Saturday 24 April 1982

JACK SAY (English version)

The following article is an overview of the career of Belgian multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and conductor Jack Say (pseudonym of Jacques Ysaye). The main sources of information are (1) an interview with Jacques Ysaye, conducted by Bas Tukker in February 2010 in Sint-Genesius-Rode; (2) Jacques Ysaye’s unpublished autobiography, which he wrote in the months leading up to his 90th birthday in 2012; this priceless document was kindly put at my disposal by Ysaye’s son-in-law Richard Franckx. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Jack Say’s Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2010 & 2023

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  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Jack Say
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: August 12th, 1922, Ixelles, Brussels (Belgium)
Died: July 4th, 2017, Uccle, Brussels (Belgium)
Nationality: Belgian


As a composer, Jack Say took part in the Eurovision Song Contest editions of 1956 and 1960, penning the music to Belgian entries ‘Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine’ and ‘Mon amour pour toi’, which were both performed by Fud Leclerc. In 1958, he also took care of the orchestration of Leclerc’s Eurovision effort ‘Ma petite chatte’. Later on, in 1970 and 1982, Jack Say conducted the festival orchestra for two other Belgian entries, ‘Viens l’oublier’ by Jean Vallée and ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’ by Stella. For the latter, he wrote additional orchestral parts to be played over the record arrangement in the international final.


Jacques Ysaye was born in Ixelles, Brussels, the second son of Antoine Ysaye – who in turn was the son of world famous Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931). Although Jacques was actually born in the early hours of August 13th, 1922, that date does not appear in the official books. “Because my mother was very superstitious,” Jacques explains, “she asked the obstetrician to write down August 12th – and this woman saw no harm in obliging. Was this an omen? As I see it, I’ve been pretty lucky in my life, at least in my professional life.”

During the First World War, Jacques' father Antoine had fought in the trenches of West Flanders, which meant he had not been able to complete his education. In compensation, his father Eugène put him in charge of his music publishing company, Éditions Ysaye – and later Antoine also started an event management agency, organising classical music concerts, Concerts Ysaye. His father forced Jacques to take violin lessons from the age of five, but grandfather Eugène, the acclaimed violinist, had his reservations.

“It was a tradition for all members of the Ysaye family to learn to play this diabolical instrument,” says Jacques. “Somehow, our family thought that this was the way it should be, because grandpa was a violinist. He didn't like that; one day he asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ‘Tram conductor or bridge builder,’ I said – because I had a Meccano box! ‘Now that's very good, little fellow! Never embark on a musical career, because with your last name it will be terribly difficult to be successful!’ Those words did not fall on deaf ears. A few months later I stopped taking violin lessons. I had a very good excuse. (…) I did well at school and, because we lived close to Uccle’s grammar school, I was allowed to take the entrance exam at the age of ten – and I passed! As a result, I was allowed to skip the last grade of primary school, but it took a lot of effort to catch up with the secondary school level. That was why my father agreed to cut short my violin lessons, at which I was not excelling, by the way. This allowed me to fully devote myself to my studies.”

As an adolescent, Jacques’ main hobby was playing football, although at a certain point music came in again; to entertain his comrades, he occasionally improvised on a  mouth organ he had bought himself. Meanwhile, in 1937, six years after his grandfather's death, the first edition of the so-called Concours Ysaye was held – renamed the Queen Elisabeth Competition later on, one of the most prestigious competitions in classical music worldwide. For young Jacques, the first edition of the competition had an unexpected, and not necessarily unpleasant, consequence. “All rehearsals took place at the Brussels conservatoire. Being scions of Eugène Ysaye, my brother Serge and I were always allowed to walk in freely. As these two adolescents entered the premises, we were literally attacked by young girls studying the violin. They all wanted to boast they had had a fling with a descendant of that famous grandfather.”

Jacques Ysaye's grandfather, the world-famous violinist Eugène Ysaye (1858-1931)

Because his brother Serge, who was two years his senior, had already enrolled at university as a medical student, Jacques had to think of other options after obtaining his grammar school diploma in 1939; his father simply could not afford to send a second son to university as well. Instead, young Jacques set his mind on the entrance exam of the Royal Military Academy, in order to realise his childhood dream of becoming an engineer come true. After a whole summer of studying, however, Germany invaded Poland, whereupon Britain declared war on the Hitler regime, the start of World War II. Father Antoine, mentally scarred by his experiences as a soldier in the trenches, now forbade his son to take the entrance exam. For Jacques, who had just turned 17, his father’s decision came as a blow.

“There I was, all my energy gone. I got sick, no doubt because I had studied too hard. The doctor forbade me to touch another textbook for a year, but he did make a suggestion. 'You are from a family of musicians, right? Why don’t you try playing an instrument again?' At my age, it was pointless to try my hand at the violin again, which is why I dusted off my old mouth organ. Before I knew it, I found myself in The Blowing Swingers, a group formed by Pierre Hermange – three mouth organs, a double bass, and an acoustic guitar. Around that time, I also received a special gift. My father was friends with a bandleader who was originally a clarinettist. He presented me with a clarinet, thus allowing me to enrol in music school. There, I made so much progress that I completed the first three years in nine months, partly because I remembered the solfeggio lessons I had had as a little boy. In the meantime, I became a bit of a jack of all trades in my little jazz band; I quickly bought my first guitar, a very simple one with just four strings instead of six.”

In the spring of 1940, German forces occupied Belgium. Even so, life in Brussels soon resumed its usual course, also for young Jacques. “After a few moments of fear, we discovered that the Germans weren’t as bad as we had been told – but we would seriously reconsider that judgment later on! The Germans we met loved music in general and jazz in particular. Meanwhile, Pierre Hermange had given our ensemble a new name, Les Cinq de l'Harmonica. We performed in just about every bar and restaurant in occupied Brussels. Once, we were engaged by an ice cream parlour at Rue Neuve. We were put in the display case and our music lured a huge crowd to the shop. (…) Moreover, we did tours with all kinds of artists. We were the support act to Charles Trenet, Henry Garat, Raymond Devos, Maurice Teynac, Paul Meurisse, André Claveau… and even the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with the fantastic Django Reinhardt (on guitar – BT) and clarinettist Hubert Rostaing . Both of those guys took the time to teach me some tricks on their respective instruments.”

