Michel Jonasz was born in the Paris suburb of Drancy on January 21 1947. His father was a sales rep; his mother a housewife. Michel and his elder sister, Evelyne, experienced a happy childhood, growing up in a quiet neighbourhood. Michel's first contact with music was at his grandparents' house where he would visit with his parents each Sunday. His grandparents, both Hungarian Jews deeply nostalgic for their homeland, would regularly fill their house with the haunting sound of traditional Hungarian Gypsy music. When Michel was 10 the family moved to Porte de Vanves, another suburb of Paris.
In his teenage years Michel developed a passion for painting and went on to enroll in art classes at the local MJC (youth cultural centre), where he also studied drama with his sister. Michel left school as soon as he could, in 1962, certain that his talents lay in another direction. His parents were supportive of his choice. Around that time young Michel became passionately interested in music, discovering Brel, Brassens and other French chanson stars as well as getting into rock'n'roll with Les Chats Sauvage. But Michel's greatest musical influence in those days was the rhythm'n'blues of American star Ray Charles. Indeed, when he heard Ray Charles's "What'd I Say" for the first time, young Michel knew he had discovered his vocation.
After learning to play the piano, Michel decided it was time to form his own group, Kenty et les Skylarks. The Skylarks soon went their separate ways, but Michel teamed up with his childhood friend, Alain Goldstein, and formed a new group, Les Lemons. The pair immediately found work as a backing group for Vigon, a Moroccan singer performing Black American classics on the local club circuit. Jonasz continued working with Vigon over the next two years, but eventually he and Alain decided to break away and start performing on their own, Jonasz reinventing himself as a singer.
In 1967 Michel Jonasz and Alain Goldstein recorded a debut single as the King Set. The single, which featured four tracks (two of them written by Jonasz himself), received a small amount of airplay at the time, largely thanks to the impact made by Jonasz's voice. Following the release of this single the King Set split up, but Jonasz went on to record two more singles, under the new name, Michel King Set. While he was still struggling to break onto the music scene, Jonasz began working with established artists such as the singer Christophe (whom he accompanied on tour as a pianist).
In 1969 Michel Jonasz finally released a single under his own name, but unfortunately, "Adieu la terre" failed to make a major impact on the French music scene. Following this disappointment, Jonasz decided it was time to take a break from his music career for a while and left France to travel round America. He then spent three months in Beirut. On his return, Jonasz threw himself into his songwriting career, teaming up with Alain Goldstein to write material for other singers. Jonasz finally returned to the studio himself, in 1971 and 1972, to record two new singles, scoring a minor hit with "La Rencontre" (for which he and Goldstein had written the music and Pierre Grosz the lyrics). Following this success Jonasz performed his debut solo concert and then set off on tour with the French radio station Europe 1. He would also support the French duo Stone et Charden when they performed at the prestigious Olympia concert hall in 1972.
In July 1974 Jonasz went into the studio to put the finishing touches to his debut album, released on the WEA label. (Jonasz insisted that he act as his own artistic director on the project). Jean-Claude Vannier, who wrote the song "Super Nana" produced the album (for which Frank Thomas wrote the lyrics and Alain Goldstein the music, except on the excellent "Dites-moi" which Jonasz wrote himself). The singles "Super Nana" and "Dites-moi" proved popular with French DJs who frequently programmed them on the airwaves, but unfortunately, the single failed to sell in the shops.
On his second album, "Changez tout", released in 1975, Michel Jonasz decided to take responsibility for all the musical composition, leaving the lyrics up to Jean-Claude Vannier for the time being. Although he had received no formal musical training, Jonasz proved he could nevertheless master the arts of rhythm and harmony and showed that he was capable of writing a mean melody.
In 1976 Jonasz returned to the studio to record a new single, "Je voulais te dire que je t'attends" (a song which would later be covered by the American group Manhattan Transfer and Canadian singing star Diane Dufresne). This rather melancholy song did not feature on any of Jonasz's albums however. Following the release of this single, Jonasz set off on a summer tour, supporting Mireille Mathieu. He then went on to support Veronique Sanson on tour that winter.
