"Bobby was one of the first jazz musicians who came from a completely European background and created a language of his own with a very specific bouquet." David Amram
Belgian tenor saxophonist and flutist Bobby Jaspar was one of the pillars of modern European jazz. From Belgium to the United States via France, he developed a very elaborate style between bop and cool.
Robert "Bobby" Jaspar was born in 1923 in Liège. He first studies piano, then at the end of his teenage years he becomes passionate about the clarinet through jazz. He then formed a group with friends, the Swingtet Pont d'Avroy, which became the Bob Shots with the arrival of guitarist Pierre Robert.
The band broke up when Pierre Robert was deported to Germany, and Bobby went on to hold numerous jam sessions across Belgium alongside artists such as Armand Gramme and Vicky Thunus. In 1945, Pierre Robert is back, the Bob Shots are reunited again, and other musicians are added to the band. The Bob Shots quickly became the main orchestra in Liege and one of the best in the country.
At first they play mainly swing, before going into bebop. It is at this time that Bobby Jaspar abandons the clarinet for the tenor saxophone. He gradually developed his own style, more "cool" than his fellow boppers. As the members of the group became absorbed by their studies and then their professions, the Bob Shots played less and less until they disbanded at the end of the 1940s, after playing alongside Charlie Parker and Miles Davis at the Paris festival.
In the meantime, Bobby Jaspar became a chemical engineer. He didn't stay that way for long; in 1950, he chose music for good and decided to move to Paris, the capital of jazz. The beginning of the decade was difficult, contracts were rare and his situation precarious. From 1954 onwards, he gradually regained a place in European jazz until he became a real star. Orchestras were taking him away, he led his own formations (notably a quintet with the guitarist Sacha Distel), composed and recorded his own albums: "Bobby Jaspar New Jazz", "Gone with the wind"... Influenced by Stan Getz, he developed a supple and aerial playing, while keeping a full and warm sound.
In 1956, the musician decided to try his luck in New York. Over the course of his encounters, he made his way to the front of the stage alongside accomplished musicians such as Gil Evans and Miles Davis. Miles Davis recommended him to J.J. Johnson and Bobby found himself in one of the major hard bop bands of the time. He also learns to play the flute, which is still little used in jazz, and records two albums in his name at the same time. He was also one of the first Europeans to join the Miles Davis quintet for a while.
He died of a heart attack in 1963, after setting up his last quintet in Europe with guitarist René Thomas.
Photo credit : Jazz Hot N°120 April 1957