Although making tremendous progress at the music school, Jacques was hoping for a quick end to the war and a chance to report for university education. To bridge the gap, he enrolled at the Royal Conservatoire in Brussels. For two years (1940-42), he studied the clarinet with Pierre Delaye, while the theoretical subjects were taught by Jean Strauwen. Ysaye mainly paid his tuition fees with the money earned from his performances with Les Cinq de l'Harmonica, although he also worked as a bar guitarist and guitar teacher.

Series of two Belgian stamps released in 1937 on the occasion of the first Concours Ysaye, later renamed Queen Elisabeth Competition

“Especially playing as a guitarist in bars ensured me a decent income in those difficult times. I gave part of what I earned to my father – and he needed it, because he was in dire straits now that there was hardly any interest in the classical concerts he organised. In the meantime, music academy staff soon found out that I worked extensively in entertainment music. With Les Cinq de l'Harmonica we were regularly booked for three months in cafés and restaurants – even across the French border in Lille. Unfortunately, there was a rule which stated that academy students weren’t allowed to work professionally. That’s why I was summoned by the director, who gave me a clear choice; if you want to continue your studies, you’ll have to give up your freelance work completely. Because I knew by then that I didn’t want to be a classical clarinettist, I decided to leave the academy. Fortunately, Jean Strauwen offered to continue giving me private lessons in harmony, which happened to be the subject that interested me most!”

“By then I had also started writing arrangements – most notably all charts for Les Cinq de l'Harmonica. As I admired the orchestra of Stan Brenders, which played on German-controlled national radio station INR, I mustered up my courage, wrote a first big band composition, personally presenting it to him as he and his musicians were rehearsing in Studio 6. The piece was called 'Hésitation'. The rehearsal was suspended because Brenders and his musicians were curious to check my score. To my surprise, the orchestra began to applaud loudly for me. Brenders said, “If you want your compositions to succeed, you have to Americanise your name.” He felt it would be impossible to build a reputation in jazz music with the name Ysaye. On the spot, he came up with the idea Jack Say, omitting the first and last syllables of my last name. It was a name that sounded like a bell. I was over the moon! This would be the name which I used professionally for the rest of my career. I was twenty years old! A few months later Brenders recorded my composition with his orchestra, with none other than Hubert Rostaing playing the clarinet solo!”

Brenders then asked Jacques Ysaye – Jack Say from then on – to arrange various American jazz pieces using French or Dutch titles, given that English titles (and Anglo-Saxon jazz music in a broader sense) meanwhile had been banned by the Germans. He also started writing for Hubert Rostaing and Django Reinhardt. In 1943, when he had no work with ‘Les Cinq’, Jack Say signed a three-month contract as a guitarist in the octet of Rudy Bruder, a Belgian orchestra leader working in a restaurant in Lille.

“Obviously, I also brought my clarinet, on which I played in a small formation consisting of part of the band in between regular performances, giving the rest of the musicians a chance to catch their breath. The problem was that the first saxophonist of the orchestra had been halted by the Germans at the Belgian-French border due to not having the correct travel documents. The man also played the violin – and Bruder’s original plan was to let him go around the tables. Now Rudy gave that assignment to me, so I took out my clarinet. During the second week in Lille, where we enjoyed great success, there was a man in the restaurant, who was accompanied by a charming lady companion. He asked me to play some popular songs. Each time, ordering champagne for the orchestra, he used his fork to push a large banknote into the bell of my clarinet… until it was completely clogged and I couldn’t play on. That was exactly when the nighttime curfew came into effect. With all the other musicians, I hurried to our dressing room. When dismantling my clarinet there, we found the fabulous sum of 17,000 French francs!”

An early Jack Say composition, entitled '1492', recorded by his group Les Cinq de l'Harmonica in 1942

The following day, police officers were on the doorstep of the restaurant. Rudy Bruder was taken away for questioning. The orchestra members were terrified that the generous client of the night before, a notorious French collaborator, would demand his money back, but this was not the case. As it turned out, in an adjoining room of the same restaurant, an unsuspecting Flemish orchestra had been playing a popular French patriotic march night after night. The audience had enthusiastically sung an anti-German text to the melody. In the end, Bruder was released, but the premises were closed down for two months by order of occupation authorities.

“So we were out on the street, with a fantastic contract in an establishment closed by the Kommandantur! You should have seen our surprised faces, when the chef of the restaurant told us we would continue to be paid, provided that we were present during our working hours… and that we would play to an empty hall! Well, not completely empty, because every day there was the same old Feldgendarme who was the only spectator at our performances – although he usually dozed off after a minute or two!”

“Rudy had made a set of arrangements for our formation; three saxes with trumpet, bass, guitar, percussion, and himself at the piano. Given that one saxophonist had been unable to make it to Lille rendered those arrangements useless… but then he had an idea, “As a clarinet player you should be able to play the saxophone too.” I replied that I was willing to try, but that I didn’t own a saxophone. “No problem, because the third saxophonist has two instruments with him and he is happy to lend you one.” I bought the saxophone with part of my ‘clarinet loot’ – and I would go on to use it throughout my career; it was a Selmer, a brand no longer existing. That evening, I sat in my little room trying to get a sound out of this instrument, and to my great surprise I succeeded... with a small error from time to time. As for the hand position, it wasn't a problem given that it's the same as a clarinet’s. So the next day, I sat down at the desk of the first alto saxophone, while Rudy put an arrangement in front of me; Duke Ellington's ‘Sophisticated Lady’. For the rest of my life, I never had to play such a difficult score again, but after a few rehearsals I succeeded! That was my baptism of fire as a saxophonist.”

“After our ‘contract’ in Lille had expired, I returned to Belgium to play in a few galas with Les Cinq, especially in the Pot d'Or in Liège, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Just then, Jean Prévot came to see me, whose father was chief of the Belgian army band. Following the occupation of our country, this man had of course lost his job, upon which he had formed a large orchestra, performing with it in the Ancienne Belgique (large concert hall in Brussels – BT). He hired me as first clarinet player and third alto saxophonist. That’s where I really got to know the métier. It was terribly difficult, you know, because until then I had only played in bars and restaurants. But I managed, even taking to the stage as a singer a few times – and with some success, so much so that I didn't know where to start with the sudden attention of so many girls.”