Jonasz had been struggling to get his career off the ground for almost ten years by this point. The singer's major breakthrough would finally came in 1977, however, with the release of an untitled album for which he wrote all the music and lyrics himself. (Jonasz had split with his former songwriting partner Jean-Claude Vannier after a dispute). This album, which produced two hit singles, "Du blues du blues du blues" and "J'veux pas qu'tu t'en ailles", finally established Jonasz on the French music scene.
The singer considered this album as an enormous personal achievement, a feeling which was doubtless reinforced later that year in November when he performed his first series of successful solo concerts at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris. The energy and passion Jonasz displayed on stage on this occasion, which appeared to surprise the singer himself, were captured on a live album released at the start of 1978.
1978 was to be the year that Jonasz confirmed himself as an important new talent on the French music scene, both as a singer and songwriter. That year Jonasz concentrated on his songwriting career, penning albums for his friends Alain Goldstein and Gabriel Yared. He would also write the song "J'ecoute de la musique saoule" for French star Francoise Hardy's new album. In 1978 Jonasz's songwriting talent was recognised by the SACEM (the Association of French Writers and Composers) who awarded him the "Prix Raoul Breton".
At the end of the year Jonasz would turn his attention to his own singing career, writing material for his fifth album "Guigui". This successful album contained a number of hits which went on to become absolute classics on the French music scene (Golden gate", En v'la du slow", "La Famille" and, of course, the famous title track "Guigui").
1978 would also prove to be an important year in Jonasz's personal life as well as his professional career, for on August 3rd, he became the proud father of a baby boy, Florian.
In 1979 Michel Jonasz appeared on stage again, but this time as an actor, not a singer. Jonasz played one of the lead roles in Didier Kaminka's comedy "Toutes les memes sauf maman" at the Gaite Montparnasse, a small Paris theatre. This was not strictly speaking Jonasz's acting debut (he had previously played a minor role in Jean-Michel Ribes's film "Rien ne va plus"). But singing remained his priority and on May 21st that year he gave a one-off concert at the Olympia which proved to be a veritable triumph.
From this point on Jonasz was to throw himself into a non-stop touring and recording schedule. In January 1980 the singer returned to the Olympia for a week, then, following the release of his new album "Les annees 80 commencent", the singer set off on tour once again. That summer he concentrated on songwriting and composition work, writing the soundtrack for Jacques Monnet's film "Clara et les chics types". 1980 was also the year that Michel Jonasz won another prestigious award, receiving the "Prix de l'Academie Charles Cros".
Jonasz returned to the recording studio in 1981 to put the finishing touches to his seventh album, "La nouvelle vie". This album (on which Jonasz collaborated with two new faces, Yvan Jullien and Michel Coeuriot, for the orchestrations) was phenomenally successful, going gold shortly after its release. Its tender love songs (such as "J't'aimais tellement fort que j't'aime encore" and "Les Fourmis rouges") and catchy swings ("Joueurs de blues") proved a huge hit with the public, who flocked to see Jonasz at the Olympia when he played at the prestigious Parisian concert hall for two weeks in May.
Meanwhile Jonasz quietly continued his acting career, landing a leading role in Elie Chouraqui's 1982 film "Qu'est ce qui fait courir David" (in which Jonasz co-starred with Francis Huster). Jonasz, a rather timid person in real life, once declared that acting for him was a way of revealing his true self. Music remained another important means of self-expression for the singer and in spite of his acting engagement that year, Jonasz still found time to record a new single, "Lord Have Mercy". He then went on to perform a mini tour in March. Meanwhile, Jonasz continued to write songs for other artists, penning "Une toune qui groove" for Diane Dufresne and "Lucille" for Eddy Mitchell.
