The French trumpeter Airelle Besson is one of the fastest-rising jazz stars in her homeland. She already knew she wanted to play the trumpet at the age of four. This passion grew when Airelle’s father gave her her first trumpet when she was seven. Years later she won the prestigious Prix Django Reinhardt and shared the stage with icons like Charlie Haden and Carla Bley.
“I was born in Paris, France, and lived there until the age of seven. We then moved to Orkney Islands in the UK because of my father’s Shakespeare research. My father is an artistic man, so I was raised in literature, poetry and theater. After the Orkney Islands, we also lived in Wales and Oxford for a while. I have a special link to the UK and feel it each time I come back there to play. It’s kind of a second home.
“When I was four years old, I already wanted to play the trumpet. I don’t know why, but I was just very stubborn about playing that instrument. My father wanted me to play the harp instead. He took me to concerts, and we met with some teachers. But I said: ‘No, I want to play the trumpet. Trumpet or nothing.’ You can’t start playing the trumpet before you’re seven, because of your teeth, but I started as soon as I could.
“I can’t recall ever having any specific musical dreams when I was young. I was happy to play the trumpet and to express myself through the instrument. But I know my father made sure I was in the hands of the best teachers. I didn’t tell myself: ‘Oh, I really want to play this instrument for the rest of my life.’ It was just kind of natural. It happened organically, as something obvious. I think my first performance was on the Orkney Islands. I played Aria from Bach in a church. He is one of the composers I adore, my ‘four stars’! I was quite young, around seven or eight years old.
“There are some teachers I remember quite warmly. Violin is my second instrument, and the teacher I had in Oxford, Kató Havas, really opened my mind and musical sense. That also goes for my trumpet teacher Pierre Gillet; he was very open-minded as well. There were classical teachers discouraging me from playing jazz, saying it would ruin my lips. But he said: ‘Play whatever style you want, as long as you have good technique.’
I said: ‘No, I want to play the trumpet. Trumpet or nothing.’
“A lot of people you get to meet along the way in your life inspire you. People you played with, musicians you hear playing. I never really had an example. I never wanted to be like someone. Of course I have musicians I adore. One of the jazz musicians I listen to most is jazz piano player 'Keith Jarrett'. He is one of my favorite players for sure. For me the melody and harmony is the most important thing about music.
“There are moments in my musical career so far that I look back on every once in a while. A couple of years ago I got to play with jazz musicians Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. When I heard I would be sharing a stage with them, I was totally humbled. They are great musicians who’ve given a lot to jazz history. They are my mentors, so I was very lucky having such an incredible moment. And earlier this year I got to play together with trumpeter Tom Harrell at Philharmonie de Paris during a trumpet summit. When I was 20 years old, I was learning his music and solos. Just to share the stage with him was great. It was very touching.
“My latest project is the Airelle Besson Quartet, together with singer Isabel Sörling, pianist Benjamin Moussay and drummer Fabrice Moreau. Everyday life is my biggest inspiration for writing the songs. The songs are dream-like with melancholy melodies and fluent harmonies. Right now we are touring with the Quarter, and we will also perform at the North Sea Jazz Festival this year. I performed there two times before. It’s incredible; the whole jazz world is there. I have never ever seen a festival like that! We’re looking forward to it.”
Airelle is being supported by the BNP Paribas Foundation.