Via Asiago, 10
| CATALOGUE Nr..
||TWI CD AS 04 16
“My name’s Juliette Gréco, and I’ve never had a pseudonym. I was born on 7th of February 1927. My mother told me that it was raining that day, and rain favours the growth of all plants, also poisonous ones”.
The poets’ muse, the queen of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the woman in black, the lady of existentialism, the divine. Or, perhaps, merely Jujube, as she has been called, even though at Le Tabou, the cabaret where she imposed herself in 1945, in Anne-Marie Cazalis’s theatre group, she was known as La Toutone, that is to say the nice pup.
Juliette Gréco is the last of France’s legends, the last of those myths of a beautiful and unrepeatable age. An age in which Prévert, Sartre, Queneau, Mauriac, Ferré, Vian, Aznavour, Bécaud and others wrote for her songs or shreds of life, waiting for dawn on the rive gauche of a Paris illuminated by existentialism and collaboration between poets, writers and musicians. She, the pale Gréco, that according to Pablo Picasso “used to tan in the moonlight”, became the muse of those youthful rebels that artistically conspired in the caves exorcising the never-ending aftermath of war. The queen of a new style of song that was literarily refined, intellectual, pervaded and shaken by a not even so subtle a vane of anguish, she managed to impose herself for her artistic and personal non-conformism. When she first came to Italy, Juliette Gréco was already a myth. The voice, the face, the postcard to a Parisian sentiment, existentialism, were all embodied in her. There can be no doubt. Culture, intelligence, smoking, coffees, politics, music, jazz and songs and raucous voice blend together into a black-and-white cocktail so fascinating as to go the rounds of the world in a very short time. It was around 1950 that everything happened. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, philosopher and friend of Sartre, decided to take care of the two Gréco sisters. He took them dancing, and Juliette had fond memories of the event: “there’s worse things than learning how to dance with Merleau-Ponty”. The encounter with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir took place in a café, the Bal Nègre, in rue Blomet, where one used to go to listen to the best music from the Antilles. De Beauvoir recalled: “it was an age of absolute freedom, anyone could meet Sartre and talk to him. We used to drink a lot, because alcohol was available and we needed to let go, it was a continuous party, a strange party, we had to rid ourselves of the oppressive weight of the past. We looked to the future with doubts and hopes. It was impossible to be serene. The world was against our passions, one had to forget it and also forget that we’d forgotten it”. This was the mood of the time. But according to some historians the singer had never been a true friend of Sartre nor in any way near him. The philosopher had promised her some songs, but time went by and no songs ever arrived. In July 1950 Juliette by chance met the philosopher in a hotel in Juan les Pins, on the Cote D’Azur, and blocked him saying: “my song?” He at once took paper and pen and signed an undertaking on a slip of paper: “I Jean-Paul Sartre, song writer and author of lyrics, undertake to have Juliette Gréco, lyrical artist, elegant and pretentious young lady, charming singer, receive a song entirely written by me, before the tenth of August …”. The songs did arrive, something did get lost, but luckily one gem still exists, Rue des Blanc-Manteaux, and it is in our collection. The legend of a love affair between the two was born then. Simone de Beauvoir recalls that Sartre got very angry: “it’s not right, if she wants to boast that she has done so, she should have really come to bed with me …”.
That pale face above a high-neck black pullover, with love affairs and dreams still in the cellar, arrived in Rome, a city that still expressed the moods and the colours of the aftermath of war, difficult to compare to Paris. But in that Rome, so destroyed and culturally depressed, Gréco made everyone understand that existentialism could be the philosophical version of a mood. She arrived in Rome, already covered in the glory of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the epicentre to the greatest of the post-war cultural earthquakes, she was so beautiful it hurt, she sang of sex and fleeting moments, perhaps also so as to exorcise fears and solitudes, and yet curiosity seemed to have been concentrated on how she dressed. “Why always in black?” she cuts short on first encounter, “because it is the only colour that defends and protects me, with another someone might be able to see me”. She arrived in Rome in the wake of Parisian cultural fashion, in the wake of her love story with Miles Davies (who was in serious doubt as to whether or not to stay in Paris beside her) and the cutting remarks of Boris Vian, the nocturnal bard of existentialism, over an above being poet, writer, organiser, journalist and musician. Vian wrote, “pale complexion, dark eyes (and what beautiful eyes), dark hair (what hair), breasts 90 cm (and what …) and thighs ditto. Fifty-eight kilos, one metre sixty-five; no distinctive sign? Yes, always dressed in black. She happily enjoys making herself look ugly but succeeds with difficulty despite laudable efforts. For maximum effect: she should be looked at in profile, her hands on her hips, her head turned towards you. Make sure there’s someone there to pick you up off the floor”. Gianni
Agnelli, Dado Ruspoli and a group of Roman jazz-players that had met her at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1949 received her in full pomp, passing some great evenings in her company. The Roman radio-concerts, recorded in 1952 and 1953, are an expression of what is probably this French artist’s best moment. Accompanied by the musicians of the Open Gate, the Puelo Orchestra and the Righi-Saitto Orchestra, Juliette Gréco appeared most generous. She sang with determination, she wanted the best, if need be she started again and in the end achieved what she wanted. This radio document – here opportunely restored and for the first time available on CD – is truly extraordinary. “Those dishpans that were the old 40 cm wide records, where the material comes from”, says Stefano Lancia, head of the technical staff who took care of the washing and treatment of the disks, their restoration and digitalisation, “were in part recorded on microgroove and in part on widened groove. In order to play them we used 78 and 33 needles, that we blunted so as to avoid them accessing the deeper part of the groove that is usually the most damaged, and also so as to modify the angle of incidence. We got rid of the various hisses, tocks and clicks but in some cases we chose not to eliminate the sound effects of the time completely, also in view of the fact that the means for recording were intended primarily for use in radio transmission and were only later put in archives, and that therefore the level of quality is greatly inferior to that of normal records produced at that time”. In any case the effect is prodigious, as well as full of atmosphere. Juliette Gréco, with her unmistakable grave register of voice, interpreted songs that are now classics in the history of French song of all time, starting with some gems written by Prèvert-Kosma such as A la belle étoile, Je suis comme je suis, Les enfants qui s’aiment, but also La chanson de Barbara, by Brecht-Weill, Les croix written by a very young Gilbert Bécaud, the new song Avec Lui and two themes that highlight the ability of a not yet well known Charles Aznavour such as were Je hais les dimanches and Il y avait. A collection of the highest historic and documentary value, with the added value of the atmosphere the singer is able to generate, with first-class musicians, that is a must for all lovers of French music.