“I’d heard of Piaf before, and I think I’d heard of Brel, but I didn’t know what it was,” Byron Jones says. The North Carolina native had lived and studied in France and earned degrees in both French and vocal music, but it wasn’t until he discovered the InSeries, through a listing in the Washington Post, that Jones got an education in French music. It came from the 1997 cabaret “To Paris with Love,” beginning “a 20-year love affair with the songs of Brel.”
Many people might know the name from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a 1968 Off-Broadway hit locally produced five years ago by MetroStage. As good as it is, though, Jones finds the English-language revue of the Belgian chanson master wanting. So he helped develop and star in a new revue helmed by director Steven Scott Mazzola.
“Some of Brel’s most iconic songs were actually not included in that show,” says Jones. “So we’ve taken the most beautiful, the deepest, the most profound of his songs and assembled them in one.” The result is Jacques Brel: Songs from His World. Jones calls the new cabaret, which features four singers accompanied by musicians, a more distilled collection of songs, and one that is performed in “Brel’s language,” with projected English translations.
Except for one: “La Chanson Des Vieux Amants.” Says Jones, “It will begin in French, but then you’ll hear almost a counter-melody in English, which is the translation of what’s just been sung in French. It’s a really cool construct for a song…kind of making it a duet between the languages.”
Why Brel and why now? “Though he was a child of World War II, his take on life and relationships and the realities and the idiocy of war, it seems so current,” Jones says. “I think that’s why his songs resonate with us, because they’re about the human condition, and about human relationships, and about struggling with self, and trying to escape from the situation you’re in.”
Jacques Brel: Songs from His World runs weekends to Nov. 19 at Source, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20 to $43. Call 202-204-7760 or visit inseries.org.
Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.
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