Alix Combelle was France's best-known tenor saxophonist of the 1930s and '40s, an excellent player influenced by Coleman Hawkins but able to hold his own on a few famous performances with Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Django Reinhardt. He started on drums, switching permanently to tenor (and occasional clarinet) in 1932. Combelle played with Gregor et ses Gregoriens (1932-1933), Arthur Briggs, Michel Warlop, and Ray Ventura, and often led his own groups. He visited the U.S. twice in the 1930s and was offered a job with Tommy Dorsey, but preferred to stay in Paris. Somehow, during the World War II occupation of France by the Nazis, Combelle was able to continue recording swinging jazz. He drifted into obscurity by the late '40s, although getting the opportunity to play with such visiting Americans as Buck Clayton, Jonah Jones, and expatriate Bill Coleman, and made his last full record as a leader in 1960. Fortunately, three CDs have been released by Classics that contain all of Alix Combelle's sessions as a leader during 1935-1943 with the who's-who of French jazz. ~ Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
ALIX COMBELLE (French) Tenor, clarinet. Born in Paris, June 15, 1912. The son of a musician, Alix soon showed interest in music. After several years at the Conservatoire de Paris he appeared on the jazz scene in 33. Showed already his great possibilities at that time and was often used to accompany or to play and record with visiting US musicians. Started to record under his name in 35 but made many records with the most famous jazz musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Lionel Hampton, Jonah Jones and others. Also appeared on a lot of studio recordings either as leader or as sideman. Many recordings with Django Reinhardt and other French musicians. Alix was probably one of the best European tenor players of the swing movement. He played with a full round tone and had a vigorous attack and powerful swing style. When inspired he could match the great Black American tenor players as can be heard on some of his recordings with Lionel Hampton, such as "Free press oui". Alix died in Mantes on February 27, 1978. His son Philippe is a drummer. - David Gould
Alix Combelle est sans doute le plus grand musicien de jazz de l'époque swing. Il commença sa carrière au début des années 30, son premier enregistrement comme soliste a lieu en 1935 avec le Quintette du Hot-Club de France qui, lui aussi, en était encore à ses débuts. Il participe en 1937 à la première session pour la toute nouvelle marque de disques swing en compagnie de Coleman Hawkins et Benny Carter aux côtés de son collègue André Ekyan, un quatuor de saxes qui laissera un grand souvenir dans le jazz en France. Il dirige pour les besoins de l'enregistrement son premier orchestre en 1938, les "Hot-Club Swing Stars", joue chez Fred Adison et enregistre avec le "Jazz Victor", avec le tout nouvel orchestre de Noël Chiboust, avec l'ensemble d'Aimé Barelli et Hubert Rostaing et bien entendu avec son propre orchestre. A cette époque il était partout, quelque chose comme le roi de l'époque swing en France. L'ultime consécration arriva quand il devint le patron du célèbre "Jazz de Paris". Il continua à diriger diverses formations dans les années 40, enregistrant pour Swing, puis Columbia, Vogue (avec Buck Clayton ainsi que Jonah Jones), Philips et enfin pour le Club français du disque. Il joue alors régulièrement au "Club des Cinq". En Octobre 1953, il apparait dans l'orchestre de Lionel Hampton pour un mémorable concert au théâtre de Paris. Comme tous les autres, il sera obligé, dans les années 50, d'enregistrer de la variété et des danses typiques, mais il restera fidèle au jazz jusqu'à la fin. Ses derniers engagements parisiens furent "Chez Mimi Pinson". En 1958, il eut l'occasion de jouer avec Buck Clayton le vieux copain, mais aussi Vic Dickenson, Stuff Smith et Kenny Clarke, et une trace de cette rencontre existe sur disque. Après quoi, en 1963, il se retira dans l'ouest, à Follainville, où il ouvrit le "Club de la Tour" mais s'arrêta de jouer quelque temps après pour raisons de santé et ne fit plus beaucoup parler de lui jusqu'à sa disparition en 1978.
Despite the continuing popularity of Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, and Gypsy swing, Alix Combelle has yet to be recognized in the U.S. for his steadfast contributions to the development and establishment of that tradition. An accomplished saxophonist, clarinetist, arranger, and bandleader, Combelle was a vital figure in the development of European jazz during the 1930s who made dozens of recordings with Reinhardt and members of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, and it is with Reinhardt that his reputation was established. Unlike Django, Combelle adhered stubbornly to straightforward swing and does not seem to have felt it necessary to modernize into the style and methodology of bop. Most of his best recordings date from the years 1935-1943 and were released on the appropriately named Swing label. Born in Paris on June 15, 1912, he was the son of François Combelle, a classical saxophonist and featured soloist with the Band of the Republican Guard. Alix began his performing career as a drummer during the late '20s and developed his woodwind chops in the orchestra pits of Parisian theaters and with Armenian bandleader Krikor "Gregor" Kelekian under the mantle of Gregor et Ses Gregoriens in 1932-1933. He also worked in bands led by trumpeter Arthur Briggs and violinist Michel Warlop, and with Patrick et Son Orchestre, a group led by trombonist Guy Paquinet. Beginning with a historic multinational session led by Coleman Hawkins in 1937, Combelle's unwavering devotion to jazz brought him into close contact with many visiting and emigrating U.S. swing masters, including multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter, clarinetist Danny Polo & His Swing Stars, pianist Freddy Johnson, vocalist Adelaide Hall, and trumpeter Bill Coleman, in whose orchestra he worked alongside Argentine guitarist Oscar Alemán. He also made a number of fine recordings with groups led by trumpeter Philippe Brun, gigged with altoist Andre Ekyan, and backed popular French vocalists Jean Sablon and Charles Trenet. Combelle visited the U.S. twice in 1937-1938. Tommy Dorsey was impressed enough to make him an offer but the Parisian opted for a return to home turf, where he joined an orchestra led by pianist Ray Ventura. A session with Reinhardt that took place in December 1940 featured Combelle shoulder to shoulder with fellow saxophonists Christian Wagner and Hubert Rostaing. After the outbreak of war, he led a cooperative big band known as Le Jazz de Paris, and stayed at the helm for several years before turning it over to drummer Jerry Mengo. Somehow, Combelle and his partners in swing managed to continue performing jazz during the nightmare years of the Occupation, despite their obvious association with Jews, African-Americans, and Gypsies, three ethnic groups singled out by Nazi ideologists as racially inferior. The simplest expedient involved camouflaging the titles of jazz standards, but it took a lot more than that to fool or deter the Gestapo. And Combelle was definitely a cultural "Enemy of the Reich," for his African-American heroes included Chu Berry, Herschel Evans, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Jimmie Lunceford, and Count Basie. In the years following the war, Combelle led a series of big bands and worked again with Bill Coleman as well as Buck Clayton, Lionel Hampton, and Jonah Jones. He does not seem to have adapted very readily to the early modern styles of bop and cool jazz, although he did sit in with Stan Kenton in 1953. His son Philippe "Fifi" Combelle (b. 1939) sat in with his father's band playing tenor and bass saxophone in 1957; soon thereafter, the younger Combelle switched permanently to drumming. Combelle Sr. made his final recording as a leader in 1960, became the owner of a nightclub in 1963, and passed away in the Parisian suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie on March 2, 1978. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi