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World Music Features

Henri Salvador

By Craig Harris
Published September 9, 2005

A veteran of Django Reinhardt's band, the French guitar legend reached new audiences with his most recent album, Chambre Avec Vu.


At a time when most people are well into their retirement, 84-year-old vocalist/guitarist Henri Salvador is reaching his peak as a performer. With the release of Chambre Avec Vu (Room With View), North American listeners can hear the straight-from-the-heart sounds that have made Salvador one of Europe's best-loved artists. The album, released in France in 2001, dominated the Victories de la Musique award ceremonies, winning an award as "best variety album of the year" and earning Salvador the title of "best male artist of the year."

Salvador's first album of new material in six years, Chambre Avec Vu forsakes his comic repertoire and focuses instead on the lush, romantic, side of his musical persona. "I didn't want to show the comedy side," Salvador says by telephone from his home in Paris. "English is not my language. It's very hard for me to learn. I prefer to be a French singer."Nevertheless, Salvador re-recorded three songs in English for the American release of Chambre Avec Vu."It wasn't very difficult," he recalls. "I'm a very clever man. If you tell me the way to speak, I'll do it the right way."

The influence of Brazilian music threads the 14 tunes on the album, with Salvador's vocals set to sophisticated bossa nova-style arrangements. "I learned about the bossa nova when I was in Brazil," he explained. "I love this kind of music. It has beautiful melodies with beautiful chords."

A native of French Guyana who moved to France at the age of seven, Salvador is the son of a Hispanic father and a Carib Indian mother. Recordings by American jazz artists sparked his early interests in music. "The first records that I heard were by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong," he remembers. "I said to my father, 'this is what I want to do'. He was very mad because he would have liked for me to become a doctor or a lawyer. He made a strange face when I said that." Despite his resistance, Salvador's father bought him his first guitar. "I learned by copying the chords of Duke Ellington," he said. "It was, to me, very advanced music."

Recordings of American jazz vocalists were equally inspiring. "My two heroes are Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra," Salvador says. "My best friend in America is Quincy Jones."

Acquiring a local following with his performances in Parisian clubs, Salvador was invited to join French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt's band in 1935. "I worked with [Reinhardt] in a cabaret in Paris, Jimmy's Bar," he recalls. "He was a very charming man. But, he was very jealous of his chords. He didn't want me to watch his fingers when he was playing."

Although he admits to preferring the "Charlie Christian or American way" of playing jazz guitar, Salvador remains in awe of Reinhardt's playing. "He had a very good technique," he says. "It was extraordinary because he had a good technique with two fingers. I could never play like him. He was a genius of his instrument. Before he had his accident, and lost his finger, he was a violinist and he knew about technique. He was a fabulous musician."

Salvador has had a long involvement with American musicians. As a member of Reinhardt's band, he<