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23-04-1940 - current


componist, drums, improvised, jazz, percussie


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Pierre Courbois

Pierre Courbois (Nijmegen, 23 April 1940) is, in pianist Rein de Graaff's words, 'the Miles Davis of Dutch jazz' (1). Just like Miles Davis Courbois is a forerunner of new trends, and he manages to assemble the right young musicians around him to do so. He leads the ...
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componist, drums, percussie

Mentioned in the biography of

1966   Willem Breuker
1967   Arjen Gorter
1970   Max Teawhistle
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Biography Pierre Courbois

Pierre Courbois (Nijmegen, 23 April 1940) is, in pianist Rein de Graaff's words, 'the Miles Davis of Dutch jazz' (1). Just like Miles Davis Courbois is a forerunner of new trends, and he manages to assemble the right young musicians around him to do so. He leads the first Dutch group that engages in free improvisation: the (Original) Dutch Free Jazz Quartet. He brings jazz-rock to the Netherlands with his Association PC, and later experiments with curious line-ups, long improvisation schemes and odd and uneven meters. In addition the percussionist also manifests himself as instrument designer – for a long time he plays an electronic drum-kit of his own making – and as an always inspired accompanist in more mainstream jazz styles, which he continues playing on the side (for instance in the original Rein de Graaff/Dick Vennik Quartet).

Played in

Association P.C.   drums

1958 - 1960

As a teenager Courbois is already active as a banjoist in various dixieland formations, but he makes the final switch to drums, and to modern jazz, at eighteen. He gains his first experience as a drummer in pianist Ton Wijkamp's bop group, based in Arnhem, just like the young man himself. The other musicians in the band are slightly older and offer the fledgeling drummer useful tips. Wijkamp's quintet wins the 1960 edition of the Loosdrecht Jazz Competition. In addition to a busy musical career Courbois is trained as a goldsmith. All his life he suffers from a serious ailment to his veins and arteries - the Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome – but it doesn't seem to temper his impetus.

1961 - 1968

In 1961 Courbois makes his first steps in innovation by founding and leading the first Dutch band which engages in free improvisation. The group is originally called the (Original) Dutch Free Jazz Quartet, but is rechristened as Free Music Quartet in 1965, because even the term 'jazz' would imply too many limitations. Sometimes an extra musician is added, making it a quintet. Later Courbois repeatedly claims that the total ban on melody, chords and a steady beat at the time limited him greatly in his improvisations. The then young Boy Raaymakers – later one of Willem Breuker's regular trumpet players – is a member of one of the many line-ups of the group. Courbois also partakes in Willem Breuker's experiments, which cause a stir at the 1966 Loosdrecht Jazz Competition. Later that year he plays on all tracks of Breuker's recording debut, Contemporary Jazz From Holland. In late 1963 Courbois has also become the regular drummer in groups led by vibraphonist-flutist-bass clarinettist Gunter Hampel, one of the pioneers of free jazz in Germany. He can be heard on Hampel's recording debut Heartplants (1965, for the German label Saba/MPS). After a while the Gunter Hampel Quartet, with the exception of the leader himself, solely consists of Dutchmen: Courbois, Willem Breuker and bassist Piet Hein Veening. This is the line-up for the December 1966 LP Music From Europe, for the famous American avant-garde label ESP.

1969 - 1975

In these years Courbois also manages to recruit new talent, like keyboard wizard Jasper van 't Hof, who joins him in Association PC, Courbois's groundbreaking fusion formation. At that time Miles Davis's jazz-rock innovations, which can be heard on the album Bitches Brew, still have to appear on record. The group – in which Courbois eventually ends up as the only Dutch member - does well internationally. The press reception in the Dutch urban west, however, is somewhat reserved. Courbois, in an interview with Jeroen de Valk in Het Parool (December 1999): 'That was remarkable, for we played a kind of electric free jazz. The rock rhythms didn't come until later. In the seventies we performed just about everywhere, except in the Netherlands.'

1976 - 1991

Trained goldsmith Courbois, always on the go with his toolbox, provides his drum-kit with all kinds of electronic gadgets. With this he performs in solo concerts, in which very often the self designed effect equipment develops a mind and direction of its own. Between 1976 and 1982 he gives some 500 school concerts using this kit, sometimes three in one day. At night he is on the road with his New Association, an acoustic ensemble with an usual line-up (usually violin, vibraphone, double bass and drums). The remarkable instrumentation covers up the fact that Courbois has returned to playing acoustic jazz. The electronic equipment ends up under his bed, never to be seen or heard of since. For quite a while he is pianist Loek Dikker's regular drummer. They perform with a bass-less trio, featuring reed player Leo van Oostrom.

1992 - 2010

After various experiments in instrumentation Courbois returns to the classic hard-bop line-up: trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, double bass, drums. Nothing sounds better than that, is what he feels. He concentrates more and more on composing, having a preference for long improvisation schemes – 'extended form', is what Charles Mingus specialists call this – and later for unusual meters. Just like Miles Davis he surrounds himself once again with musicians from a younger generation: one of them is bassist Egon Kracht, whom he spots at the Middelsee Jazztreffen competition, and immediately asks for his phone number. Even more remarkable is Courbois's preference for the 5/4 meter. His Vijfkwarts Sextet solely performs music written in this odd meter. The group is sometimes extended to a double quintet. Fellow-musicians praise his empathizing accompaniment, his ability to swing loosely in various meters, and his technique with brushes (1). Courbois learned to master this technique as a young musician in Paris, where Kenny Clarke was sometimes likely to give tips to younger colleagues during rehearsals. After some lean years the awarding of the 2008 Boy Edgar Prijs (the major Dutch jazz award) to Courbois leads to a rekindling of the interest in this unclassifiable percussionist.

Discography Pierre Courbois

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

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