Freedom and friendships
Michel’s relationships proved key to unlocking his potential. In 1971, Tony opened a music shop in Montelimar, a renowned centre for jazz. Here, Denis Tourrenc (an amateur pianist and jazz enthusiast) determined to be taught by the reclusive young virtuoso that Michel had now become. Typically cagey about his son, Tony took a lot of persuading to allow Denis access. Having eventually acquiesced (following repeated pleas and a bottle of cognac), Denis and Michel struck up a friendship that granted Michel his first taste of freedom. As son-in-law of the great painter, Nicolas de Staël, Denis not only took Michel beyond his own four walls, he broadened his intellectual parameters by immersing him in the rich world of visual culture and literature. Michel later said that “If poetry and painting could have a child, It would be music”. It was also Denis who first introduced Michel to John Coltrane. He would idolise Coltrane for the rest of his life.
Whilst the burgeoning jazz scene was full of American musicians in the late 70s, early 80s, it was his association with Aldo Romano that, as Michel put it, opened the road to success. In 1981, he recorded his first album, Flash. Without having ever heard him play, Aldo agreed to drum on it. In 1981, Aldo introduced Michel to the Jazz scene in Paris. This was by no means a seamless introduction. Inherently shy, Michel found the circle both hostile and exclusive. His friendship with Aldo, however, helped to shape his style; both held to traditional standards: prioritising melody over harmony, structure over “free jazz”. This came to characterise Michel’s composition and play across his career. It was also with Aldo, and under the influence of Oscar Peterson, that Michel came to appreciate the value of silence. Michel would later proclaim that, “silence is the most beautiful music”.