Pump up the volume!

Inspire • Pulse #3 • 4 min

Metros, trains, stations and all those who frequent these busy transit areas are a source of endless inspiration for artists. In the eyes of composers and musicians, trains become allegories, the metro ticket inspector turns into a gentle dreamer, the city’s effervescence is transposed into rhythms… After all, it’s only natural that music echoes our lives.
For Pulse, Fred Charbaut, a specialist music journalist and co-founder of Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival, presents a musical selection inspired by the world of public transport. Tracks and stories to (re)discover.

1. Belly of the Sun by CASSANDRA WILSON (2002)
Given their distinctive acoustics, metro and train stations provide unique and inspiring atmospheres for musicians. In 2001, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson returned to her native Mississippi to record her album, Belly of the Sun. She set up her recording studio in the abandoned Clarksdale train station, home to the Blues Museum. In this “Belly of the Sun”, her musicians experience lethargy. The result is a composition pulsing with torrid slowness. Cassandra Wilson’s deep and sensual voice shines in covers of Bob Dylan, James Taylor or Carlos Jobim.

2. Take the “A” Train by DUKE ELLINGTON (1941)
Composed by pianist and arranger Billy Strayhorn in 1939 for Duke Ellington, Take the “A” Train is a reference to the New York subway line A, inaugurated in the 1930s. In 1967, Strayhorn recounted the genesis of this song as follows: “When I arrived in New York, a new subway line was being built. I lived on its route but there was another line, the D, which branched off right before my stop, to go to the Bronx. People often took the wrong line, they took the D and, to avoid any confusion when they visited me, I told them: “take the A train”. This theme has become  one of the most played by Duke’s orchestra. It was revived with lyrics  by great jazz voices like Ella Fitzgerald and served as an intro to the Rolling Stones’ 1982 album Still life.

3. Le poinçonneur des Lilas by SERGE GAINSBOURG on the album Du chant à la une ! (1958)
In 1958, Gainsbourg, who had spent his entire life in Paris, released the song Le poin çon neur des Lilas. It tells the story of “this guy you pass and don’t look at”. Under the ceramic tiles of the Parisian metro, the ticket inspector is bored with punching travellers’ tickets day after day. And so he reads, dreams of great escapes, to the sea and on wild paths. “I’d like to fly away/Leave my cap in the cloakroom” sings Gainsbourg. This song was one of the composer’s first hits. The town hall of Les Lilas, in the Parisian  suburb, recently proposed naming a new metro  station, scheduled for 2019, Les Lilas-Serge-Gainsbourg. Proof that this song has made a lasting impression on people.

4. Little Black Train by INDRA RIOS MOORE on the album Heartland (2015)
Metros and trains have long fuelled composers’ poetic fantasies. Little Black Train is a  traditional 19th century gospel song, made popular in 1935 by the Carter family, then in the mid-1940s by American folk singer and guitarist Woody Guthrie. In this song, the train is an allegory for looming death. The lyrics urge the listener to be upfront with God before leaving this world. “Soon, maybe tonight, we’ll have to get in the train and leave…”. New York singer Indra Rios Moore revisits this classic with her favourite musicians, including her saxophonist husband, Benjamin Traerup, and bassist friend Thomas Sejthen.

5. RER B by DEXTER GOLDBERG on the album Tell me something new (2018)
Living near an RER B station in Paris, young pianist and composer Dexter Goldberg frequently takes this line of the Île-deFrance regional network. With the song RER B, he translates the commotion and agitation experienced during his travels into music. This composition is emblematic of the cinematographic style shared by many young  contemporary musicians. Like the other tracks on the album, Tell me something new, this song radiates a merry, fresh and communicative energy. A sound that always seems to be moving  forward, from  station to station.

6. Northern Express by TIMO LASSY on the album Moves (2017)
Finnish saxophonist Timo Lassy is one of those outstanding European musicians who have truly internalised 1960s jazz, the mythical quintets of Miles Davis or the Jazz Messengers. With Northern Express, the saxophonist invites us onboard his Scandinavian train for a shamanic journey through snow and ice. His sixth album, Moves, combines soul and latin jazz influences from the 1970s, as well as hiphop. A gem of groove, with a soulful rhythm in keeping with the tradition of the mythical Motown label, highlighted with rap.

7. Long Train Running by THE DOOBIE BROTHERS on the album The captain and me (1973)
In their famous song Long Train Running, the Doobie Brothers share how to move forward and not stay on the platform watching trains pass by, like Lucy, the song’s main character who wanders around, homeless, without any family or love. The track’s theme was born during a long on-stage jam session. The Doobie Brothers’ producer then convinced the singer, Tom Johnston, to write lyrics for the music. This led to the creation.

Fred Charbaut

Fred Charbaut

is a music journalist specialising in jazz. He is the co-founder and codirector of the SaintGermain-des-Prés Jazz Festival in Paris. He is also a music programmer for FIP (Source), Radio France’s eclectic radio station, Jazz à FIP and jazz programmer for Air France’s long- distance flights.


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