Who is Jean Michel Jarre?
Celebrated as the European electronic music community’s premier ambassador, composer Jean Michel Jarre elevated the synthesizer to new peaks of popularity during the 1970s, in the process emerging as an international superstar renowned for his dazzling concert spectacles. The son of the famed film composer Maurice Jarre, he was born August 24, 1948, in Lyon, France, and began studying piano at the age of five. Abandoning classical music as a youth, Jarre became enamored of jazz before forming a rock band called Mystere IV; in 1968, he became a pupil of the musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, joining Groupe de Recherches Musicales. His early experiments in electro-acoustic music yielded the 1971 single “La Cage”; the full-length Deserted Palace followed a year later.
Jarre’s early works were largely unsuccessful, and gave little indication of the work to follow. As he struggled to find his own voice, he wrote for a variety of singers, including Françoise Hardy, and also composed for films. Seeking to push electronic music away from its minimalist foundations as well as the formal abstractions of its most experimental practitioners, he slowly developed the orchestrated melodicism of his 1977 breakthrough effort, Oxygène, an enormous commercial hit that reached the number two spot on the U.K. pop charts. The follow-up, 1978’s Equinoxe, was also a smash, and a year later Jarre held the first in a series of massive open-air concerts at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the estimated one million spectators on hand earning him a place in The Guinness Book of World Records.
Only in the wake of 1981’s Les Chants Magnétiques (Magnetic Fields) did Jarre mount a proper tour, traveling to China with a staggering amount of stage equipment in tow; the five performances, performed backed by some 35 traditional instrumentalists, later generated the LP Concerts in China. Released in 1983, Music for Supermarkets instantly became one of the most collectible albums in history — recorded for an art exhibit, only one copy was ever pressed, selling at a charity auction for close to $10,000. The master was then incinerated, guaranteeing the record’s rarity. Jarre’s next proper release was 1984’s Zoolook, which failed to connect with audiences with the same success as its predecessors.
A two-year hiatus followed before he resurfaced on April 5, 1986, with an extravagant live performance in Houston celebrating NASA’s silver anniversary; in addition to the over one million in attendance, it was also broadcast on global television. Rendez-Vous appeared a few weeks later, and after another highly visual live date in Lyon, France, Jarre assembled the best material from the two events as the 1987 concert LP Cities in Concert: Houston/Lyon. Revolutions, featuring the legendary Shadows guitarist Hank B. Marvin, followed in 1988, and a year later a third concert LP, dubbed simply Jarre Live, hit stores. After 1990’s En Attendant Cousteau (Waiting for Cousteau), Jarre mounted his biggest live experience yet, with an attendance of over two and a half million fans converging on Paris to see him perform in honor of Bastille Day.
The decade to follow proved surprisingly quiet, however, and apart from the occasional live appearance Jarre was largely removed from the limelight; finally, in 1997 he issued Oxygène 7-13, updating his concepts for a new musical era. At the turn of the millennium, he recorded Metamorphoses and then took a break from the studio as a flurry of reissues and remixes followed, including Sessions 2000, Les Granges Brulees, and Odyssey Through O2. In 2007, after a seven-year hiatus from recording, Jarre released a new dance single, “Teo and Tea,” a surprisingly strong return to electro, and followed it with a trancey, angular album also titled Teo and Tea.