Martial Solal is one of those musicians for whom improvising in a concert hall is not a problem. The richness of his career and musical output has made him one of the most respected pianists, even outside jazz circles.
Martial Solal took classical piano lessons from the age of six up until 1942, when he discovered jazz by listening to records by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman. In 1945 he had become a professional jazzman, playing at the Hotel Aletti in Algers and on the radio. He decided to move to Paris, where he began his career playing in a number of bands. He was soon in demand at the best Paris clubs to accompany touring American soloists, playing alongside Kenny Clarke, Eric Dolphy, Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli and Pierre Michelot.
After working in Paris in a jazz trio, Martial Solal was invited to the United States in 1963 to play alongside Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian. With them, he developed his talents as an improviser and arranger, taking on the greatest standards and using his virtuosity and very individual style to make them his own. Martial Solal also put his skills as a pianist and talent for orchestration to use for the cinema. In 1958, he wrote his first film score, Deux hommes dans Manhattan, for Jean-Pierre Melville's film. His best-known film score remains A bout de souffle by Jean-Luc Godard. In the late 1970s, he developed a more orchestral style of writing, mainly in response to various commissions from the classical or contemporary music scene.
On stage, Martial Solal prefers to perform solo and have complete latitude for the spontaneous improvisations that are such an important part of his piano playing. He also enjoys playing in duo and trio ensembles with artists like Stéphane Grappelli, Toots Thielemans, Michel Portal, Joachim Kühn, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian, François Moutin and Bill Stewart, for example.
Martial Solal presented a programme on France Musique dedicated to jazz pianists and more specifically a whole new generation of musicians who say they have been influenced by him, including Manuel Rocheman, Jean-Michel Pilc, Baptiste Trotignon and Franck Avitabile.
Six landmark dates in the life of Martial Solal:
1945: became a professional musician.
1956: formed his first big band, with which he recorded his own compositions.
1981: formed the "Dodécaband" ensemble, with which he played in every country in Europe.
1994-1997: produced a weekly programme on France Musique presenting the major French or international pianists passing through Paris.
1997: at Radio France, to celebrate the Fête de la Musique, premiered the piano concerto Coexistence performed by his Dodécaband and the Orchestre National de France.
1998: the City of Paris established an international jazz piano competition bearing his name.
1999: won the "Jazzpar Prize", the Nobel Prize of jazz, awarded for the first time to a French musician.
Key recordings by Martial Solal:
1959: original soundtrack for the film A bout de souffle by Jean-Luc Godard.
1977: Stress for jazz trio, piano, brass quintet and percussion, composed in collaboration with Marius Constant.
1987-1988: concerto for keyboards and orchestra Nuit étoilée.
Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, August 2015.