Jazz musicians in continental Europe who emerged in the 1940s held a special distinction. They survived World War II in countries occupied by the Germans.
Jazz was used by them almost as therapy to express the terror of brutality and the joy of liberation. This certainly was true of the young Bobby Jaspar, a resourceful Belgian woodwind player who would go on to become one of the most significant European jazz musicians of the 1950s and early ’60s. Born and raised in Liège, Belgium, Jaspar watched in 1940 as jazz was banned following the Nazi invasion.
In a strange twist, live jazz in Liège in 1941 was permitted as the city became an r&r retreat for German officers on leave. In 1942, Jaspar had heard enough and decided to become a jazz musician. A year later, writes Fresh Sound’s Jordi Pujol in his superb and detailed liner notes that accompany a new CD, Jaspar put together his first nimble modernist jazz group, the Bob Shots.
After the war, Jaspar began recording almost immediately in Brussels. First came an acetate of Don’t Be That Way and I’ve Found a New Baby in 1945 as a member of the Orchestre du Cosmopolite, a hotel house band. Then he recorded between 1946 and 1948 as the Bob Shots (above), a septet that became something of a sensation. Jaspar then put together his own quartet and recorded in 1948, ’49 and ’51.
All of these formative recordings by Jaspar are now collected on one album—Bobby Jaspar: Early Years, From Bebop to Cool (Fresh Sound). The initial tracks in 1945 and ’46 are solid imitations of American swing recordings. But by 1947, Jaspar was experimenting with bebop, recording Oop Bop Sh’bam in February. The 78 pre-dates Hubert Fol and his Be Bop Minstrels’s recording of A Night in Tunisia in July, making Jaspar the first to record bop in continental Europe. Interestingly, the vocal is in French.
As radio host David Johnson pointed out in a 2016 show, “the seeds of bebop in Europe had already been planted in part through a package of 78s received in 1946 by Charles Delaunay, co-founder of the magazine Le Jazz Hot and former member of the French Resistance.”
But the big turning point came in February 1948, when Dizzy Gillespie’s big band brought bop to Sweden and Paris’s Salle Pleye theater. Months later in July, we can hear the impact in the Bob Shots’s bop recordings such as Boppin’ for Haig and Boppin’ at the Dodge. Jaspar also took a turn on a Coleman Hawkins-inspired Body and Soul with soulful results.
Also recorded in July were Our Delight and Wee-Dot as well as I Can’t Get Started using the same arrangement as Gillespie’s in Paris. Which means either Jaspar and his band attended the concert or recordings of the concert were released in Europe, enabling the novel arrangement to be heard and transcribed.
In 1950, Jaspar moved to Paris, the same year that Stan Getz’s solo on Woody Herman’s Early Autumn became a hit. By 1951, we hear Getz’s influence on Jaspar’s Tenderly and If I Had You. Jaspar’s swinging approach is distinctly lighter and higher and more patient, while Bobby’s Beep is a lush original ballad. His composition How About is a musical mirror of Lester Young’s dry measured approach typically found on Young’s Norgran and Verve recordings.
What makes this new Jaspar album interesting is hearing the musician’s roots and how he was influenced by his his idols at given moments in time. Working through swing, bop and the cooler approach of Getz in the early 1950s, Jaspar quickly became comfortable in his own skin. By 1953, when Jaspar recorded New Sound From Belgium Vol 4, his singular swinging melodic approach is firmly in place.
Bobby Jaspar died in 1963 at age 37.