Most often linked with drummer Kenny Clarke, with whom he formed an acclaimed big band, François ‘Francy’ Boland was a classically trained pianist, composer and bandleader.
Born in Namur, Belgium, Boland took up piano aged eight and after World War II moved to Liege to study at the Conservatory. In 1949 he joined the Bob Shots with Belgian jazz greats Bobby Jaspar on tenor saxophone, Fats Sadi on vibraphone and René Thomas on guitar.
In Paris after the band broke up, Boland met trumpeter Chet Baker in 1956 and joined his quartet. He then moved to the US when Baker returned and wrote for bands led by Benny Goodman, Count Basie and May Lou Williams.
After moving to Germany to work as an arranger and pianist, Boland made an album for Blue Note with Kenny Clarke in 1961. By 1963 they had developed their recording band into the Kenny Clarke – Francy Boland big band.
Boland was the main writer and arranger for the band which had a productive recording career with over 24 albums, but had little commercial success. The band had a successful season playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club in 1969, but disbanded in 1972.
Ronnie Scott said of Boland: ‘Francy is a brilliant composer and arranger, very musical, very original, very under-rated. Fantastic pianist. No clichés’.
Biography by John Rosie
In 1968 Kenny Graham wrote about the work of Francy Boland based on three jazz albums recorded in 1967 by a trio and big band supported by Kenny Clarke.
|Interview date||1st January 1968|
|Interview source||Jazz Professional|
|Image source credit|
|Image source URL|
|Surname||Kenny Clarke Francy Boland Big Band|
I was handed three albums and asked for an assessment of Francy Boland on the strength of them. “Out Of The Background” features him on piano with a trio; “Flirt And Dream” features him with strings and “Sax No End” features his writing with a Big Band. All three albums were recorded in the early part of 1967, so I’ll tackle them chronologically—which also makes sense when trying to assess the man as a player, a composer and as an arranger/orchestrator.
“Out Of The Background” finds Francy Boland supported by Jimmy Woode (bass). Kenny Clarke (drums) and (on some of the tracks) Fats Sadi (bongos). Of the nine titles, Boland is composer of five and co–composer of yet another, so you get a fair idea of what he’s all about right from the start.
The first thing that is obvious is that he knows where he’s going. He is a strong, forceful piano player who can play with great sensitivity when required and yet retain a positive rhythmic feeling, rather in the same way that wrestlers are usually very gentle fathers.
He really uses the piano, all of it— great fistfuls of sound interspersed with single note invention. His compositional style is difficult to define. The tunes are not masterpieces, nor (I suspect) are they intended to be: They are perfect vehicles for his style of playing and show originality without resorting to gimmickry or flashosity. They are not the sort of tunes you find yourself humming after one hearing. They are beautifully conceived. pieces of harmonic rhythmic invention.
Boland’s jazz thinking allows him to play his own pieces and standards in exactly the same way, which suggests to me that he is well settled and mature in his work.
I had one nagging doubt in my mind, however. Had I first heard this as a Blindfold Test, would I have reacted in the same way? I have considered this carefully and—believe I would. It would be easy to decry his effort and say “Well, so it bloody well ought to swing with Klook and Jimmy Woode. . . .” I believe he could swing just as well on his own. He is a jazz natural by any standards and an awful lot has rubbed off on him during his formative years. He has absorbed the whole jazz thing and uses it as he pleases.
“Flirt And Dream” finds Francy with the same rhythm backing plus 21 strings, two trombones and added percussion. The arrangements are credited to F.B. and show him as a man who understands string writing, as well as shape and form. Once again, the rhythmic element is very strong—and even when the strings soar off into ethereality, it is still there. Unlike a lot of with–strings albums, this one doesn’t jar me at all. The strings are used always sparingly, with great taste and to dynamic effect. Never slushy, ever brilliant in tone (greatly aided by masterful recording), original in conception and just right.
Boland’s style is dominant yet very elusive to define. Why should this music sound so fresh and I yet have nothing tangible to latch on to? I am not at all sure that Boland’s style is distinctive enough for me to hear an odd track over the air and immediately say. “That’s Francy!” How can a man sound original and not be distinctive enough to be completely individual? If you can answer this, you have nailed what makes Boland tick. So far, it has baffled me.
In “Sax No End’ we find F.B. in the role of the U Thant of jazz. “The Ebullient, Roaring, Screaming, Clarke/Boland Big Band,” yells the sleeve and this little lot have converged on Cologne from all over the world to make it. From Munich, Copenhagen, Holland, Belgium, London, Berlin and Paris they came to make this United Nations jazz album. And they get on together a bloody sight better than that team in New York!
Of the eight titles, F.B. has composed six and arranged them all. The other two were the work of Kenny Clarke and Sahib Shihab. They all had a ball. Look at the line–up and draw your own conclusions! I can’t imagine what a conversation among them would be like, but as soon as they get attached to then instruments the result is pure harmony. Music speaking all languages. The overall feel of the band is similar to that of the various Diz bands—wild, free and swinging. Boland’s idea is obviously to provide vehicles for the ensemble and soloists to ride upon, which I have long maintained is the only way to play Big Band Jazz. His writing is simple and effective. He realises that when scoring for this type of combination the individual soloist is all–important and what is going on in the backing will either drag the soloist to a halt or else push him on and on until he can’t on any longer. With Klook whipping them on, the whole lot goes like a bomb.
The sleeve says the whole session took only seven hours on one day and it has that kind of a feel to it. Nearly all first or second takes, none of that wearing–them–into–the–ground stuff that goes to make depersonalised perfection.
Freshness and vitality is the order of the day and it comes over just like that. Solos and ensembles are all played as if the Bogey man would get them if the damn’ thing didn’t swing.
One particular bit did my old ears a power of good—a saxophone chorus, brilliantly led by Derek Humble. I just love hearing saxophones having a chance to play a well–written chorus instead of riffs, figures and the boosting up the brass chores that they usually find themselves doing. Maybe that’s what Francy Boland is really all about. Nobody does saxophone choruses these days—they’re not on. F.B. oblivious of trends, etc., bungs ‘em in. This and similar notions of his come off a treat because he believes in them.
Francy Boland has given these jazz musicians something worthwhile to work upon and they respond wonderfully. The sleeve notes tend to over–praise both the band and the work of Francy Boland. It is not the greatest thing that has ever happened to jazz and none of the musicians will be fooled by the eulogies of the Press.
But anyway, three cheers for Gigi Campi, Kenny Clarke, Francy Boland and the supporting musicians, technicians et al. Long may you roar. Jazz needs you and the likes of you.