Jacques Ysaye with his daughter Claude, born in December 1945

“I shouldn’t forget to add that, throughout that period, I was protected from being deported to Germany for forced labour thanks to a pass delivered to me by Major Grünert, who supervised INR’s music department. That man had arranged a bogus contract for Les Cinq de l'Harmonica – or so we thought, for we only had to play for the radio once a month. However, we didn’t know that these recordings were used for propaganda broadcasts aimed at London (the Germans used a special propaganda stations, the so-called Deutsche Europasender, which broadcast jazz programmes interspersed with German propaganda, intended to discourage British public opinion – BT). This permit had to be renewed every six months, but when the new deadline of June 15th, 1944 had come, the Major was away, called up to serve at the front, because the Allies had just landed in Normandy. Gone was my lifeline! Unsuspectingly, I reported to the military command. There was the Luxembourgish lady who had also received me the previous time as well, but she told me that no more passes were being extended. In fact, she advised me to leave the building quietly through a back door, which opened onto a small alley.”

Until the liberation of Brussels on September 2nd, 1944, Jack Say went into hiding. In those months, he wrote arrangements, which were played by a revue orchestra in Théâtre Le Gaîté. After the Germans had been driven out, he played with the orchestras of Charlie Calmeyn and René Gil, while writing orchestrations for numerous other ensembles, in particular Eddie De Latte's big band. However, in February 1945, Say was struck down by lung complaints, which forced him to spend almost the entire year in sanatoriums outside Brussels. In the meantime, he continued to arrange. Upon his return to the capital in December 1945, he made his comeback with René Gil, while also transforming his old group, Les Cinq de l'Harmonica, into a ballroom orchestra. On Sunday afternoons, he and his quintet played at the Le Versailles establishment in the famous Royal St-Hubert Galleries. As for René Gil, Say stayed with his orchestra until 1947, when the bandleader lost him to his colleague and competitor Eddie De Latte, for whose grand orchestra Ysaye had been writing arrangements for a some time.

“Eddie De Latte wanted to include me in his fantastic orchestra of thirty musicians – a full big band with twelve string players – which performed in the Taverne du Métropole, an auditorium holding 1,500 spectators at the time. Believe it or not, René Gil and Eddie De Latte decided to play cards to see who would have me! Eddie won, but René imposed one condition on me; to find a replacement, who had to be able to play at least the guitar as well as the mouth organ. So I found myself on the phone to find that needle in the haystack. Through back channels, I learnt of a guy who had already played in a few dance halls, including the Claridge at Chaussée de Louvain. I tracked down his address – or rather, that of his uncle, who owned a shop. When I arrived, I was told that Jean was there, but that he was very ill… he was suffering from asthma. When I explained to them why I came, they told me, ‘You can find him upstairs in his little room, but you shouldn’t stay too long.’ There I found him, confined to his bed with a severe lung ailment, a really affable chap who turned out to know me from my performances. I shared with him my issue.”

“Between two coughing fits, he told me that he was willing to audition. It turned out he had never worked as a professional. I asked him to play something on both of his instruments. He started with the guitar, on which he turned out to know all the hand positions and chords. So I was very pleased with that. When he took up the mouth organ, I asked him what he wanted to play, because I had already picked up the guitar to accompany him. He gave me the title of the piece, ‘Dinah’. I then gave him four bars in advance, in C, because I only knew how to play the mouth organ in this key… but he immediately stopped me, ‘No, no, play the original note, a B flat!' After playing the melody flawlessly, he performed one of those famous improvisations, the secret of which only he knew. I waited until he had recovered to introduce him to René Gil. René could hardly believe it and immediately forgot how downcast he had felt about letting me go. He signed the guy on the spot. A few years later, this fantastic jazz musician would go on to conquer the planet, but you might already have guessed that I’m speaking of Toots Thielemans. If I hadn't accidentally stumbled upon this man who went on become one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, he would have surfaced sooner or later – that much is clear.”

After playing with Eddie De Latte for over a year – the last few months of which in a smaller orchestra in a dance hall on the boulevard of Scheveningen, Netherlands – Jacques Ysaye was called up for military service in the summer of 1948, together with his old comrades from Les Cinq de l'Harmonica. The quintet was not given a particularly hard time, because, instead of drills and target practice, the group was commissioned to tour the Rhine region in a company of various artists to entertain the Allied troops. After a few months, the five musicians were allowed to return to Brussels. In the following months, Jack Say played as a substitute with various orchestras, including the G.I. Joe's, a big band with strings led by Dutch émigré Ernst van 't Hof. Additionally, he wrote arrangements for Van 't Hof as well as for the orchestras of Gene Dersin and Léo Souris.

“Moreover,” Jack Say adds, “I had also started trying my hand at writing small ‘commercial’ arrangements to some of my own compositions, which were published by Éditions Mottart and others. These were intended for amateur orchestras across the country, enabling them to obtain original and contemporary repertoire. I always made sure the charts could be played in different line-ups, ranging from three to about twelve musicians. Once, on a Sunday afternoon, I went to visit friends who lived close to Namur. They invited me to join them for a drink in a local bistro, where an orchestra was playing. The bandleader recognised my face, because most of my sheet music also had a photo on the front. He told me, ‘Earlier this week, I received one of your most recent orchestrations. If you want, we can play it for you.’ That was fine with me, of course, but they made a terrible hash of it. After this ‘great’ performance, the bandleader came to my table again, saying, ‘You know, at the beginning we play without taking into account the finer details in the music notation, but at least the rhythm is good – so people can dance to it!’ And that’s how I started making money from sheet music…”

After Jack Say had spent the summer of 1949 in a hotel on Lake Neuchâtel with a jazz trio he had formed, he was contacted by an interesting party. “I received a call from the Belgian section of Radio Luxembourg. They asked me if I was able to produce a series of jingles for them. After talking to the writer of the commercials, I assembled a session orchestra. Because this radio station did not have its own studio in Brussels, they rented a dance hall, Le Claridge, where all the technical equipment was brought. That was a very successful enterprise; for years, a recording session was organised every three months with advertisements in French and Flemish, each time requiring weeks of preparation.”

In addition, Jack Say had specialised in writing arrangements for different radio orchestras since the late 1940s. “It started with a request from Mr Émile de Radoux, who was director of the Light Music Department at INR, to renew the repertoire of the Orchestre Radio, the classical radio orchestra conducted by Edgard Doneux. It consisted of good musicians, but they had quite a bit of trouble playing jazz music. To help them, I wrote a huge pile of arrangements – certainly over 200 – with a jazz feel, but also orchestrations to American musical repertoire and popular songs. One of them was 'La mer'… and later on I was complimented on it by Charles Trenet himself. The trick was to write the arrangements in a way which suited classical musicians. Subsequently, French-language and Flemish radio each formed specialised jazz orchestras, led by Henri Segers and Francis Bay respectively. I worked for both, but especially for Segers who, unlike Bay, did not write any arrangements himself.”

