My musical interests are all over the map. From Jazz (from bebop on) to Renaissance and Baroque music by way of Bach, Stravinsky, and Bartok.
I played the recorder and various wind instruments (krumhorn, oboe,...) in a Renaissance ensemble when I was in high school and college (see MP3 samples below).
I now play mostly Jazz. I have always been interested in Jazz because I have always been intrigued by the intellectual challenge of improvising music in real time.
The band I played with in high school and college (1975 to 1983) was called Ensemble de Musique Ancienne de Bury, and composed of 12 amateur musicians, many of whom are now professional musician: Jean-Jacques Dubayle (band leader, recorders, krumhorns, harpsichord), Christophe Aubry (violin), Philippe Baudin (recorders), Antoine Courtecuisse (recorders), Regis Gardes (recorders), Patrick Henry (violin), Thomas Kraft (recorders), Thierry Lacaze (percussions, flute), Yann LeCun (recorders, krumhorns), Bertrand Luneau (recorders, cornemuse), Jerome Loncelle (percussions), Sebastien Marq (recorders), Christophe Mazeaud (recorders, oboe), Alain Vergnon (violin), Sylvie Vergnon (cello), and several others at various times.
in the late 70's our band hooked up with Francine Lancelot-Coursange, a dancer who pioneered the study of Renaissance Dances in France. We soon formed a dance group and started performing at various Renaissance festivals and local concert halls. Much of what we know about Renaissance dances comes from Orchesographie, a book written by a French monk who called himself Thoineau-Arbeau.
To my knowledge we were the first group of its kind. Having a dance group taught us how to play the music: how fast to play it, and where to put the accents. We realized that most professional renaissance ensembles of the time were playing those pieces much to slow. They were also sometimes playing them on very quiet instruments like the luth. This was non-sense: instruments must be loud to be heard in a dance hall (or outside).
I had been playing Breton (French Celtic) folk music at dance events at the time and knew that dance floors need powerful instruments. (the traditional instruments for Breton folk music, Bombarde and Biniou-coz, are some of the loudest I know).
These are a few pieces recorded in public in Montmorency, France in 1981. This was a joint concert between Ensemble de Bury and a Renaissance choir called Ensemble Tielmann Susato. This set does not contain too much of our Renaissance dances repertoire except a few court dances.
These are a few dances and chansons that I played with my Yamaha WX-11 MIDI Wind Controler piped into a Korg 05/RW synth box. This was sequenced using the "Bars and Pipes" software on an Amiga 4000 computer (remember those?).
I have always wanted to play improvised music since I was a kid, but the only instrument I had learned at a young age was the recorder, the oboe, and various similar wind instrument. Those are totally unsuitable for serious Jazz improvisation.
By the time I finally decided to learn the saxophone, Yamaha came out with the ultra-cool WX-11 MIDI Wind controler. At last, I could teach myself to play the music I always wanted to play. I now play a Akai EWI 4000s and a Yamaha WX-5 MIDI Wind Controler fed into a Yamaha physical modeling synthesizer or an old Korg 05R/W.
I used to play mostly with my friend Donnie Henderson at the guitar. We played bebop and hardbop stuff, fusion, and freewheeling improvisations.
My brother Bertrand is also an amateur Jazz player. He plays the bass in a band.
The MIDI Wind Controler became the missing link between my musical tastes (Jazz), skills (woodwinds), and my long time interest in electronic and computer music. When I was a teenager in the late 70s I built several analog synthesizers and sequencers, and modified my cousin's EMS Synthi-A (a really cool analog synth back then). Much of the recreational programming I did on various computers were music related. I even wrote a program that automatically composed 2-voice counterpoint for a college project in AI.
French people are generally known for their contempt of every product of the American culture (or lack thereof ;-), but there are two notable exceptions (nope, one of them is not Jerry Lewis): Jazz music, and Tex Avery cartoons.
"Who is Tex Avery?" you may ask. Well, ask your local Frenchie, or have a look at this story.
Jazz is America's best contribution to the World's culture, and the one true American art form. In my view, the true heroes of American culture are Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and their friends, but much of the public this side of the pond only has vague notions of who they are.
I listen to a lot of Jazz, either from my extensive CD collection or from WKCR (89.9FM) and WBGO (88.3FM) radios in the New York area.
My favorite Jazz recordings of all times are John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", and Miles Davies's "Kind of Blue", and a lot of 'Trane, Miles, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and McCoy Tyner recordings. Here are some of my Jazz heros:
I also like many other "classic" Jazz musicians: Don Cherry, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, Django Reinhardt, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Joe Zawinul, and many others.....
Working at NYU, in the middle of Greenwich Village allows me to go to Jazz clubs quite often. I generally go to the Village Vanguard, Iridium, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Smalls, or one the many lesser-known venues with excellent jazz (such as "The bar next door at La Lanterna Caffe", "Cornelia Street Cafe", and "55 Bar"). The nice thing about New York is that you regularly get to hear the giants (the old guard) like McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard (when he was still alive), Jack de Johnette, Stanley Clarke, John Scofield, and sometimes a combination of them, but also young musicians full of creative juices.
Some of my favorite artists on the New York scene these days are (in no particular order):
The easiest way to get a taste of the ever-moving Greenwich Village jazz scene is to go to the audio archive website of the Smalls jazz club. They record all the sessions, and post them on their website after a couple of weeks. I highly recommend any recording with Joel Frahm, Jean-Michel Pilc, or David Berkman. The Jean-Michel Pilc, Ari Hoenig, Francois Moutin trio is also particularly interesting.
Yann LeCun, Professor
The Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
Room 1221, 715 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, USA
Copyright © 2000-2004 Yann LeCun.