Andre Manoukian talks jazz and philosophy

Audio 04:29
RFI/Dan Finnan

Andre Manoukian is the closest the French have to Simon Cowell. The composer and philosopher, who is a judge on the equivalent to Pop Idol, talked about music, life and why he likes Gilles Deleuze, at the Paris Saint-German-Des-Pres jazz festival, which kicked off last week.


At the small, upstairs room of Les Editeurs café on a sunny afternoon Manoukian , who is of Armenian descent and recently released a book entitled Deleuze, Sheila et moi, talked about Blue Words and the connection between jazz and philosophy.

“When you start with jazz, you ask yourself a lot of questions. For me, when I was a little kid I saw a TV programme where two rabbis were speaking about a phrase in the bible. The phrase was ten words, but they could speak about it for a whole hour,” he said.

The room, furnished with wooden shelves and books, gave Manoukian the opportunity to outline some of his thoughts to his mainly female fans.

“I was just astonished how these guys can talk for so long about a short phrase. And for me it’s the same thing for jazz,” he said.

Manoukian learnt the piano at age seven and has worked with artists such as Janet Jackson. He has also done dubbing for the Shrek II movie.

But he doesn’t just see himself as another Simon Cowell. During the event he talked about spirituality, the definition of music, ontology and the practical application of philosophical thought.

He described a philosophy as a tool, “like an instrument to try and understand things.” It’s simpler, he says, to think of it this way.

“A concept, like existentialism – you think that it is big, it’s complicated. But a tool is concrete. It’s simpler. I like this idea of the philosopher playing, like we play music,” he said.

Despite arriving late, and encountering some of the crazy people attracted to free events such as this one, Manoukian managed to captivate the audience with a lyrical discussion of René Descartes and Friedrich Nietzsche, providing insight into what he believes can be delicate and individual.

“Everybody must find his philosopher,” he says. The one who matches who he is understands “the little pain I was suffering and I couldn’t put words on.”

Georges Berkeley and his theory of immaterialism are important to the Berklee College of Music-educated, Lyon-born Manoukian.

However, what is more interesting is how he links philosophy to compositions by people like John Coltrane and his Steps chord progressions, or Richard Wagner and expression.

“Berkeley was denying the material world, obsessed about his own externalities. He wants to deny the material world. Of course it is a little bit extreme… but it speaks to me,” he said.

His latest album So In Love features tracks with a number of collaborators, while he says that holding the attention of an audience is easier than producing music.

“It’s easier with the words than with the piano. When I do concerts I like to mix both, but I would say I have equal pleasure playing with the notes, and with the piano – but with the notes it’s more work than with the words.”

The Saint-Germain-Des-Pres Jazz festival continues in Paris through 30 May.

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