Jack Say conducting the Grand Orchestre Symphonique - in fact a group of freelance musicians - at the Gala de Bienfaisance in Brussels (1952), with Léo Souris (far left) at the piano

In 1951, as part of the Marshall Plan, Jack Say was invited to conduct a series of his orchestral arrangements in a recording session in Paris. “It was an orchestra of sixty musicians – and I had never conducted a grand orchestre in my life! Radio stations from all countries receiving Marshall Aid had been requested to send a conductor with a series of arrangements for a large show programme to be broadcast throughout Europe and America. The day before, I was in bed with a fever of forty degrees, for which my brother Serge, who was a doctor, prescribed me some very strong medication, but in hindsight I was mainly suffering from nerves at the prospect of standing in front of that huge orchestra without any conducting experience. Fortunately, my father drove me from Brussels to Paris the next morning, because I was still a bit groggy from the medication. Furthermore, there happened to be a thick fog, making driving very dangerous that morning.”

“We arrived on time at a large studio on Avenue Hoche, where we were received in a most friendly fashion by the director of the Marshall Plan in Paris. When I climbed the conductor’s podium to rehearse the pieces for the first time, the orchestra stood up as one man to greet me. Can you imagine? The first piece distributed to the musicians was 'La mer'. After playing it through for a first time, the sound engineer asked me to come and have a listen in his cabin; although some details still required improvement, it already sounded like the great American orchestras, a sound that Belgians only knew from gramophone records brought from abroad. At that moment, I noticed that I had a feel for conducting – an important moment for my self-confidence. Suddenly I didn't feel the fever anymore! By 4.30pm, all twelve arrangements had been taped, so we journeyed home thoroughly satisfied.”

The following year, Jack Say was asked to conduct a freelance orchestra of 42 musicians at a charity concert, the Gala de Bienfaisance, held at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. “The pianist in that orchestra was Léo Souris, who had his own orchestra at the time in the Palace Hotel. I wrote arrangements for them. Léo’s role in the concert was very important, because one of the pieces was 'Rhapsody In Blue' by Gershwin… with those complicated piano solos! Given that it was probably my first time as a conductor in front of an audience, my nerves were tense. At a certain moment, Léo lost his way during the solo. What was I supposed to do? Léo, who was a little older than me, handled the situation wonderfully by giving me a sign when I had to start the orchestra again. It must have been one of the few times that Léo made such a mistake, because he was a great pianist – and a very nice guy as well. Everyone in the music world liked him!”

In addition to his work for various radio stations, Jack Say also played in the orchestras of Wally Sluyzer, Robert De Kers, and others, but he gradually worked in the live circuit less and less frequently, the main reason being his increasing involvement as an arranger and conductor in the recording studio. Initially, he mainly worked for the Decca company – at first exclusively as an arranger, but after the death of the company’s permanent conductor, he took over his job as well. In 1955, he recorded a single with a French singer who was still unknown at that time.

“Decca’s managing director had contacted me about doing a recording with a lady he thought was interesting. An appointment was made and so, one day, she and her husband called at my parents' house (Ysaye had temporarily moved in with his parents after a divorce – BT). She sat at the piano, singing the two titles she wanted to record with an orchestra, 'Mon pote le gitan' and 'L'œillet blanc'. Her choice struck me as unusual, given that both songs had already been performed by the respective songwriters, but it was pretty obvious that this woman dressed in all-black had personality. She was Barbara, who had a great career ahead of her. So I can pride myself in having made the arrangement and conducted the orchestra for her very first record… which wasn’t a big success. Her immense talent wasn’t recognised until later, when she went to Paris.”

“In 1957, record company RCA ordered three longplaying records from me with instrumental versions of American standards. For the recordings, I conducted the fifty-strong orchestra of Radio Suisse Romande in Geneva. When the rehearsals were already in progress, the American producer suddenly showed up in the studio, explaining that this was not at all the style he had asked for! On the phone, he had asked for orchestrations that had to sound broad, but my Belgian intermediary had understood bright. What a catastrophe! There I was with 36 arrangements that had to be rewritten completely. My wife Annie, who was five months pregnant, had come with me to Switzerland; we stayed in a beautiful hotel, with our spacious room offering a view of the lake. We spent the weekend correcting the first set of orchestrations – and the following nights adjusting the rest. There was music paper all over the room. Fortunately, Annie took piano lessons as a child, so she read music. As such, she could help me putting all the papers in order. In the end, everything worked out well. Those records were released on the American market.”

“When I returned to Brussels, my father had a good idea, advising me to set up my own music publishing house. This would allow me to print and distribute my commercial orchestrations all by myself. This heralded the birth of Cinedisc Music. One of the first pieces I released was 'Mascarade', a march which incorporated a potpourri of songs. It became a real hit with small amateur orchestras who played it at balls and parties just about everywhere. In the same period, I also wrote a lot of cartoon music. That’s how I became acquainted with producers from the film world – and that led to other assignments, first for corporate films, then for short films, and finally also a long documentary about the Catholic mission in Congo, which was still a part of Belgium at the time.”

The documentary in question, directed by Gérard de Boe, was entitled Tokendé and premiered at the Expo, the 1958 World Fair in Brussels. Speaking about the Expo, Jack Say smiles, “I had two reasons to rejoice; on the one hand there was a wind orchestra, Oberbayern, which played my 'Mascarade' several times a day, while Tokendé was played daily in the pavilion of the Catholic Missions. Rarely did I earn more from copyrights than in 1958. Still, I never went to the fair myself, because I am not a fan of this type of event where large audiences gather. Yet I was also involved in another way, because I was commissioned by the broadcaster to lead the radio entertainment orchestra at a one-off show, La Belgique Joyeuse.”

Playing the mouth organ at the casino in Ostend (1954)

For his Tokendé soundtrack, Jack Say won first prize at the Antwerp Film Music Festival in 1959. It was not the only award he received in those years, also making a name for himself as a composer of songs in different music competitions. His compositions won first prize three times in the Concours de la Chanson (in 1953 and 1956 in Knokke; and in 1954 in Brussels). Moreover, he was the winning composer of the Belgian preliminary round of the Eurovision Song Contest twice (1956, 1960). In 1964, a chanson composed by him won the Concours de la Louve d'Or in La Louvière.

