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Though still little-known in the U.S., Solal is one of the greatest European musicians alive today. His life at the piano ranges from lessons with his opera-singer mother in Algiers to post-war collaborations with Django Reinhardt and Sidney Bechet in Paris, to a wide variety of film work.

Solal's music is as complex as his life. Born to Algerian Jewish parents, he moved to France in 1950 when he was 23. He began playing in the underground jazz dives around St.-Germain-des-Pres, and before long, he was recording with the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and ex-pat American saxophonist Don Byas. Fame came to Solal for the music he composed for Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 breakthrough film, Breathless (A Bout de Souffle).

In a new memoir, Solal describes his experiences in the American black jazz world, in the film industry and as a classical composer. His manner betrays an almost childlike sense of curiosity and playfulness. That comes from his lifelong fascination with freedom and structure, says Claude Carriere, a jazz historian and longtime programmer at Radio France.

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