The mainstream audience may remember him from his work for Belgian national radio and television and his variety music, but ‘Fats’ Sadi Lallemand was one of the most important jazzmen in Belgium and a well known musician in the European modern jazz scene.
Born in Andenne, Belgium, in 1927, Sadi already played xylophone at the age of nine. He fell in love with the swing music of Louis Armstrong in his early teens and, after hearing Lionel Hampton, switched to the vibraphone at the age of fourteen. He was the first European jazz artist to play the vibes as his main instrument. Although he is known to be a multi-instrumentalist (piano, clarinet, marimba and percussion), composer, arranger and singer, the vibraphone, together with the bongos, would stay his main instrument for the rest of his professional life.
His career started with Sadi’s Hot Five, a combo playing mainly for the American troops during the occupation. After the Second World War, he moved to Liège, the heart of jazz in Belgium where he became part of Bobby Jaspar’s legendary outfit the Bob-Shots. Known to be (one of) the very first be-bop outfit(s) in Europe, the line-up of the Bob-Shots read as a who’s who of the great generation of Belgian jazzmen: Jacques Pelzer (s), Bobby Jaspar (s), René Thomas (g) (although he wasn’t really part of the Bob-Shots, he played with them very regularly), Francy Boland (p), Jean Warland (b) and John Ward (d) among others.
The heydays of modern jazz
In 1951, Sadi followed fellow Belgian jazzmen Bobby Jaspar and Benoît Quersin (b) to Paris. Although Paris was the epicenter of modern jazz in Europe at that time, Sadi faced a difficult economical environment. To say it with the words of Mike Butcher:
“The Paris jazz scene (was) a hazardous affair. There (were) too many musicians chasing too few jobs”.
At first, Sadi had no other choice than playing in more commercial outfits, something he would have to do again and again, later on in his career.
Two years later, Sadi is able to work his way up in the Paris jazz scene. He records a lot of sessions as a sideman and co-leader (with Henri Renaud and Martial Solal for example), mostly for Vogue and its legendary Swing subsidiary label. It’s that same label that offers him to record a session under his own name – the ‘Ridin’ High With The Fats Sadi Combo’ 10” Lp – that would appear on Vogue UK and on the legendary US jazz label Blue Note. It’s one of the highlights of his career and at a given moment, when visiting Paris, Lionel Hampton was noted to say that he was amazed that “a vibes player like Sadi could possibly hail from anywhere but the States” (from Mike Butcher’s liner notes for Vogue LDE 133). Jazz critics agree that Sadi is the best vibes player of Europe.
A career of duality
At the end of the fifties, when the heydays of jazz in Paris were over, Sadi moved back to Belgium. He joined the national radio and television orchestra (playing both jazz and variety music), formed his own jazz quartet and throughout the sixties played on and off with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. It’s with a stripped down version of the latter – a quartet session with Sadi, Francy Boland, Kenny Clarke and Jimmy Woode – that he recorded ‘Ensadinado’, a nowadays very sought-after album among jazz DJ’s and lovers worldwide.
The sixties and early seventies were a period of duality for Sadi. From touring the world with commercial artists such as Caterina Valente and having his own TV-shows on one hand, to writing European and Belgian jazz history by recording beautiful and timeless sessions under his own name or as a sideman with jazz legends like Sahib Shihab, on the other. It is this duality that makes him withdraw himself from music. In the book ‘Dictionnaire du jazz à Bruxelles et en Wallonie’, Jean-Pol Schroeder writes that Sadi’s answer to the question ‘what are your current activities’, in a questionnaire preceding the book, was: “Sleeping. This era doesn’t suit me.”
‘Fats’ Sadi Lallemand passed away from the consequences of a virus in the night of Thursday the 19th to Friday the 20th of February 2009. He was 81 years old. A legend will be missed.