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Pianist, Arranger Francy Boland Dies

Belgian pianist and arranger Francy Boland died Aug. 12 in Geneva of cancer at age 75. He is best remembered for his role with drummer Kenny Clarke in one of Europe’s all-star swing bands in the 1960s and early ’70s, and his work with Chet Baker in the 1950s.

Boland was born in Namur, Belgium on Nov. 6, 1929. He began playing the piano at age eight and later studied at the conservatory in Liege, Belgium. He developed an interest in jazz through the radio broadcasts during World War II and decided to settle in Paris in the late 1940s. While there, he became friends with and joined a group of notable European jazz musicians, including saxophonist Bobby Jaspar. During that time, he was also arranging for the bands of Henri Renaud and Aime Barelli.

After he left Paris for a couple years to perform with Baker and arrange for both Count Basie and Benny Goodman, Boland returned to Europe and was the chief arranger for German swing leader Kurt Edelhagen. He earned his greatest recognition, however, for his work with Clarke, who had settled in Paris.

Together, Boland and Clarke formed and recorded as an octet. They recorded an album together called The Golden Eight in 1961 before forming formed a big band in 1962. Financed by Italian producer Gigi Campi, the big band was a conglomerate of American expatriates and European musicians that was credited with keeping progressive swing music alive in Europe at the time. Among the names that performed in the band were Jimmy Woode, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Phil Woods and Zoot Sims. The group lasted 11 years, until 1973, and recorded more than 30 albums before separating because of the rising interest in rock and disco and decline in jazz.

After the band broke up, Boland moved to Switzerland, where he continued writing music. There, he met up with Sarah Vaughan, and in 1984, he was commissioned to set the poems of a Polish priest to music; the priest would later become Pope John Paul II. The release, titled The Mystery of Man featured a large orchestra and chorus conducted by Lalo Schifrin, but was received indifferently.

No information about survivors was available.

Originally Published