In 1959, the Orchestre Radio, for which he had written many arrangements, commissioned Jack Say to write orchestrations to a series of compositions by his grandfather Eugène Ysaye, including his 8th Violin Concerto.

“They required ten pieces for a broadcast, L'École Belge du Violon. These arrangements were partly intended for the Great Symphony Orchestra, partly just for violin and piano. Those were wonderful sessions with Georges Béthune conducting and the best Belgian soloists, notably Maurice Raskin. For me it felt like the next destination on what had become a very strange journey; after starting my musical studies classically on the violin, then dropping it for jazz and the mouth organ, then going back to classical music at the conservatoire studying the clarinet, but having plunged into jazz and entertainment music following the war, I now came back to the classical part of the music world. Everything my good teacher of harmony and orchestration had taught me came back into my memory. Later, those recordings were successfully released on record by my father under the title ‘Échos du Souvenir’.”

In 1962, Jack Say's composition 'Caprice Jazz' was the main attraction of the Belgian entry to the prestigious Venice Festival, where Flemish broadcaster BRT carried off the main award, the so-called Golden Gondola. The genesis of 'Caprice Jazz', which Say considered his most important composition, went back to the years just after World War II.

Conducting the Grand Prix des Variétés, a show sponsored by Belgium's importer of car brand Volkswagen, which was broadcast on Radio Luxembourg (c. 1961)

“Back in the day when I was writing arrangements for Eddie De Latte, he once said, “You studied the violin, didn't you? Why don’t you write a longer piece of about 15 minutes for solo violin and orchestra?” I answered that I lacked the time and inspiration to do that. Furthermore, composing wasn’t an important part of my income. Nevertheless, I wrote a rough version, which De Latte and his orchestra played three or four times in the Métropole auditorium, but without much success. Years later, when I had reviewed my grandfather's works in the context of L'École Belge du Violon, I also came across this 'Caprice Jazz' in my archives. I spoke about it with René Costy, a Belgian solo violinist – and he was very keen to play it. After the musical director at the radio had given his approval, I rewrote my composition for Costy and the Orchestre Radio with an additional rhythm section. The result was wonderful, but with radio you never knew if the audience also liked it.”

“Somewhat later, Fernand Terby was commissioned by BRT to form a huge orchestra with a classical set-up, but also including a full big band. Frank Engelen did a magnificent job on re-arranging the Costy version of my 'Caprice' for this orchestra. The work was performed in the main hall of the Zoology in Antwerp with Georges Octors as violinist. The audience loved it! BRT then decided to submit my composition to the Venice Festival in 1962. Because you were supposed to submit original work, the arrangement had to be adjusted again. Albert Speguel, the first violinist I hired for all my session work, came up with the idea of retaining Engelen’s orchestration, yet re-arranging it for four violins. Among the participants in Venice was the famous band leader Helmut Zacharias, who came second behind my 'Caprice'.”

In those years, Jack Say was involved as an arranger and conductor in a large-scale song festival broadcast by Radio Luxembourg, Le Grand Prix des Variétés, for an impressive six seasons (1958-63). He became involved in the program thanks to his good friend Jean Libotte, who enjoyed some success as a singer under the stage name Jean Miret, while working at Belgium’s distributor of Volkswagen during weekdays. Together with Libotte, Jack Say also wrote songs for Annie Cordy and Tohama in the 1950s. When Libotte came up with the idea for a competition sponsored by Volkswagen in 1958 – the winning artist took home a car of this brand – the suggestion was enthusiastically embraced by Radio Luxembourg. Rehearsals always took place in Brussels, but the shows were held throughout the country, both north and south of the language border. Jean Libotte was the programme’s executive producer, while Jack Say was the musical director, taking care of most of the arrangements. He also recruited the musicians; in the quarterfinals, a small combo was hired, while the orchestra was expanded a bit for the semis.

“… and for the grand final, there was a thirty-piece orchestra,” Jack Say adds. “It was an immense success that sent record sales through the roof. At the semifinals and finals, guest performers were invited; just about all the important French artists of the time, such as Gilbert Bécaud, Sacha Distel, Jean-Claude Pascal, Jacques Brel, and Dario Moreno. (…) The six seasons of the Grand Prix only took up two working days per week, except when the final was approaching. Hence, the programme didn't take up all my time, enabling me to continue my activities as an arranger, conductor, and even producer of gramophone records for almost all the Belgian singers of that time.”

Jack Say (far left, playing sax) with The Twistin' Guys, a freelance group of musicians recording cover versions of well-known chart successes on the Expo label (c. 1962)

As a freelancer, Jack Say was involved in recordings for a string of artists, mainly Flemish. Jo Leemans, Rina Pia, and Louis Neefs were among the singers recording studio work with his arrangements. He also regularly worked with Francophone singer Fud Leclerc, while Robert Cogoi had a hit with Say's arrangement to ‘Si un jour’ (1962). In 1960, Jack Say even led the orchestra for a recording with the then very popular Italian singer Caterina Valente and her song 'Mon cher amour', released by Decca. As if his work in the radio and record studios didn't take up enough of his time and energy, Jack Say also performed at small corporate events with his own jazz combo. These were busy times.

“The window of my study was partly visible from the street. Police officers who surveilled the neighbourhood during nighttime often saw me bent over a score at 2am. They told my maid, who in turn reported to my wife. She wasn’t over the moon with my burning of the midnight oil constantly… and that wasn't all, because after I had completed the arrangements, I personally took them to my copyist, who lived ten kilometres away from me and was used to doing all his work at night. The next morning at 9 am, we met again in the studio to record our nightly production.”

In 1967, Jack Say recorded a solo album as conductor with instrumental pieces for the American market, ‘Color In Music’, produced by Roland Kluger. The album was also released in various European countries. One of the pieces, ‘Evening Beat’, was picked up by an American producer, who renamed it ‘Brass Bonanza’. As such, the melody was the club anthem of ice hockey club New England Whalers for twenty years.

That same year, Say also had a hit as an arranger with 'N° 1 au hit parade' by Marc Aryan – although he only reaped the financial rewards, because, as Aryan did with all his arrangers, he bought off Say, allowing him to claim the arrangement as his own on the record cover. Working as a musical ghostwriter – referred to in French by the now somewhat politically incorrect sounding term nègre – was quite common at the time.

