120: Jacques Schwarz-Bart
Jacques Schwarz-Bart says that he never fit neatly into any one category. He says, “I knew early on in my life that I could not go down a regular path. It would be hard for other human beings to totally accept me the way I am.”
From the very start, Jacques’ life was unusual. Born in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to a pair of writers (his mother the Guadeloupean novelist Simone Schwarz-Bart and his father, the French-Jewish writer and intellectual André Schwarz-Bart.)
The family traveled widely, living in Senegal, Switzerland, and Goyave, Guadeloupe. Young Jacques was an excellent student, and he was thought to be destined for greatness. In his universe, that meant a life in politics and, after studying at the prestigious Parisian school of Government, Sciences Po, he began a career as a Senator’s assistant in Paris. He was an inspiration: young, successful and smart - a beacon of hope and a shining representative of his multi cultural background in France.
So when he walked away from all that at age 27, moved to Boston and pursued a career in jazz saxophone at the Berklee College of Music, it was not a surprise to him that his family and friends thought he had literally lost his mind. People started to talk, and to invent all kinds of reasons to explain the choice. He says, “I admired them for finding a rational reason for my decision. Nobody could come to terms with the fact that I loved something and I just decided to pursue it despite that fact that I was new and not very good at it.”
Songs related to or discussed in Episode 120 of The Third Story Podcast
It’s true, he was new. He had only picked up a saxophone for the first time a few years earlier. But as he tells it, there was an instant connection between the young Schwarz-Bart and the and horn. He was off and running.
Much like everything else in his life, Jacques musical path has not followed a straight line. His work with Roy Hargrove led him to the world of neo soul, where he worked as a session player with the likes of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet, and Meshell N’degeocello.
But it was stints with Danilo Perez, Ari Hoenig, Bob Moses, and Giovanni Hidalgo that informed his search for authentic, coherent music that built bridges between his cultural and musical worlds. A series of exploratory projects ensued, including the Gwoka Jazz Project (exploring the music of Guadeloupe); Jazz Racine Haiti (bringing together Haitian Voodoo music and jazz); and most recently Hazzan, featuring his original arrangements of Jewish liturgical music.
We got together on a cold January afternoon following his performance at the Winter Jazz Festival in New York to talk about identity, authenticity, and how “the artist is first and foremost someone who has the guts to be himself”.