You're a good man, Charlie Brown... Long before Charlie came along, the good man/nice guy was Pierre-Jean "Matelo" Ferret (1918-1989). Everybody said so. He was a player all his life, and spent sixty years in the devoted service of the muse Euterpe. He played behind his brothers but, according to Michel-Claude Jalard, he was right at the forefront of the newly-blossoming jazz scene, which bathed in the splendour of a new sunrise over virgin land. The scene had Django Reinhardt, of course, an unavoidable sight, but also the guitarists of Parker and Gillespie, integrated into their groups and the bands of those who copied them, filled with enthusiasm for their leaders' revolutionary concepts: Remo Palmieri, Arvin Garrison, Barney Kessel, Billy Bauer, Barry Galbraith... they brought innovation to the way they accompanied musicians, encouraging them on the road to buried treasures. Pierre (the name on his birth certificate) Jean (the name that was convenient) "Matelo" (to his friends) Ferret was born in Rouen on December 1st 1918. For people called Ferret, everything that concerned music in general, and the guitar in particular, was family business. Bandurria, banjo, guitars Spanish or Russian, mandolin, all the instruments that use a plectrum, please stand up and be counted... Teenager Matelo did the same as his brothers and sought out the accordionists whose Saturday nights and Sunday matinees were delights for crowds of workers who didn't have work, and also those more used to taking things easy, layabouts and others allergic to or disgusted by hard work to the point where they made a living out of anything that came to hand and didn't show much shame for it. Life was like Becker's film "Casque d'Or", with easy money and a waltzing proletariat. Matelo later made his own regular contribution to the spruce orchestras led by renowned accordionists who swung both ways (meaning musette and jazz), mainly Gus Viseur and Jo Privat, but first Matelo showed his mettle on December 5th 1935 (for Gramophone) alongside Louis Richardet, an ace of the "piano with braces" who had many contacts in "hot jazz" circles. So, what with Richardet (sometimes Americanized as "Richard Day") wanting to certify his accordion as an instrument of virtue, he was keeping company with Michel Warlop (violin), the leader, Sarane and Matelo Ferret plus Jean Maille (guitars) and bassist Jean Storne. Matelo was barely 17 years old! Strange Harmony, Double Trouble (Ça me tracasse), Sérénade and the previously-unreleased Chasing Shadows (Mirage) were recorded. Thus did Matelo Ferret celebrate his official arrival in the Swing Era. In France he was one of its representative elements, but not only that; the young gypsy had other strings to his bow, or guitar, if you prefer. He lived in the same hotel as Reinhardt, and even if meeting Django did decide his future, Matelo had just been hired by the Rumanian violinist Ionel Bajâc, and he joined his Tsigane orchestra at the "Casanova", where he was initiated into the treasures of central European folk music by dulcimer-virtuoso Nitza Codolban.
On December 15th, after a rude autumn, Matelo went to do his first record-session under his own name leading a "sixtette" in which the Gypsy Royal and the Monarch of Swing buttered up to one another. The content was Django (Reinhardt), whilst the form was Benny (Goodman). Out of torment was born a new Union: one Gypsy (Matelo), one Belgian (Martens), two Caribbeans (Siobud and Bourgarel), one Parisian (Duchossoir) and a man born on the Riviera (Fabre). Clarinet, vibraphone, solo guitar, rhythm guitar, contrabass, drums... Benny Goodman's famous sextet-records must have been heard by Matelo Ferret despite the embargo on discs "made in the USA"! And yet this intriguing "sixtette" can be considered a deliberate extension, an electrified stretching, of the new shape taken on by the Quintette of the H.C.F., where the vibraphone, the latest fashionable instrument to be a synonym for progress, delivered its part of modernism to the centre of a well-established tradition. Jeannot-the-Gypsy didn't mind this kind of upheaval at all, as long as it swept out the dust of habit like a new broom. In December '43 Pierre-Jean Ferret and his "sixtette" paid tribute to Django Reinhardt playing two of his compositions, Swing Guitars and Swing 42 (Swing Rêverie), plus Vincent Scotto's La Vipère du Trottoir and also Le Rapide. Matelo Ferret dipped into jazz on many occasions. Pre-war, when the music of Harlem was swinging through Montmartre and Montparnasse at night, Matelo had already been spotted where it counted, at "Jimmy's" for example, a jazzy club that brightened Django up considerably; its "jams" burned like coals, with "hot" rhythms for dance-nuts where the "Frenchies" could measure up to visitors from America (still a provider of dreams), men whose names were Bill Coleman, Eddie South, Benny Carter... Michel Warlop had huge esteem for Matelo and took him on as a rhythm guitarist with his famous string septet, bolstered by Gaston Durand (Harmoniques, Kermesse, Aisément, Tempête sur les Cordes - Swing, 1941). Both these cronies met up again later with André Ekyan, in whose band they showed the same rhythmical verve (Standard Swing, Etude rythmique, Tcha-tcha, Ekyanologie - Odéon, 1942). Like his elder brother Baro before him in the years before the debacle, Matelo Ferret was one of the Q.H.C.F. when it reformed in 1947, after its two main protagonists fell into each other's arms again.