In 1983 Jonasz returned to the recording studio with his loyal group of musicians and orchestrators to work on a new album, "Tristesse". The album, which produced a whole string of hit singles ("Minuit sonne", "Rock a gogo" and Jonasz's own version of "Lucille") and soon earnt the singer another gold disc to add to his collection. Jonasz went on to perform a fortnight's successful concerts at the Olympia and then embarked upon an extensive tour, playing dates across France, Belgium and Switzerland. After earning a gold disc for "Tristesse", Jonasz then went on to win another one the following year for his Greatest Hits compilation (which featured his hit singles from 1974 to 1980. Another compilation, featuring hits from 1980 to 1984, would follow later).
Palais des Sports
But the highlight of Jonasz's career in the 80's was undoubtedly his new album, "Unis vers 'l'uni" (dedicated to his daughter Anna who was born in November 1984). Jonasz was joined by a number of new musicians on this album (including keyboard player Jean-Yves d'Angelo who had played a minor role on the previous album) and Gabriel Yared, who returned to give his old friend a hand with the musical arrangements. "Unis vers l'uni" combined all Jonasz's most important musical influences, fusing jazz, Ray Charles and the Bossa.
Jonasz appeared to have hit upon a winning formula - for the album went on to prove phenomenally successful. Indeed, French DJs soon began to play the single "La boite de jazz" almost non-stop on the nation's airwaves, catapulting Jonasz into the limelight. The singer was soon destined to become a household name at last. Tickets for Jonasz's concerts at the Palais des Sports in Paris, where he performed for three weeks in 1985, were sold out well in advance. (These memorable shows, where Jonasz performed with the famous Simms brothers as backing singers, were captured on a live album released later that year).
Following his performance at the Palais des Sports, Jonasz set off on another extensive tour, which this time took him as far afield as Quebec. That year also saw Michel Jonasz triumph at the annual "Victoires de la Musique" awards, where he was not only voted Best Singer and Best Producer, but also scooped an award for Best Single of the Year with "La boite de jazz".
At the height of his fame, Michel Jonasz decided to take a break from his singing career and return to acting for a while. In 1986 he accepted a role in Frank Cassenti's film "Le testament du poete juif assassine" (adapted from a famous novel by Elie Wiesel). Jonasz threw himself into his part with a passion then when filming finished, he decided to take a complete break from both his acting and singing career, setting off on a trip to China then travelling to India where he visited several spiritual retreats.
Michel Jonasz returned to the media spotlight in 1987, however, with a show entitled "La fabuleuse histoire de Mister Swing". The show, which premiered in Caen (in the North of France) told the tale of a musician's traumatic double life on and off stage. Following the rapturous applause with which the show was greeted in Caen, Jonasz went on to perform it at the Casino de Paris for an entire month before touring around the provinces. Jonasz returned to Paris in January and February 1988 where the show was recorded and released as a double live album. The album, which soon proved to be another major hit, would win Jonasz an award Best Live Album at the "Victoires de la Musique" awards later that year.
Throughout his career Michel Jonasz has frequently taken part in fund-raising concerts and benefit gigs for various humanitarian organisations. On September 4 and 5 1987 Jonasz would perform at Bercy stadium in Paris with a host of international stars including Peter Gabriel, Sting and Tracy Chapman. (Proceeds from the concert were donated to Amnesty International).
In 1989, after a rather difficult tour of Africa, Jonasz renewed his links with French cinema, writing the soundtrack for Elie Chouraqui's film "Miss Missouri". Little was then heard from the singer/songwriter until 1992 when he released a new album entitled "Ou est la source?" This new album, which combined Jonasz's distinctive swing style (at its best on the track "Groove Baby Groove") with quasi-mystical lyrics, was recorded in Los Angeles with a group of talented Californian musicians. Following the release of "Ou est la source?", Jonasz went on to perform three weeks of successful concerts at the Zenith in Paris where he was accompanied on stage by keyboard-player Jean-Yves d'Angelo, drummer Steve Gadd, bas-player Abraham Laboriel and percussionist Luis Conte (all of whom were used to working with the most important names on the British and American music scene). Michel Jonasz then spent the rest of the year on tour, which resulted in the release of yet another live album.
