The death of pianist Michel Sardaby, discreet but essential artisan of West Indian jazz

Born in Fort-de-France (Martinique) on September 4, 1935, Michel Sardaby died on December 6, 2023 in Paris

The death of pianist Michel Sardaby, discreet but essential artisan of West Indian jazz

Born in Fort-de-France (Martinique) on September 4, 1935, Michel Sardaby died on December 6, 2023 in Paris. It remains one of the centerpieces of the formidable school of West Indian pianists who knew how to bring a special color to their idiom, jazz: let us cite Marius Cultier, Paulo Rosine, Nicol Bernard, and of course the immense Alain Jean-Marie, Mario Canonge , Chico Jehelmann, Ronald Tulle, up to Grégory Privat or Maher Beauroy, all from families as modest as they are very musical.

In this ensemble, Michel Sardaby occupies a place as remarkable as it is discreet. Introduced to the piano by his father, Bernard Sardaby, around the age of 4, he came to Paris in 1954 to study at the Ecole Boulle (applied arts and interior architecture), while pursuing a career as a musician. He had already conducted an orchestra of ten musicians in the West Indies.

Here he is in the clubs with Robert Mavounzy and Al Lirvat (the West Indians of Paris); the exceptional saxophonists, Benny Waters in 1957, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Hal Singer; but also J. J. Johnson (trombone), Kenny Clarke (historic drummer based in the Paris region, a school in his own right). Such is the privilege of pianists, “provided they do the job.” Which is known without delay. History of musicians. Sardaby is supported by producer Henri Debs.

Recordings in New York

Michel Sardaby also “accompanies” the bluesmen. An exercise that we believe to be simple, more than delicate: Sonny Boy Williamson II (in 1963) or T-Bone Walker. In March 1967, he was one of the pianists, along with Raph Schecroun (aka Errol Parker), Claude Bolling, others, and Joe "Stride" Turner, for a long recording, Tape for Billy, dedicated to Billy Strayhorn, the musical director of Duke Ellington, who is dying in hospital in New York.

To tell you, just to situate the era, that we could hear every evening at La Calavados, a bar on the Champs-Elysées, Joe “Stride” Turner (whom the Duke or Count Basie never failed to come and greet, when they were in town for some concert at Pleyel), his endless purple Cadillac enthroned in front of the club – a gift from a client particularly enthusiastic about the pianist's playing. We can understand.

First album by Michel Sardaby in 1964, followed by recordings in New York with Percy Heath (bass) and Connie Kay (drums), sessions with Ray Barretto (percussion), Billy Cobham (drums), Richard Davis and Ron Carter (bass) , in short, the gratin.

In clubs, back in Paris we hear him with Guy Lafitte, Michel de Villers and Chet Baker. Her album Gail (Disques Debs) received the Boris Vian prize. New album much celebrated in 1989, Going Places (for Mantra, with Rufus Reid and Martin Smith), then, as a quintet, for Straight On (Sound Hills Records, 1993). Celebration of the University of Pittsburgh, Grammy Award for teaching, etc.

It is so true that Michel Sardaby was a valuable conduit, a much sought-after teacher, “offering Martinican youth a splendid education and training”, said this evening, December 6, 2023, Annyck Alexis-Alexandre, his niece. Michel Sardaby, always surrounded, in his own combos, by the best bassists and drummers: more than a sign, a proof.

Never a bit of showoff, all winged rigor, such a fine touch, cheerful harmonies. Being at his side, at Marciac (1992), during a concert by Hank Jones (distinguished pianist), outside the big top, in front of a screen with perfect sound, listening to his whispered comments in a soft voice, will remain a concert within a concert that is more than moving.