when he commanded the audience of clap-a-longs to follow the beat by watching “my fucking foot!” The sweaty crowd in the ancient arena laughed and sang, and most of of us stayed on the beat of his bouncing bedroom slipper.

Gonzales, whose (birth name is Jason Charles Beck, has collaborated with artists Jarvis Cocker, Feist, Peaches, Drake and Daft Punk.

In 2018, Gonzales launched his own music school. According to his Wikipedia entry, “musicians from around the world joined him to study at The Gonzervatory, an 8-day all-expenses-paid residential music performance workshop in Paris. The workshop included coaching sessions with Gonzo, followed by masterclasses from Gonzales’ friends and collaborators.” Cool!

Vienne’s Roman Theatre was built in 40-50AD and seen as the largest in Roman Antiquity

I actually came to see Gozo in Vienne quite by accident. I had purchased tickets to see Camille perform in the “Up Above My Head” collaboration, which was actually the previous night in Vienne, but I had confused dates (as I often do when on a lengthy European vacation.) So while I was quite depressed about screwing-up and missing my favorite French chanteuse Camille, Gonzo pulled me out of my funk with his wonderful show. It’s always great to see someone completely new in concert and to become an immediate fan. C’est moi!

I’d also like to note how helpful the Vienne Tourist office was, as well as the Jazz à Vienne ticket manager, who granted my wife and I free replacement tickets to see the Chilly Gonzales show after I explained how we confused our dates. As has consistently been our experience, the French people were gracious and accommodating to we stumbling and fumbling travelers.

Merci beaucoup, Vienne and Gonzo.


“Up Above My Head” Création Jazz A Vienne avec Camille, Sandra Nkaké, Raphaël Lemonnier, Raphaël Imbert 

As much as statistical analysis of attendance, the reputation of a jazz festival is measured through its potential to encourage the creation of musical works or new shows. This is the approach pursued by Jazz in Vienna by asking the pianist Nîmes Raphaël Lemonnier to propose a creation. After a long maturation, the result is ready tonight for the opening of the thirty-ninth edition of the festival in front of the public of the Theater Antique. This project draws its inspiration from the African-American music of “work songs”, songs of prisoners, blues and gospel totally in the lineage of collecting work done by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in the South of the United States. Raphael Lemonnier likes to remind that“This project has been in my head for a long time, more precisely since the day of my eleven years when I am offered a box of four vinyls of songs and blues recorded in the penitentiaries of the southern United States. So overwhelming … a proof to come back with the opportunity offered by Jazz in Vienna! “

Raphaël Lemonnier has led in this adventure two singers who have always bathed in the blues and African music  Camille and Sandra Nkaké . When we know the interest of saxophonist   Raphael Imbertfor the music of the South of the United States his participation in the project was just as obvious. Versatile musicians   Pierre François Dufour (drums and cello) and Christophe Minck (double bass and ngoni) skilfully complete the visible team on stage knowing that the show’s dimension has been particularly neat with arrangements by Clément Ducol and a particular attention paid to the sets , costumes, lighting and above all choreography.

For the opening track, the six actors-singers of the show are gathered standing at the center of the stage, each sporting a wooden perch of a sort of long pickaxe that will prove throughout the show as a real percussion instrument for accompany the heavy song and taking of the two singers. Raphael Lemonnier’s bas-hued right piano and double bass came into play to accompany Sandra Nkaké’s powerful vocals, echoed by Camille’s, before giving way to a plain line of sax and muffled drums. The pieces follow one another (we could even speak here of successive paintings as the colors and staging change regularly) and plunge us into the heart of original black music, blues, gospel, songs of work, of prisoners or of demands, and as if to remind us that Africa is never far away in the American black music drums and ngoni (sort of Malian banjo) come to color the songs and the paintings. On the pieceI have a dream delicately accompanied on the piano, Camille even proposes a couplet in French as to show us that these revolts are also ours and concern us just as much. The mood goes up a notch on the song that gives its title to the show Up above my head originally a gospel of the 40s that Sister Rosetta Tharpe has tinged rock’n’roll in the 50s. a capella for a nigga spiritual gathering everyone around a large raw wood table regularly hammered by the strikes of six singers, totally striking and challenging … We think of the painting of Leonardo da Vinci “The Last Supper”.

 The most emotionally charged keys of the concert are indisputably found in the two singing songs of the singers: for Camille it is a touching version of Sometimes I feel like a motherless child with just the discreet and restrained support of some bass lines, cello and bass clarinet. For Sandra Nkaké it will be on the bitter and upsetting Strange fruit made even more heartbreaking by the plaintive flights of the tenor of Raphael Imbert. Fortunately for the rest we will find a little more lightness with Turn me round  a hymn that has accompanied the struggle for civil rights and finds its place here as the culmination of the struggles of black Americans. And until the end the haunting percussion on stage boards or drums as to better embellish not only the songs of Camille and Sandra but also that of the musicians who also give the unrestrained voice almost forgetting their instrument.

In summary: a creation particularly well elaborated as much by the choice of the pieces as by setting to music and in scene; around Raphaël Lemonnier a team of musicians and singers that we feel very involved in this project to which we wish wholeheartedly to find its place on other great scenes. 

Source: 28/06/2019 « Up Above My Head » Création Jazz A Vienne avec Camille, Sandra Nkaké, Raphaël Lemonnier, Raphaël Imbert … – Jazz-Rhone-Alpes