Jack SELS was one of the greatest Belgian jazz saxophonists after World War II. Although he left only a few records, he was definitely an influential figure for the Belgian scene.
Born on January 29, 1922, Jack SELS grew up in Antwerp. He first studies piano, then starts playing the saxophone. To make a living, he opens an ice cream parlour, works on boats. He gets to hear the lastest albums of Lester YOUNG, Dizzy GILLESPIE, Charlie PARKER, Miles DAVIS.
At the end of World War II, his good knowledge of English allows him to get in touch to the U.S. soldiers stationed in Antwerp. A good way to get the jazz records he was looking after.
After the war he joins the band of Mickey BUNNER, with Roger ASSELBERGHS, both schoolbuddies. He plays for the Red Cross, for the G.I.'s. He appears in various clubs, casinos, hotels... In May 46, the Mickey BUNNER Band records "the 13th port" on a 78 record.
Jack SELS hears the English band of Ted HEATH, and starts to play with the musicians of the new generation : saxophonists Bobby JASPAR and Jacques PELZER, guitarist René THOMAS, bassists Benoît QUERSIN, Jean WARLAND and René GOLDSTEIN, trombonist Christian KELLENS, pianist Francis COOPIETERS, SADI, Toots THIELEMANS.
He appears at the Knokke Jazz Festival in '48.
Impressed by the Dizzy GILLESPIE Big Band that came to Antwerp in 1948, Jack SELS decides to start up a big band, for which he writes music. The band makes an impressive debut with some of the best players in 1949 : Trumpets : Paul HEYNDRICKX, Charlie KNEGTEL, Theo MERTENS, Herman SANDY and Nick FISSETTE; Trombones : Nat PECK, Frans VAN DIJK, Jan MERTENS and Christian KELLENS; Saxes : Jay CAMERON, Marcel PEETERS, Gene VERSTREPEN, Bobby JASPAR and Roger ASSELBERGHS, plus Jean WARLAND (bass), Francis COPPIETERS (piano), John WARD (drs), Rudy FRANKEL (congas) and Bill VILEZ (bongos).
But it is hard to keep such a large band together, a.o. financially.
After hearing the Miles DAVIS Capitol sessions (Birth of the Cool), he goes in 1951 for a 15 piece band : Trumpets : Charlie KNETGEL and Herman SANDY; Christian KELLENS, trombone; Francy BOLAND (mellophone !); Saxes : André COEL, Alex SCORIER and Roger ASSELBERGH, François VAN DEN BOGAERT (oboe), Jérôme DE MEIRLEIR (bassoon), Hubert VENNESOEN (cello), Alphonse DILLEN (tuba), plus Jean FANIS (p), Benoît QUERSIN (b) and Rudy FRANKEL (drs).
He then works in occupied Germany with his small group : Herman SANDY, Nick FISSETTE (tp), Jay CAMERON (alto sax), Christian KELLENS (tb), Jean FANIS (p), Benoît QUERSIN (b) and Rudy FRANKEL (drs). In March '52, they open up for Dizzy GILLESPIE in Brussels.
The band also included at different times : Willy ALBIMOOR (p), Etienne VERSCHUEREN (alto sax), Roger VANHAVERBEKE (b), Cees SEE (drs, NL).
Back in Belgium, he plays again in the club and concert scene, a.o. opposite Nat King COLE or Mezz MEZZROW ('55).
In '54 and '55, he records six sides for Ronnex Records, in a rather commercial "boogie" style.
In '55, Jack SELS writes the soundtrack for the movie "Meeuwen sterven in de haven" (directed by Roland VERHAVERT).
In '58, he plays at the Brussels World Fair with his group (with Christian KELLENS).
For Decca, he records with Willy ROCKIN (with a.o. Jean WARLAND, Jean FANIS, Rudy FRANKEL, Charlie KNEGTEL. He signs the compositions and arrangements.
He appears on the Decca LP "Jazz in Little Belgium" for two numbers.
He records "Bongo Jazz" with Lucky THOMPSON and participates in the radio series or NIR "Levende Jazz" (Live Jazz) with Jean FANIS (p), Roger VAN HAVERBEKE (b) and Rudy FRANKEL or Freddy ROTTIER (drs), and also with drummer Al JONES, whose trio plays with many famous U.S. soloists.
In '59, Jack SELS has the opportunity to jam in Brussels with Lester YOUNG and Max ROACH.
In September '61, he records "ORIGINAL STUDIO RECORDING" (LP/ IBC 4C054-97754) with organ player Lou BENNETT (who in the original release appears under the nickname "Goliath" for contractual reasons), the young Philip CATHERINE (gt) and Oliver JACKSON (drs).
In '63, his financial difficulties force him to work at the Antwerp harbour to unload boats...!
The Belgian movie " Just Friends" (by Marc-Henri WAJNBERG, 1993, with music by Michel HERR, featuring Archie SHEPP), although purely fictional, was definitely inspired by the unique figure of the great Jack SELS.
At the same time, the BRT radio start a series of concerts, for which producer Elias GISTELINCK calls Jack to write and play. A very successfull series of "Saxorama" follows, in which a sax section is featured, an ensemble that will become the core of the future BRT Jazz Orchestra. 2 LPs on the Vogel label contain 19 tracks of those concerts (63-66).
Still in '63, he plays concerts for kids in the schools as an introduction to jazz with specialist Juul ANTHOONISSEN.
Jack SELS also played with many American musicians, a.o. pianist Milt BUCKNER.
He wrote numerous compositions and arrangements for small and large bands, even two symphonies.
His music has been played and recorded a.o. by Johnny GRIFFIN, the CLARKE-BOLAND Big Band, just to name a few.
He also wrote 5 symphonies, influenced by the jazz idiom.
The last three years of his life, his health unfortunately declined, making it very difficult for him to play.
He died on March 21, 1970, from a heart attack, in his Antwerp home (located in the Hoogstraat).
Jack SELS didn't record much. Most of the 78rpm and LPs are impossible to find. There are some rumors of possible reissues on CD...
Let's mention 2 LPs released by the Belgian "Vogel" label : "The Complete Jack Sels vol. 1 & 2” (Vogel 101AS & 102AS), with the Al Jones Trio, including Jean Fanis, Roger Vanhaverbeke, Philip Catherine, a saxophone section and more.
For those who read some Dutch, JAZZ HALO, the Flemish jazz magazine, has published in its #3 issue a nice article by Sim SIMONS on Jack SELS, which includes some informations on his records, and which has been the main source of inspiration for writing this biography.
The complete Jack Sels, double LP (Vogel 104AS & 1025AS)