In September 1993 Jonasz continued his charity work, taking part in a special fund-raising concert at the Olympia for "Sol En Si" (Solidarite Enfant Sida - a French charity which looks after children suffering from AIDS). The singer would work with this charity again in June 1997.
After thirty years in the music business, 50-year-old Jonasz is now an expert when it comes to songwriting, as the release of his 1996 album "Soul Music Airlines" showed. Soul should be taken in the spiritual as well as the musical sense of the word, for on this latest album Jonasz really does bares his soul, expressing his most intimate feelings on deeply personal tracks such as "Ado" and "Hannah" - both dedicated to his daughter. (The album, which combines Jonasz's successful musical formula with superbly nostalgic lyrics, is certainly one of the singer's best to date). After the release of "Soul Music Airlines", Jonasz set off on another extensive tour and went on to perform a series of concerts at the Casino de Paris in February 1997.
Michel Jonasz does not subscribe to the wild rock'n'roll lifestyle. On the contrary he continues to live peacefully on the banks of the river Marne (just outside Paris) surrounded by his family and friends. Although Jonasz does not define himself not as a music star, he does claim to be "a militant fighting to spread joy and happiness throughout the world".
After spending many long months on the road, playing to fans up and down the country, Jonasz turned his attention to his acting career once again in 1999, appearing in Marion Sarraut's television film "Fugues" and starring opposite Jeanne Moreau in Pierre Grimblat's feature film "Lisa".
Following four years after his last album, "Soul Music Airlines", Jonasz rocketed back into the French music news on 25 April 2000 with the release of his 13th studio album, "Pole Ouest". This album, which Jonasz readily admitted was written very rapidly, was recorded in the singer's home studio in the Marais neighbourhood in the heart of Paris. Paring things back to the essential, Jonasz recorded "Pole Ouest" with a small team of musicians and the album's style recalls the early days of his career, mixing elements of soul, jazz and swing with his usual gentle melancholy.
In the autumn of 2000 Jonasz embarked upon an extensive tour (including no less than 200 dates). The singer went on to bring the house down when he performed a three-week stint in Paris at the Olympia in October. He returned there in June 2001, before going on to perform at a series of summer music festivals such as the "Francofolies" in La Rochelle and the Spa and Montreal festivals in July.
Where do dreams go?
After releasing "Olympia 2000" and a 46 track box set, Michel went back to the studio to lay down eleven new songs. Released in November 2002, "Ou vont les reves" ("Where do dreams go") was recorded with Steve Gadd on drums, Etienne Mbappe on bass and Lionel Fortin on piano. This album is one of Michel Jonasz's better efforts, and finds him veering from nostalgia ("Vieux style", "Grand-pere", "Melancolie") to swing ("Le rhythm and blues"). In 2004, his record company EMI decided against renewing his contract, but he continued to tour successfully.
He also continued with his film career. He worked on Simon Rashevski's "Le tango des Rashevski", which came out in 2003. In the following couple of years, he wrote music for telefilms, including "Dalida" by Joyce Bunuel, in which he played Bruno Coquatrix, boss of Paris concert hall the Olympia.
In March 2005, Michel Jonasz put out a new, untitled album, with a subdued sleeve. He chose twelve tracks from around twenty he had recorded; again, they vary from the nostalgic ("Le diner s'acheve") to swing numbers ("J'ai swingue toute la nuit") - a tried and trusted formula which above all pleased his fans. The first single was "La femme du parfumeur". He followed the album's release with a tour which culminated in a residency at the Casino, Paris (April 19-13).
A double compilation of Michel Jonasz songs was released in 2006 by Warner (the record company that owns a large part of the singer's back catalogue). Highlights included two new never-released-before bonus tracks : "Le Premier baiser" and "Le Ragtime de Scott Joplin."