Thursday, September 27, 2007

Foreign tongues

Listening to France Inter radio recently, I learned that Mimi Perrin, the founder and lead member of les Double Six vocal group in the 60s, also translates books from English into French. The revelation came in a discussion of the latest John Le Carré novel, which just came out in France; turns out Perrin and her daughter Isabelle have been Le Carré's regular French translators for the past 20 years.

What's fascinating about this is that les Double Six specialized in translation as well: the transformation of an instrumental jazz solo into a vocal one, with lyrics. Known as vocalese, this exercise has been made famous by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, and the Manhattan Transfer, and les Double Six was the best-known (the only?) French act specializing in it.

Another fun tidbit is that during its short existence (1959–64), les Double Six featured a great roster of singers, including Ward Swingle (founder of the Swingle Singers), Eddy Louiss (usually known for his piano and organ playing), Bernard Lubat (also a drummer) and Christiane Legrand (sister of composer Michel, and the singing voice of Delphine Seyrig in Jacques Demy's crackpot musical Donkey Skin).

French is usually perceived as a language that's rhythmically unwieldy because it lacks a tonic accent as strong and adaptable as the one in, say, English. Since Perrin was the one writing the Double Six lyrics, she was accutely aware of that problem as she formed sentences that could flow in a way similar to a flute, trumpet or sax solo. You can check out how she did by "Rat Race" and "Meet Benny Bailey" (two Quincy Jones composition, with the Double Six adaptation based on Count Basie recordings), and Gershwin' s"Fascinating Rhythm" (based on a Stan Kenton recording).

Les Double Six "Rat Race" (Perrin's sings Billy Mitchell's sax solo)
Les Double Six "Meet Benny Bailey" (Christiane Legrand sings Frank Wess' flute solo, Perrin sings Henry Coker's trombone solo)
Les Double Six "Fascinating Rhythm"
(Claude Germain sings Frank Rosolino' trombone solo, Eddy Louiss sings Bill Holman's sax solo, Perrin sings Bill Perkin's sax solo, Louis Aldebert sings another Perkins solo)

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