Jack Say's own freelance band, with which he performed across Belgium; back row, from left - Gus Decock (piano), Frankie Theunen (drums), and a trumpet player (name unknown); front row, from left - Dany Bernard (vocals, bass), Jack Say (sax, clarinet, mouth organ), and Freddy Sunder (vocals, guitar) (c. 1966)

“Marc Aryan had just had a hit with 'Katy',” Jack Say recalls, “but he wasn't happy with the way the arrangement had been done. He asked me to work with him to finish the orchestrations of four new songs, including 'N° 1 au hit parade'. He promised me mountains of gold, including the right to publish the sheet music – which is why I had it printed in advance. So we went to Paris, recording the material in Studio Davout with a 35-piece orchestra conducted by me. The result exceeded his expectations. Upon return, however, he didn’t keep his promise, giving the publishing rights of the sheet music to Marcel De Keukeleire. Fortunately, De Keukeleire had the decency to refund my printing costs. In retrospect, I should have doubted Aryan's intentions, because he had put me in a terrible hotel room in Paris. Adding insult to injury, he also took a very long time to pay me my fee.”

In 1966, Jack Say recorded a single with his nine-year-old son Kiki. After the boy got hold of a recorder at school, he invented a little melody on that instrument. At the encouragement of his father, he wrote his own text to it as well; 'Vive les chansons yé-yé' was born.

“I was dumbfounded,” Jack Say laughs. “The following week, he sang his song at a prom to huge success. (…) That gave me the idea to record a single with him (…) and I had the song perfected by a professional lyricist. The boy easily learnt the lyrics by heart and, before I knew it, we were in the studio doing a demo version with a small combo. The company I worked with at the time (Palette by Roland Kluger – BT) immediately accepted it, which meant I now was the producer of my own son. We then made a second recording with professional musicians, including a B-side in the same style. Shortly before the end-of-year festivities, the single was on sale – and it was a great success. In the following two years, Kiki released 24 more songs on two albums.”

“All this resulted in invitations for TV programmes (…) and also performances on smaller stages throughout the country. I accompanied him on a small portable organ, accompanied by three musicians. Maybe I made a mistake, because although Kiki loved performing for an audience, it took him a lot of effort. Furthermore, those gigs were always in the evening; and he had to go back to school the next morning. That’s why I soon decided to only accept invitations from TV and proms. Approaching his 11th birthday, his voice started to break (…). His last single was entitled 'Non, on ne verra jamais Kiki à l'Opéra'. On the other hand, our decision to stop was also influenced by the fact that the minimum royalties we earned did not match the income from the copyrights. According to the record company, this was the distributor’s fault. Still, it was strange, because why would a company invest so much in a project that yielded so little? Nevertheless, with the royalties we did receive – and which I had carefully put in Kiki's savings account – I was able to buy him a fantastic Gretsch drum kit, which was his dream.”

The album 'Color In Music', released in the USA in 1967

After Henri Segers' big band had been given the sack by RTB in 1966, the French-speaking broadcaster decided to form a new orchestra two years later. Jack Say was charged with recruiting the musicians, subsequently being appointed chief conductor of the ensemble.

“In this new RTB orchestra, I included as many musicians as possible who had also been in Segers’ band. Officially, Segers was fired due to health problems, but in fact he had a drinking problem. He remained with the broadcasting service in the following years, but he was given a desk job – as a producer of light music, but nothing much happened because he was in poor health. My orchestra was fundamentally different from his big band. Segers' band had been a real jazz orchestra, but I had been commissioned to form a full-fledged entertainment orchestra. So I put together a small jazz formation, but with strings, which enabled us to accompany singers. One of the orchestra members was Sadi on vibraphone.”

“After the success of the Grand Prix des Variétés on Radio Luxembourg, RTB wanted a kind of follow-up. Inventing La Caméra d'Argent, a singing competition with a similar formula, with preliminary rounds. The big difference was that this was a TV show, whereas the Grand Prix had been a radio event. It was RTB’s answer to Canzonissima, the BRT song competition that was so popular in Flanders. The recordings took place in the new studio on Boulevard Reyers, which held some 200 to 300 spectators. Of course many arrangements had to be written for La Caméra d'Argent, some of which I wrote myself, but I also asked others to help me, including my old friend Léo Souris. When there were no new soloists left, a new formula saw the daylight under the name Chanson du Siècle, a programme in which the most beautiful French chansons were performed by singers who had previously participated in La Caméra d'Argent.”

As a result of his work as a conductor at RTB, Jack Say was asked in 1971 to conduct the Belgica Cantat charity show in the Ancienne Belgique concert hall. A true star cast from home and abroad performed on that occasion, including Georges Brassens, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud, Léo Ferré, Zjef Vanuytsel, Johnny White, and Annie Cordy.

The RTB Television Orchestra, founded and conducted by Jack Say (c. 1970)

In 1968, when he also joined RTB as a conductor, Jack Say bought a small recording studio in the heart of Brussels, near Place Brouckère. Before that time, the studio was regularly hired by Henri Segers' big band for its rehearsals. There was an in-house bar, which had been used as a private club for theatre artists, known as the Onyx Club. Together with Pol Clark, manager of the Onyx Club, and Dany Bernard, singer of Jack Say’s small jazz combo in those years, he transformed the premises into a commercial studio, renamed Studio DES (Diffusion Électronique Sonore).

“Initially, we mainly worked with aspiring artists, who were given the opportunity to record a demo at a bargain price. We were lucky that one of the first things we got involved in became a big hit, Wallace Collection with 'Daydream'; an interesting song that even included a piece of Tchaikovsky. These guys were all from Brussels. With that demo of ours under their arm, they convinced His Master's Voice in London to make a new recording – and it was a worldwide success. As a result, our reputation skyrocketed. His Master's Voice regularly sent artists to make test recordings. Soon, we started doing more than just taping demos. Among other things, ‘De laatste dans’ by Anja, a big hit in Flanders (in 1969 – BT), was recorded in Studio DES.”

“Admittedly I hated those demos, because we made money from people most of whom weren’t very talented. Partly for that reason, I started looking for ways to widen the range of activities. The bar was expanded into a restaurant, which soon started to take off. Toots Thielemans, Sadi, and Annie Cordy, among others, regularly dined there. That bar was also the setting for jam sessions for which the audience regularly stood on the street to listen. At first, it had been an amateur gathering organised by my younger brother Michel, who played bass and drums, but as the studio grew, professionals also showed up. For example, I remember Jeannot Morales joining on trumpet and Gus Decock on piano. I sometimes took part on the clarinet. In short, the studio became a kind of hangout for artists.”

