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Henri Who?
A legend in France, Henri Salvador has enjoyed an illustrious seven-decades-long career that shows no sign of abating. The Paris-based singer/lyricist/entertainer is one of France¹s best-known personalities thanks in part to his long recording history and to his pioneering work in French television for 30 years. He has been celebrated as a cultural hero with many honors, including Officier de la Légion d'honneur and Commandeur de l'ordre du mérite. He has worked with some of the world¹s greatest performers, including Burt Bacharach, who once served as his pianist for performances at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, and Quincy Jones, with whom he has enjoyed a close friendship.

Yet Salvador is largely unknown in the U.S., an oversight that will be rectified with the 84-year-old artist’s Blue Note Records debut Room with a View (Chambre Avec Vue), a gorgeous and coolly hip collection of songs that soothe with a bossa nova breeze, swing with a jazz flair, and romance with lush orchestral arrangements.

The album, first released in France in 2000, has sold over a million copies in Europe and has been certified double platinum in France and gold in Belgium. In 2001, at Les Victoires de la Musique (the French Grammies), the CD won album of the year while Salvador garnered the male artist of the year honors. While it was originally issued on Source, a French label associated with trendy electronica music, the album quickly attracted an expansive audience and was heralded as a recording for every age, from 7 to 77. He is, in fact, the only French artist who has a direct link to five generations of listeners.

Remarkably, Room with a View is a comeback album for Salvador who is a household name in France based on his ‘60s-‘70s television career as a fun-loving variety show host with a great sense of humor. He enjoyed a lengthy recording career in France, with his most popular music consisting of comic novelty tunes. His previous albums were 1980’s Salvador en Fete (Salvador Celebrates), 1985’s Henri and 1994’s Monsieur Henri.

"I had been thinking a lot of taking a long vacation in the Bahamas," Salvador says jokingly of his six-year recording hiatus before Room with a View. "But I had to postpone the trip after I met Corinne Joubard, who works at Radio France. She heard me sing a song and told me, ‘With that voice that you have, you can’t go to the Bahamas.’ She sent me a song to consider, and from that moment on I stopped everything and made the record."

Salvador met up with Marc di Domenico who supervised the studio recording for the producing label Exxos. The singer notes, "We worked very well together. He told me that he wanted me to make the record of my dreams. So I recorded songs that were beautiful and songs that I really love. I did it for the pleasure of singing them." As it turns out, Salvador’s love for the music proved to be contagious. On the album, guests include harmonica ace Toots Thielemans, French chanteuse Françoise Hardy and Swedish vocalist Lisa Ekdahl. While the album was originally sung in French, for its American release, three songs, including the title track, are sung in English. In addition, the bossa nova tune "Jardin D’hiver," nominated for song of the year at the French Grammies, has been adapted into Portuguese.

Born in Cayenne, French Guinea in 1917, Salvador had his first musical epiphany when he heard recordings by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington when he was 11. A few years later he got his first guitar, began playing cabaret gigs and by 1935 was the toast of Paris. It was during this time that Django Reinhardt hired him. He later joined forces with American jazz violinist Eddie South, and also toured South America with the Ray Ventura Orchestra. In 1942, Salvador settled into Rio de Janeiro where he became exposed to and steeped in the fine art of Brazilian music. "That’s where I really learned music," recalls Salvador. "The music is fabulous in Brazil. I played in casinos for four years and learned as much as I could."

Back in France in 1946, Salvador formed his own bands and made his first records. In the ‘50s his popularity soared at home, and in 1956 he spent time in the U.S. (including a stint where Ed Sullivan hired him to perform at the Empire Room in New York’s Waldorf Astoria). Back in France he dabbled in early rock ‘n’ roll and in 1960 met and collaborated with Quincy Jones (the two continue their friendship today by talking on the telephone frequently). After success working in Italy on TV in 1961, Salvador decided to focus his attention on television work in France. He continued to record, scoring hits with such tunes as "Le Travail C¹est la Santé (Work is Healthy)" and "Juanita Banana." While he came off as the "funny guy" on the A-sides of these singles, he showed himself to be an emotive French crooner on the B-sides with romantic numbers, some of which were bossa nova beauties.

When Salvador came out of retirement with Room with a View, it was the B-side of his musical personality that emerged and surprised both long-time fans and young listeners thirsting for gentle, smooth-grooved tales of love. The songs penned by Salvador, as well as by a new generation of writers such as Keren Ann Zeidel and Benjamin Biolay, are lyrical beauties rendered by the distinctive singer with the calming, full-bodied, amour-drenched voice. The English-language numbers include the quiet "Room with a View" with soft trumpet soars by Eric Lelann, the gently swinging "Jazz, Silver Moon-Light" and the bossa nova "All I Really Want is Love" sung with Lisa Ekdahl (the latter was recorded especially for the American release of the CD).

Other highlights include the relaxed "Un Tour de Manège" with Toots Thielemans’ melancholic harmonica support; the fluid "Vagabond" lightly spiced with Brazilian percussion; the heartfelt and longing love song, "Je Sais Que Tu Sais (I Know That You Know)" written by Paul Misraki; the jaunty "Mademoiselle" with a buoyant trumpet part by Nicolas Folmer; and a striking duet with Françoise Hardy who wrote the lyrics to the Salvador tune "Le Fou de la Reine."

"I approached Françoise about writing the words and she told me that she would like to," says Salvador. "But she said that it usually takes her a year to write. I thought, O.K., but two days later she came to me with this. She is so professional and she sings very well." As for his work with Thielemans, Salvador says he asked him to play on the song when they worked together in 2000 in a Quincy Jones performance celebrating American independence at the Théatre des Champs Elysées.

At 84, Salvador still brims with gusto for life. Asked if his rebirth as an artist has helped to keep him so spirited, he heartily laughs and says, "Well, I am less tired now than I was when I working on TV. When you sing, the time passes really well."

Soon after the release of Room with a View, Salvador plans to tour North America for the first time since the early ‘50s. He also has plans to return to the studio for his follow-up. "When we recorded Room with a View, we came up with 26 songs, so we have a lot left over. But we¹ll definitely be working on some new songs too." He pauses, then laughs at his postponed vacation. "I hear they’ve got some good studios in the Bahamas."

Tue Mar 5 2002 (5:20:40 PM)


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