Today Etienne "Sarane" Ferret is probably the least well known of the famous brothers who performed with Django Reinhardt although he was by far the most famous during the war-time years.
e was born in Rouen in 1912 and took very much the same musical route during his early years as his brothers Baro and Matelo and Django himself. He initially played banjo at dances on the outskirts of Paris and then guitar at Parisian musettes with accordionist Guérino. However, once he met Django and Joseph in the early thirties, he became converted to jazz and was consistently more jazz-orientated than either of his brothers who both retained and cultivated strong elements of musette and Tzigane in their playing.
He was at his most popular during the war forming his own group the “Swing Quintette de Paris” whose personnel varied but included André Lluis, George Effrosse, Robert Bermoser, Baro Ferret, Matelo Ferret together with the Hot Club Quintet drummer Pierre Fouad and bass player Lucien Simoens. He was also a sideman for Gus Viseur, Charley Bazin, Tony Murena and harmonica player Dany Kaye. Together with Eugène Vées, Sarane had a small part in the Charles Trénet film “La Romance de Paris”. The structure and playing of his own quintet of this period indicates what a keen follower of Django and jazz he was although musically much less flamboyant than Reinhardt or his own brothers.
On occasions, the rhythm playing of his Quintette is almost indistinguishable from that of the New Quintet of the Hot Club of France formed by Django with Hubert Rostaing after Stephane Grappelli remained in the UK.
His preference for jazz (he apparently even liked Charlie Christian) has a parallel in the playing of Joseph Reinhardt who actually began performing on an amplified guitar before Django. Recordings of Sarane are very limited and commercial considerations meant that he later began playing more popular and strongly Country & Western influenced music.
He married Gusti Malha's daughter Poupée and continued to perform in Montparnasse and Montmartre, where he lived, up to the 1960's. Despite his popularity during the war, at the time of his death in 1970, he was living in obscurity.
One of the enigmas concerning Sarane is why he never recorded with Django although he presumably jammed with him. This omission is particularly surprising since he was so influenced by Reinhardt and was clearly a very competent rhythm player in the Hot Club style. Another is whether it is actually him playing on “Valse Manouche” as claimed by Daniel Nevers in Volume 20 of the Fremeaux Intégrale Django Reinhardt series.
Opinions about Sarane Ferret's ability as a solo guitarist vary considerably. He was certainly less "gypsy" than and lacked that "off-the-wall" bravado of his brothers which, to some, may have been a positive asset. However, despite being a measured, tasteful player, the truth is he probably lacked that certain spark required to lift him above the ordinary.
the three Ferret brothers, Sarane (1912-1970), by a mile, was the one who made the most (jazz) records. If we take the trouble to count the pieces he recorded during his career — at least on discs that bore his name — the figure is around fifty, which is quite impressive for a musician who was (quite wrongly) scorned by many people. But the 50 figure doesn't even include the appearances he made on records by Michel Warlop, Gus Viseur, Tony Murena or Matelo Ferret... In April 1941 Sarane Ferret and the "Swing Quintette de Paris" were inside a studio doing their first session. Sarane was a beginner as a leader and stayed faithful to Django Reinhardt's new format (with Rostaing and Combelle), adopting the same line-up as the QHCF in the Occupation years, which had two clarinets. Whether it was a blunder or just an unsatisfactory experiment, or maybe they simply took their eyes off it for a second, but the quintet-concept (actually a sextet) was quickly abandoned. Over the years Sarane would experiment with other formats, but right from the moment he did his second session for Odéon in June '41 he fell back on the trusty old quintet with strings that had feelings, an ideal setting in which to cause the true-blue gypsy jazz coursing through his veins (and roots) to come to full bloom. Robert Bermoser, who pioneered jazz in Alsace with T. “Coco” Kiehn (clarinet, tenor) and pianist Jean-Pierre Richert, was the first violin in the Swing Quintette de Paris, and his Impressionist playing — full of moving contours — fitted well with the lean guitar of Sarane Ferret; as it would have suited the austerity of a Melville film or the jubilant asceticism of a sculpture by Brancusi. Robert's replacement was Georges Effrosse, a familiar string-player with Ventura's “Collégiens”. Georges was an exceptional violinist and if he'd been luckier he'd have equalled the instrument's great figures — Warlop, Grappelli, Asmussen, Arild Iversen —, "luckier" in the sense that one of Marshal Pétain's dyed-in-the-wool do-gooders turned Georges over to Hitler's chums, who sent this unlucky son of Israel straight to hell in an underground factory at Dora, where he contracted typhus and died in 1944. Studio 28 wasn't there by chance either. From time to time, Sarane Ferret and his musicians were featured at that Montmartre cinema close to the guitarist's home. Sarane had been running the Quintette de Paris since '41 and a year later the group, with Georges Effrosse in its ranks, was appearing at the “Chalet” club. And then silence... Between the Sex-Appeal session in December '42 (for Odéon) and l Can’t Give You Anything But Love in February '44 (for ABC-Jazz Club Français, a session long cloistered away), there was nothing. Except for an appearance with harmonica-player Dany Kane in April, the year 1943 produced not the slightest record by Sarane Ferret. By mid-February 1944 he was back in a studio, most probably with Jacques Montagne and “Mac Kac” Reilles, recording tunes for the label of pianist/bandleader Yvonne Blanc. Alas! Because the tunes they did were never released, and a whole 59 years elapsed before J’en ai marre and l Can’t Give You Anything But Love finally surfaced (cf. “Jazz à la Gitane” Vols. 1 & 2 - Sagajazz 066 479-2 & 981 063-7, released 2003). Maybe the bassist is Lucien Simoens; as for the clarinet-player, some say Hubert Rostaing, but you can't feel his impeccable technique and so it might be someone like André Lluis or Gérard Levecque. These two age-resistant songs also made their mark on audiences on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to Mistinguett and Ethel Waters.
