On 17 October Magda Katz (a fellow entertainment journalist) and I met with Jules Grison at The Lamb’s Club to interview the singer about his new production. Clips of Magda’s video short of the interview will be on YouTube.
Jules, how do you pronounce your name?[Jules pronounces “Jules Grison” in beautiful French and I try to imitate, mispronouncing it three times until I almost get it right]
Jules is not my real name. It is Julien. Jules is my stage name. Grison is my real surname.
Tell us a little bit about where you were born and how you got into your professional singing career.
I was born near Paris (Orleans). And currently I live in Cannes. And I began piano at seven and continued to study and pick up other instruments. Like Gil and I witnessed in the musical Chicago, I tried to advance myself and study everything, learn every tool that would prepare me to be a musical entertainer for musical theater.
So you are like the actors in this country. They take dancing and voice lessons along with acting lessons.
Yes. And now I have added tap dance. For the show Formidable! [which celebrates globally renowned Charles Aznavour’s life and career] I would like to add a bit of the Broadway style. We don’t just present Aznavour as he presents himself in his concerts. I want to innovate and find those songs where we can add tap dancing or other dance numbers where I perform solo, perhaps a soft shoe.
Are you evolving Formidable! with Gil? [Gil Marsalla is the producer of Formidable! For my interview with Gil, click here]
Yes. We are working together on the script. We want to add a storyline, with something new. Not just a repertoire of songs but to incorporate dance numbers. For example when I saw Chicago yesterday with Gil, we were astounded. The show was amazing. We want to do something like that where the audience is rapt and thrilled to be at the show. So that’s why I’ve learned music, dancing and acting. We would like to do a show that could be on Broadway.
It will appeal, certainly, to an American audience because they love musical theater and NYC receives so many global tourists who love musicals.How many songs will be in the show?
There are around 28 songs. The first part we’ve set up. The rest is still being innovated and workshopped. We are collaborating. We have a story for the first part because we want to show Montmartre in Paris. We want to show the jazz clubs like we find today in New York. In France in the 1950s there were jazz clubs in Paris. It’s not the same now.
Is that where Charles Aznavour’s career began?
Not really. He began with Edith Piaf and opened for her at the Moulin Rouge. [She heard him sing and invited him to tour with her in 1946.] There are some songs that are not jazz, but can fit in well with the jazz scenes. So we are going to blend in Montmartre, some jazz songs and those that fit the jazz club scene and then some Armenian songs [Aznavour is Armenian].
Yes, those that are related to [his] Armenian heritage [Aznavour recorded at least one song from the 18th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, and a popular song, Im Yare. in Armenian]. We are including “La Mama” and “Jezebel” which Piaf sang in France first, and then he sang it. I love Aznavour. I don’t have the pretension to think I can be him, but I think I can bring something different and I would like to show it. It’s my feeling and perspective to sing some of his songs with the guitar and to perform “She” (one of his signature songs) at the piano.
You play piano and guitar?
Yes. In Formidable! we have changed the musicians who are in the other shows. We have Philippe Villa who plays piano for each show (Piaf! The Show, Paris! The Show, Formidable!). Women performers have been added because they add another element and dynamic.
Is it Anne Carrere or someone else? Or you can’t say?
I saw Guy Giuliano on Facebook with something you were doing. Is he included playing the accordion?
No. There’s a woman violinist and woman bass player. The drummer is different from Laurent Sarrien. The production needed a different set of performers. It is really important to innovate and present something new. With Paris! The Show, we are touring together globally for two years. But if Formidable! has its inception with the same musicians and songs, to me it will seem like nothing has changed. I like having a new feeling. Gil and I have spoken about this. However, Philippe Villa is with me in Formidable!.
When did you become professional?
In 2005 I was in the big theater on Le Grande Boulevard in Paris. I was in the preview, the first part of a show where I performed for three months. A producer came to the show, saw me and we met and talked. We decided to work together on a musical Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet became the most famous show in France, which was incredible to me. I toured with it in Asia from 2006-2007. I played in the role of Romeo for one year. But then I felt to move on. It’s always the same with me; I have to move on because I don’t like doing the same thing. I want to evolve and grow and learn something new and take on another challenge.
So I chose to work with [French producer] Roger Louret from 2009 through 2011 and learned so much on projects working with him and others. Louret worked with French musical theater singers [he founded the mythic Baladins en Agenais]. We created a show on Gilbert Bécaud’s songs. [Bécaud was the French singer, composer, pianist, and actor, known as “Monsieur 100,000 Volts,” who composed the renowned hit “Et Maintenant” (“What now my love?”).]
We presented the Gilbert Bécaud production in Paris’s biggest venues and toured throughout France. And I loved it because under Louret’s direction I expanded my reach and abilities, for example playing the piano and singing Bécaud’s “Et Maintenant” and “Nathalie.”
When Gil told me about the idea for Aznavour, I was thrilled. I am a lover of French songs and voices: Aznavour, Jacques Brel, Gilbert Bécaud, are the best. I like the French cultural feeling. In the songs, the words are deep and poetic.
You mentioned Jacques Brel, who like Aznavour, has great popularity in France. Do you think that you and Gil might create a show with Brel songs?
It is difficult. Aznavour is famous around the world, Jacques Brel not so much.
Americans know Jacques Brel.
Some songs are well known, but it’s difficult to do a show of many more of his songs that are only known in France.
There was a show on Broadway called Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and it was a hit. It’s why we know him and love him.
I sing Jacques Brel in Paris! The Show. His songs are very sensitive and poignant. They make me cry.
If they ever do the English translation of the French words for these shows, as they do in opera, that would be marvelous. How did you meet Gil?
I was in Paris with a friend. Someone contacted my friend about Paris! The Show, that they might have a role he could do. So he told me that Gil Marsalla wanted to create a show about Paris and songs revolving around it. I told him, “Yes, why not.” So I went to Nice to meet Gil. And he told me, joking around. “Where are you from? You are an extraterrestrial!” [we all laugh]
Where did you drop down from, the sky? [we laugh] Your voice is amazing.
Yes, and for this show, my voice is perfect and it’s the same for the Aznavour show. And there’s a good feeling between Gil and me. We work in the same way and have similar creative impulses and intuitions.
There is simpatico, a synergy.
Yes. Like when we were at brunch yesterday, and he talked about all his musicians and singers/performers being like family. It’s very important to work like that.
You are now going to be singing in Princeton with the Piaf show. Where are you going after that?
I am touring with Paris! The Show next month in the Czech Republic, in Prague, and will continue the tour of Paris! Le Spectacle. I am joining Piaf! The Show in Princeton because the daughter of a close a friend of Edith Piaf’s lives in Princeton, so this will be a wonderful surprise for her. Last year Gil saw her. She introduced herself and said, “I am the daughter of Theo, Piaf’s friend.” So we will be seeing her.
Gil mentioned to me that the Princeton show sold out for the second time and will be sold out a third time. Just great. Will you have a CD for the Aznavour show and when will you begin the tour for Formidable!?
We are working on an album for Formidable! We are working with Aznavour to find songs for the album. I will be beginning the tour for Formidable! in March. We will be in Poland. And I may come back for the Carnegie Hall presentation of Piaf! The Show on January 6.
And you met Charles Aznavour. I’m sure you were amazed at meeting him and are happy at how the arc of your career is progressing.
Yes. Whenever something happens like that it is amazing.
Indeed, for Jules Grison, it is Formidable!