René Urtreger was born July 16, 1934 in Paris, France and began his private piano studies at the age of four, and then at the Conservatory. He studied with an orientation toward jazz, playing in a small Parisian club, the Sully d’Auteil, conducted by Hubert Damisch. The Sully boasted an orchestra of talented students including Sacha Distel and Louis Viale.
In 1953, Urtreger won first prize in a piano contest for amateurs, and from that moment decided to be a professional musician. 1954 saw him accompanying saxophonist Don Byas and trumpeter Buck Clayton in a Parisian concert. Their collaboration in the “Salon du Jazz” became one of the most highly requested French performances by the American musicians that toured the French capital.
After serving in the military from 1955 to 1957, René would play in a club on the left bank of the Seine, the famous Club Saint-Germain and again he collaborated with Miles Davis and Lester Young. His work so impressed the latter that he accompanied Young for a short tour of Europe in 1956, however the following year in December, he was part of Davis’s group which recorded the soundtrack to the film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows).
The late 1950s had him working with Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Ben Webster, among others. His canon of jazz work is still widely regarded as sensitive with a full, dense sound of swing. The Academie du Jazz of France formally recognized his accomplishments in 1961 with the Prix Django Reinhardt for outstanding jazz artist of the year. This win subsequently led to him providing soundtracks for films by Claude Berri and others.
Reappearing on the Paris jazz scene he resumed his career as a small-ensemble accompanist with Lee Konitz, Aldo Romano or Barney Wilen. He was featured at “Le Jazz Cool, Le Jazz Hot: A Celebration of Modern Jazz in Los Angeles and France” at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California in 2007. Pianist René Urtreger is currently 83 years of age and continues to perform.
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