“The studio itself was also expanded. In the basement, I had a Studio B constructed, which we used for smaller productions, most notably accompaniment music for striptease dancers, who worked in the streets around the studio – Rue aux Fleurs where our studio was located crossed Rue du Cirque, known for window prostitution. In 1976, I bought an automatic mixer, a Scully. We were the first studio in Europe to have such a device. Artists from abroad came to record with us. In addition, we often benefited from musicians' strikes in France. Looking for a solution, French artists would then come to studios in Brussels to record their work. For example, we recorded an LP with Jean-Claude Pascal, who came to Brussels with his arranger Pierre Porte. Even Jean-Claude Petit recorded arrangements in my studio.”

Jack Say (on the right) at work at Studio DES with a sound engineer at his side (1974)

Dutch artists also came to record in Studio DES. Jack Say's link with the record business in the Netherlands predated the establishment of his studio. Notably, he worked with the South American folk group Los Paraguayos, operating from Rotterdam at the time, for whom he wrote the arrangement to 'Quando vado sulla riva', the song with which the quintet participated in the 1966 San Remo Festival. In 1968, he wrote the charts to a beautiful album with small cantatas recorded by Corry Bokken. Furthermore, he was involved as an arranger and conductor in no fewer than five album projects of comedian and singer Herman van Veen. How did this ‘Dutch connection’ come about?

“In the 1960s, I produced a lot of records for Philips in Belgium,” Jack Say explains, “but suddenly that company decided to dismantle its Belgian production branch, moving everything north of the border to the Netherlands, all of which was part of a takeover by Polydor. This didn't change anything for me, except that I now had to cover the 200km between Brussels and Hilversum regularly – but I was generously rewarded for my trouble! The producer with whom I worked a lot, Hans (van Baaren – BT), was happy because he was Dutch and could now work from his home country. He introduced me to Herman van Veen (…) and also to Los Paraguayos.”

“In 1967, I accompanied Los Paraguayos to Munich for the first colour broadcast on the European continent. I was their conductor at a performance with a large orchestra. Those Germans had written out the whole script to the minute. “10'02: bus arrives,” and so on. Such schedules were problematic when working with South Americans who brought their wives and children. Los Paraguayos’ repertoire was carried by a very specific guitar sound, with my role being to ‘dress up’ their recognisable sound with gentle orchestrations which didn’t detract from their performance.”

“Later, during a session in my own studio in Brussels, I once had to stop a recording with them, because they had started singing out of tune. I suggested that we take a fifteen-minute break to have a drink at the bar. However, the guys chose to stay in the studio to rehearse. They promised to join us when they were done. So I went for a cup of coffee with the sound engineer. Because the group still hadn't come out after twenty minutes, we went to take a look in the sound booth. To our surprise, we saw all five members of the group lying flat on the studio floor, arms crossed. As it turned out, they were praying to Mother Mary to give them back their vocal abilities.”

Jack Say (on the left, seated at the table) with the actors of the so-called Théâtre des Galeries at the bar of Studio DES (1974)

“I was involved with Herman van Veen's records from the outset, when sessions took place in André van de Water's studio in Soest, where we also recorded Corry Brokken's cantata album. After Van de Water committed suicide, Hans van Baaren did not want to go to one of the major Dutch studios, such as Decca's. He preferred to come to my small studio in Brussels with Herman and all his musicians. They were a merry bunch, Herman and his orchestra – musically also fine for the theatre, but not steady enough for a studio production. I helped him with that. Obviously, Herman was mainly a Dutch phenomenon, but he was so special that I harassed RTB’s production team until they let him perform in a TV show. Although RTB served the French-speaking part of Belgium, Herman simply sang his songs in Dutch in that programme.”

As it turns out, Herman van Veen remembers Jack Say and his Brussels studio all too well. "Of course! Jack Say was a musician through and through; as an arranger, he was incredibly fast. He was a warm-hearted man with a serious sense of humour. His tiny studio was located in the middle of Brussels’ red-light district. My second and third album were recorded there. Musically speaking, he was very practical. If the session players didn’t show up, he played all the instruments himself without using a synthesiser.”

Jack Say's arrangements for Herman van Veen's work did not go unnoticed. In a review of the album 'Voor een verre prinses' (1970) in daily De Tijd, Paul Klare praised the “flawless orchestral arrangements by Jack Say from Belgium.” And, when the album ‘V’ saw the light the following year, the same journalist, who was disappointed that only two songs had additional orchestrations, wrote, “Arranger Jack Say should really have been called upon more often.”

Another Netherlands-based artist with whom Jack Say collaborated extensively was Julio Bernardo Euson. As an arranger for Polydor, Say recorded no fewer than six LPs with the Aruban crooner in a span of four years (1971-75). Among many other tracks, the hits 'Both Sides Now' and 'Julie' were arranged by Say. Jack Say recalls Euson as being "an imposing figure: 2 metres tall, black as ebony and speaking perfect English, which was easier for me than Dutch."

The Olympic Stadium of 1896 in Athens - usually referred to locally as the 'Callimarmaro' - packed for the 1973 Olympiad of Song

In 1973, Say accompanied Euson as a conductor to the Olympiad of Song in Athens, a large-scale song festival held at an impressive open-air venue, the Olympic Stadium of 1896. A staggering forty countries sent a contribution. Rather than representing the Netherlands, Euson took part under the flag of his native island, Aruba. In Athens, he performed the song 'Dirty Lady'.

“That festival took place in the summer. From my holiday home near Nice, I caught a plane to Athens, where temperatures turned out to be even higher than on the French Riviera – fifty degrees in the shade. Euson and his producer Hans van Baaren travelled to Athens separately. I met some acquaintances, because Belgium was represented by Tonia and her conductor was none other than Willy Albimoor! Fortunately, given the heat, rehearsals weren’t held in the stadium, but in a hall. There was a reasonably good orchestra with musicians who were mainly from Yugoslavia and Romania. Many of them spoke good French, so communication went smoothly. Next was the dress rehearsal and the performance in the Olympic Stadium with 50,000 to 60,000 spectators (according to one Greek newspaper, there were even 75,000 – BT).”