Matelo continued recording for EMI (under his Pierre-Jean Ferret identity) during the Fifties, and did so regularly later, though not always under the best conditions. Once again, jazz had to take turns with the hits of the day and, like those of his brother Sarane, most of the tunes originally released as 78's found their way onto "Ambiance" LPs with names like "Votre Dîner en Musique" (Columbia 33 FSX 105) or "Votre Thé en Musique" (Columbia 33 FSX 108), mixed up with performances from all sorts of trashy dance-bands so that the best parts went almost unnoticed by guitar-fans. This same series produced the indestructible Louise by Whiting & Robin, and Dors, dors, dors, ["Sleep, Sleep, Sleep"] - the kind of reaction you can justify after a turbulent night; and just when his son Jean-Jacques "Boulou" Ferret was being born, the series also produced a title written by his father, Boulou Boogie. There were other compositions by Matelo Ferret: Guitar Boogie (no relation to the Arthur Smith tune), smitten with freedom, is a model of a blues-improvisation; a Matelo's Guitar Blues at its virtual apogee; and Roule ta Bosse [literally, "Show someone you've been around"], a title with a lot of meaning for gypsy-travellers who could never stay still and longed to see what the other side of the fence had to offer. Who played with Matelo? That's a good question and there's still no good answer, because there's no trace of them; probably they included Lucien Gallopain on rhythm guitar, an old chum from the Occupation years, and also Jean Bonal, who'd arrived with the Parisian "nouvelle vague" of liberated jazzmen. Matelo Ferret recorded again on March 14th 1955 with a quartet: a few interesting improvisations on such imperishable jazz standards as l Surrender Dear, Out Of Nowhere and Pennies From Heaven, plus a lovely tune written by Matelo, Djoungalo; most likely, the pianist here was Jacky Cnudde, a man who was quite disciplined alongside Alix Combelle and Jean Bonal (Quartet-Club de France), but who completely lost it when he discovered Thelonious Monk... the shock was enormous, and Jacky became one of Monk's premier disciples with the Jazz Modernisticks group (B. Monville, G. Rovère, C. Saudrais) that appeared at the "Riverside" in the Latin Quarter. There's some doubt over the other participants, but Ferret possibly brought in Pierre Michelot and J.L. Viale, both of them highly-appreciated studio-musicians. At the risk of repeating myself, I say without hesitation that dreams are the most extraordinary adventures within Man's immediate reach, and that if the Ferret brothers have one major, cardinal virtue, then it is the ability to bring you dreams, as many as you like: their spellbinding fingers pluck notes of enchantment as if saying the rosary, and the magical strings of their Faerie guitars are a world of marvels, a legendary world with more life in it than the real one.
Captain Peter Smithy (Pierre Lafargue) Daybreak Gate (2004-2007)
English translation: Martin Davies
© 2009 Frémeaux & Associés