"A mild man who
By Phil Schaap
Percy France possessed a very fine soul, he was a true gentleman. Percy France was also an extremely gifted Jazz musician. Percy completely grasped the emphasis on the music's roots, shuffle rhythm, gospel song form, and The Blues reinfused into Jazz by Hard Bop players in the 1950s, but France grafted those earthy qualities onto Jazz's (at the time) mainstream and the art form's jump element that relates to Rhythm 'n' Blues.
This wonderful perspective helps explain his value to Bill Doggett, a pioneer of the electric organ in Jazz, and the artist who added the tenor saxophone to the initial organ trios with guitar and drums. Percy France was perfect for Doggett's breakthrough of the organ combo, the adding of the tenor to the trio set-up.
Percy's more Hard Bop, rooted in BeBop, expositions also fell within the organ combo settings - to be noted: his Blue Note Records appearances with Jimmy Smith and Freddie Roach. And it continued, even 20 years after all of that, when Percy was involved with drum legend Arthur Taylor's foray into organ groups. There weren't too many gigs but they were great!
My biggest association with Percy France came through The West End, an Uptown Home for Swing, that ran daily from the end of 1973 into early 1992. Percy's early appearances there were as a sit-in and sub. Percy was well received as the occasional substitute tenor saxophonist with Jo Jones and Friends, the Two Tenor Boogie, Joe Albany's New Yorkers, and, on at least one occasion, in Russell Procope's Ellingtonia.
The grand scale to Percy France at The West End was reached in his own group "Honky Tonk Part 3" - which referenced Doggett's number one record "Honky Tonk Part 2". The performances of Honky Tonk Part 3 were scorchers.
Percy France was a mild man who musically could roar.
Phil Schaap is a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and has broadcast jazz
on WKCR for over 50 years.
Photo of Percy France by Otto Flückiger.