An individual stylist as instantly recognisable as Piaf or Chevalier, Jean Sablon was the first European cabaret artist to use a microphone in his stage act and in this respect he has been viewed by some critics as a forerunner of the rock era. An internationally acclaimed vocalist, who had a recognisable influence on Sacha Distel and Charles Aznavour, Sablon filtered the traditional chansonnette through jazz, swing and the mike into a new hybrid. For the purposes of publicity he was dubbed variously The French Crosby and The Latin Lover and while these names were by no means unfounded they paint only a partial picture, for Jean was a crooner with a difference, one who encapsulated the popular sentiment of an era. His was a specifically French sentiment but, as with Piaf it was by extension, with specific songs of the La chanson des rues variety, a sophisticated romanticising of Parisian street-life made available to the entire world through the medium of the gramophone.
Jean Sablon was born at Nogent-sur-Marne, Seine, on 25 March, 1906, into an established family of entertainers. His father, Adelmar (1871-1928), a composer of songs and opérettes, was also a well-known theatre conductor. His brothers Marcel (1894-1968) and André (1896-1946) would also become songwriters of note and his sister Germaine (1899-1985 heard here in duet with Jean in Le chant des Tropiques) was a talented cabaret and recording artist in her own right. Jeans inclination for music was therefore outwardly encouraged from his earliest youth, well before he was first sent to study piano at the Lycée Charlemagne in Paris.
Jean quit the Lycée before completing his studies and enrolled instead at the Conservatoire with a view to a more vocal career. Small parts in opérettes followed prior to his official début in 1923 at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, in Trois jeunes filles nues and the following year he made an unsuccessful first screen appearance in a French silent entitled Chacun sa chance. In cabaret his appearances proved more favourable (notably at the Vieux Colombier) and in opérette at the Danou. Already active by the late 1920s as a songwriter he spent some time in Brazil before returning to the more congenial niche of Parisian cabaret.
During the early 1930s, in Paris, Sablon forged friendships with prominent figures of the literary and artistic scene, including the dramatist Jean Cocteau. From about 1933 he worked at jazz and cabaret venues with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and in 1934 partnered Mistinguett in revue at the Casino (there he also learned to dance and received vocal coaching from Maryse Damià). While his first localised hits on records were of material provided by his friend Mireille (notably "Couchés dans le foin" and Par correspondance) his earliest international recognition coincided, in gramophonic terms, with his teaming with Reinhardt, Grappelli and the Hot Club de France, whose legendary French swing series have long been a landmark in jazz literature (see tracks 24).
Sablon championed and featured the latest works by his colleagues and in 1937 won the Grand Prix du Disque Charles Cros with the signature-tune Vous qui passez sans me voir, written for him by Charles Trenet and Johnny Hess, in collaboration with Paul Misraki. Later that same year he began a two-year sojourn in the United States, where he made the first of an extensive series of records, broadcast regularly on radio and appeared in cabaret. Following a successful season in Paris, at the ABC in 1939, he returned to New York. There he remained throughout the war, until 1946, his popularity as a French import exceeded only by Maurice Chevalier (who had by that time already made a big career in Hollywood). Thereafter armed with his mike and unmindful of the derision of the purists he embarked on various world tours and in Paris continued to make sporadic comebacks at prestigious Parisian night-spots, notably the Etoile in 1949 and the Olympia in 1954. By the 1960s his appearances became fewer although he continued to be seen intermittently on TV until the 1970s when he retired to his ranch in Brazil. He gave his final concert in Rio in 1983.
Sablons discography reflects his eclectic interest in contemporary popular song, both French and American, but he also subsequently won renown both as a lyricist and composer in his own right (Passé ranks among his finest). While he is never misplaced in the latest up-tempo numbers we find him, not surprisingly, in his truest element in the chansons. For the most part it is these intimate love-songs, judiciously backed by various jazz-swing combos, which form the stock-in-trade of his microphone technique : atmospheric numbers of the Rendez-vous sous la pluie (another TrenetHess creation) and La chanson des rues variety. Of the many songs in English -from films and musicals- recorded by Sablon, outstanding are versions of "Stardust" and "Two Sleepy People" as well as My Foolish Heart (the Academy Award-nominated, Ned WashingtonVictor Young title-song from the 1949 MGM "womans picture" which starred Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews) and Cest si bon (from Latin Quarter 1950).
Jean Sablon died at Cannes-La-Bocca, France, on 24 February, 1994.
Peter Dempsey, 2002
Digital transfers and restoration by Peter Dempsey
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
A tenor singer of wide range and performing experience, Peter Dempsey specialises in Victorian and Edwardian genre ballads and art-song, and has recorded various CDs, including Loves Garden Of Roses for Moidart. Quite apart from his personal enthusiasm for music in the broadest sense, through his assiduous collecting and study of 78s over many years, Peter has acquired not only a wide knowledge of recorded musical performance but also a heartfelt awareness of the need to conserve so many "great masters" who were it not for CD might now be lost for future generations. A recognised authority on old recordings, Peter now regularly researches and produces CD albums from 78s.