It’s Been A Long, Long Time... Sarane Ferret returned to work with jazz firmly in his sights; indeed, one had to wait until 1947 to find recorded proof of his post-war career. He did a session for Pacific, a young label dating from the latter half of the Forties which showed great interest in jazzmen (Claude Luter, Graeme Bell, Claude Bolling, Rex Stewart, Janine Rotante, Léo Chauliac-Henri Crolla, Jo Privat-Didi Duprat, Jack Diéval, Jean-Claude Fohrenbach, etc.) It was one of those sessions that now gave room to discoveries connected with the Liberation, and revealed new themes and ways to present “Swing Music” (Pacific Boogie, Paper Doll, a Mills Brothers hit, l Should Care, popularised by Tommy Dorsey). It was destiny's decisive overture, promising a singing future with truth in its heart. It showed the twin influences which the Q.H.C.F. wielded over Sarane Ferret (Swing 47): one, that of a string quintet before the hostilities and, two, that of another quintet during those same hostilities. The first influence favoured the violin as a partner; one of the rhythm guitarists present in the second was deleted in favour of a drummer. In the early Fifties Sarane Ferret again recorded some tunes, this time for Gramophone/La Voix de son Maître: Dumbell, Fantômes, Chicago, Cheek To Cheek; most of these pieces, disastrously, found their way into records meant for what they called “surprise-parties” where, due to the fact that they were mixed with performances by other groups, they entirely escaped the attention of Bohemian guitar-fans. The mix, however, avoided being degrading because at least you could hear Rostaing, Gérard “Dave” Pochonet, François Vermeille, etc. (“Surprise-Partie Aux Baléares”, La Voix de son Maître, FELP 105, etc.)
Baro Ferret had stopped recording, Matelo Ferret was doing (very) few records and they weren't necessarily jazz anyway (La Matchiche, Le petit Tacot de Mexico, La Saint-Bonheur, Bambina, C’est magnifique...) The man whose identity-card had Etienne Ferret printed on it, who was known as "Sarane" Ferret by his own people, was much luckier. He signed a contract with American RCA's French affiliate that guaranteed him a record per year. It was a symbol of his handsome success... On January 21st 1955 he called up a classical string quintet and hurriedly christened it the Quintette de Paris: Minor Swing, Royal Blues, Au Temps de la Cour, Nuages/Viper Drink, White Christmas, Mon Rancho, Nuits d’Italie (all on RCA 130.020). At the peak of his powers, Sarane Ferret played only a minimal number of notes in his solos, selecting them spontaneously as he went along, plucking them carefully from the fruits of his life's experience like so many raisins separated from a bunch of grapes. When Sarane did his second record for RCA on December 19th 1956 it was a very simple exercise with no headaches. To tune into the period's ambiance he kicked off the session with a piece called Le Rock ça chauffe ["Rock is hot"] — you couldn't put it better yourself if you tried, such is the truth of the statement — and the number was a real finger-burner. The guitarist went back to his Forties hits, Studio 28 and Miami, and brought them up to date, throwing in L’Homme du Bar (45rpm EP, RCA 76.071) for good measure. Just for this session, Sarane set up a group that included a vibraphone with the orthodox rhythm section. Matelo had already used a vibraphone-player (Camille Martens) in his own group as early as 1943 and would do so again (cf. Michel Terrioux on the 45rpm EP, Typic/Garzon G 385 LD). Sarane's vibes player was Roby Poitevin, a piano renegade often called in by Hubert Rostaing (cf. his Swing records from 1948-1949). Poitevin was one of the first to take an interest in bopper Milt Jackson's excursions on record with Dizzy Gillespie, while retaining the flame and passion that impelled Lionel Hampton. He was a kind of hyphen linking Geo Daly with Michel Hausser, the former in the Hampton camp, the latter tied to Jackson. The following year, on October 7th 1957, Sarane Ferret had a relapse and recorded again under the same conditions. The result was a third record of standards —Body And Soul, Coquette and The Man l Love — to which they added a song made popular by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, Tender Trap (45rpm EP, RCA 76.124).