Concert Spotlight: Interview with Jean Michel Jarre

Record Breaking Composer Celebrates Past, Present, and Future at Radio City
Jean Michel Jarre

A Guinness Book of World Records holder on several accounts for largest audiences at concerts, Jean-Michel Jarre earned a nomination for his first Grammy in 2017 for Best Dance/ Electronic Album for Electronica 1: The Time Machine. It’s a two-part series that celebrates many eras of music with collaborations ranging from Hans Zimmer and Cyndi Lauper to Pete Townshend and Moby. The French composer and producer may be somewhat unknown to the mainstream, but Jarre is an idol to super fans (selling over 80 million records).

He was honored as the first Western musician ever invited to perform in post-Mao China, at the Great Pyramids in Egypt, in the Sahara Desert, at the Eifel Tower, and for a record 3.5 million people in Moscow, and for 1.3 million at his only U.S. performance in Houston in 1986 for NASA’s 25th anniversary commemorating the Challenger Mission.

Jarre promises his return to the U.S. and first-ever date at Radio City Music Hall May 20 will be nothing short of extraordinary. He spoke with New York City Monthly about his desire to play this iconic venue since the age of 18; what makes cities, especially New York, so crucial to electronic music; and why his music must be seen to be believed on this new tour…

What took you so long to return to the United States, and why have you never played New York City before?

I remember two times we thought about it, and we planned an event with New York and embraced doing a big concept in Central Park and were almost there, and then for different reasons it didn’t happen, and then I was not available to do it. Things are passing very quickly for me in my life and I said on the last tour that I would really like to come to North America with a project that was tailor made for the States. With New York, when I was a teenager, I went for the first time in front of Radio City, and I said my dream one day would be to play here.

At what age was that trip?

I was 18 years old. I obviously [knew] the legendary aspect of the place, but I don’t know why. This place, for me, you couldn’t give me anything else, Madison Square Garden, anything. When I discussed with William Morris,
the first thing I said [was], “Okay, I don’t care about anything else, but I want to play Radio City,” and here I am, so I’m so excited. I’m so excited also because I love New York. I love the hectic aspect of New York, and this concert is quite hectic; it’s quite dynamic.

I always wanted to convey through visuals how I approach music by mixing and doing architecture of sounds – soundscapes – and for me, New York is all about architecture and sounds and landscapes, urban landscapes.

What has New York represented to you over the years growing up?

Jean Michel Jarre-2First of all, it’s linked to a cool, careful approach to painting, music, The Village, jazz, Jackson Pollock. The New York artistic scene for me has been a major influence.

Another reason is, I’ve been linked with jazz [since] a very early age. My mom’s best friend had the biggest jazz club in Paris where modern jazz people like John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Chet Baker were playing. I was a little kid during the afternoon just  hanging around. This is also New York for me.

What is important for you to illustrate with these two albums that electronic music really does cross over into all music? And there are two kinds of electronic music: there is the process of creating music electronically and then there is the genre of electronic music.

Electronic music as you said is everywhere because of the technique we use. Beyond this, electronic music for me has always been not a genre like rock, hip-hop, or punk. For very simple reasons, it’s because it’s a different way of approaching music composition. Before electronic music, we were approaching music, especially in the Western world, by writing notes on a piece of paper and giving this piece of paper to musicians to play your music.

You have in the history of music people who all their lives wrote music, composed music, then never heard their music because they didn’t find a publisher able to invest. It was all in their  mind. So, it was very intellectual in a sense, and suddenly, with electronic music you become your own craftsman, you become your own conductor, your own publisher, your own producer.

The Electronica collaborations cross over from punk to rock to classical to singer- songwriter types. Were you ever drawn to a particular sound that was popular in New York from like rock and roll in 50s, to folk in the 60s, to disco in the 70s, to punk and metal in the 80s?

It’s very interesting that in New York, like everywhere else, every decade denied what they had. In the 70s, people were saying the 60s were so great, and the 80s people were saying the 70s, even the early zeroes, that was great. So it’s like this, and New York is very like that for a long time. When you look back, you see all these fantastic decades in New York, I mean, from jazz and blues to rock to punk to hip-hop and also experimental music. It’s amazing.