Des de Moor
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Claude Nougaro 1929-2004
Claude Nougaro photographed in 2001
Pirate Jenny's

Claude Nougaro, one of the greats of French chanson in the 1960s and 1970s, died in Paris at the age of 74 on 4 March 2004, following a long illness.

Nougaro was born in Toulouse, southwest France, into a musical family: his father was an opera singer and his mother a pianist. He began his musical career in the mid-1950s when, working as a journalist in Paris, he recited his poems to a musical accompaniment in nightclubs and wrote songs for other artists such as Marcel Amont and Philippe Clay. He started singing his own material in his own rich baritone voice in 1962, achieving success the next year with 'Cécile, ma fille', the first of many hits in a lengthy recording career which continued up to his death: he had just completed work on a new album, Blue Note, although in 2002 he had returned to reciting the words due to ill health.

Nougaro's mature style effortlessly mixed lyrics rich in sophisticated wordplay and an often bittersweet humour, with music strongly flavoured by his own passions for music from outside France, notably classic jazz, Brazilian bossa nova and African music. As well as collaborating with composers such as Michel Legrand, Jacques Datin and Maurice Vander, he wrote superb new lyrics to existing tunes from the likes of Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Baden Powell, Sonny Rollins, Neil Hefti and Dave Brubeck.

He insisted, however, that true jazz could only be sung in English, and his songs were really jazz-flavoured chansons, a fusion acknowledged in the title of one of his best-known songs, 'Le jazz et le java'. Among his other well-loved contributions to the canon of great chansons are 'Je suis sous', 'Une petite fille en pleurs', 'Quatre boules de cuir', 'Armstrong' (a tribute to Louis Armstrong), 'Paris mai' (a commemoration of the events of May 1968 set to a compelling West African rhythm) and his paean to his native city, 'Toulouse'. In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Prix by SACEM, the French composers' and publishers' association, for his contributions to the genre.

A new English translation of Claude Nougaro's song 'Le Cinéma' by Des de Moor was released at the end of March 2004 on the album On the boulevard des hommes by Monique on Irregular Records. The translation was personally authorised by Nougaro shortly before he died.

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