“When Euson came on, there was such a deafening applause that I could barely hear the orchestra when I counted them in – and Euson himself had the same problem. He got into a bit of trouble as a result, but that didn't matter; the public had already been very enthusiastic at the dress rehearsal, cheering us enthusiastically. Euson gave a fantastic performance, dressed in his snow-white suit. The audience gave our performance the biggest round of applause. The jury placed Euson in second place behind a Canadian girl (Julie Arel with 'Kamouraska' – BT). When the results were announced, the audience went mad with rage, throwing their seat cushions onto the stage. Most came down on the orchestra. People felt Euson should have won, chanting loudly, “Aruba, Aruba, Aruba.” Then a microphone was switched on, with an announcer explaining that there had been a mistake in reading out the results, as Canada and Aruba had actually finished in joint-first place. Both songs were reprised, with Euson receiving cheers and the Canadian singer being booed off the stage. She didn’t deserve that; actually, her song was pretty good.”

It is unclear if Jack Say's memories of the festival results are entirely correct; according to a Dutch newspaper, Euson, after finishing second, was given the awards for best composition, best text and the highest jury rating for his performance following the intervention of a Greek minister – which may have been improvised prizes to keep the audience in check. Journalist Alex Vournazos of Greek newspaper Hellenic Tribune added, “When Euson left the stadium, the bus that was to take him back to his hotel was held up for over an hour by the enthusiastic crowd. His performance was reminiscent of the concert of the great musician Louis Armstrong. The Greeks are lovers of good music. Critical by nature, they are not generous with their applause. Only twice before have I seen the Greek people so elated; at the end of the World War II when we heard we had our freedom back, and after Louis Armstrong’s performance.”

Euson pictured in a Greek newspaper, flanked by (on the left) Yugoslavian singer Irena Raduka, who won third prize at the 1973 Olympiad of Song, and Canadian winner Julie Arel on his right

In addition to being musical director of Walloon broadcaster RTB, Jack Say also regularly filled in for his BRT colleague Francis Bay when he was unavailable. For example, Say conducted the orchestra for a TV show with Louis and Conny Neefs, Zus en zo. In 1977, at very short notice, he was requested to conduct the Flemish broadcaster’s contribution to the Nordring Festival in Copenhagen. In the Nordring Festival, in which radio stations from Northern and Western Europe participated, each team performed a 45-minute piece of music.

“BRT producer Ward Bogaert contacted me four days before the broadcast,” Jack Say recalls. “The original arranger, Koen De Bruyne, had passed away unexpectedly. Ward asked me to fill in to conduct Koen's arrangements in Copenhagen. Due to my studio activities, I didn’t have the opportunity to take a first glance at the score until I was on the plane to Denmark. Then, I found out it was full of errors. De Bruyne was a great guy… je l'aimais beaucoup. An excellent pianist too, but I don't think he had ever written an arrangement in his life, because it was a mess. It would have been a cacophony! In Copenhagen, at my request, the organisation passed me a stack of music paper. In great haste, I went to work, partly correcting the orchestral parts and partly completely rewriting them, but in such a way that it was still in line with De Bruyne's original idea. This took a few days. The result was reasonable; not great, but we weren't a laughing stock either.”

The following year, Nordring was held in Oslo, with me fulfilling the role of conductor for the Belgian entry again, this time working with a different producer (Yvonne Verelst – BT). For the arrangements, I teamed up with Bob Porter. We had Claude Lombard with us, an excellent singer; plus some formidable musicians, including Fats Sadi and Marc Mercini, who played a wonderful trombone solo. We received compliments from all sides, more so than in Copenhagen. In both cases, it was a lot of fun, spending a few days on a foreign trip with a group of Belgian colleagues. Away from rehearsals, we were mainly looking for restaurants which served decent food, which wasn’t that easy – cookery isn’t exactly a Scandinavian speciality, is it?”

In the second half of the 1970s, Jack Say increasingly left the arranging and production work in Studio DES to others. The studio was still going strong; among others, Frank Michael as well as the rock groups Machiavel and Blue Rock recorded their work here. In addition, the first mix of world hit and disco classic 'Born To Be Alive' by French singer Patrick Hernandez was also recorded in the small Brussels studio.

At work as a producer at Studio DES with Belgian prog-rock band Machiavel (1975)

One of the younger generation of musicians who worked in Studio DES in the late 1970s and early 1980s was Flemish synth player Rony Brack. “I always liked working in Studio DES – and not because it was located in the red-light district! The studio had so much recording history that you could almost hear the great hits from the past just by being there. Francis, the engineer at the time, was always a pleasure to work with. The atmosphere at the studio, as well as Francis’ genial demeanour, were always relaxed… and who wouldn’t want to hear those great old-time stories? A lot of the clients at the bar were top musicians from the previous generation who liked sharing their experiences with us. Laughing was definitely not prohibited! Many a late night was spent at the counter exchanging war stories. Jack Say would be at the bar looking after business – a nice older guy who had the experience. It was always interesting to talk to him. I shouldn’t forget to mention that the bar had a restaurant with a fantastic chef. Lunch breaks at Studio DES were a real treat – and a nice change from the sandwiches that session musicians tended to survive on. Nothing but great memories!”

In the meantime, cutbacks at RTB (renamed RTBF in 1977) resulted in Jack Say’s TV orchestra being disbanded in 1978. Nevertheless, Say continued to work hard during that period; in this respect, his activities for SABAM, the Belgian association of authors, composers, and music publishers, particularly spring to mind. From 1971 on, he was a member of the committees for copyright issues and international promotion of Belgian music – and from 1975 he took over the chairmanship of both.

“Whereas SABAM’s General Assembly met weekly, the committee gatherings were once a month, depending on the agenda,” Jack Say explains. “Initially, those meetings took up a lot of my time, but gradually I developed a certain routine. This ensured that there was sufficient time to complete my other duties. In that period, I didn’t show my face in the studio on a daily basis. I left the day-to-day business to others. There was a close-knit club of employees and business went on fine without me. Big hits like J.J. Lionel’s 'La danse des Canards' and Claude Barzotti’s big hit 'Madame' came out of Studio DES.”

“Meanwhile (in 1979-80 – BT), I had a small villa built on the Costa del Sol, halfway between Malaga and Marbella, because I had my mind set on getting away from the world of music to relax. From 1980, my wife and I spent large parts of the year in Spain. I finally took my retirement in 1982, selling Studio DES to four of my employees. Unfortunately, the studio went bankrupt soon after I left. I continued doing my committee work at SABAM until 1985, the year in which we sold our house in Brussels and moved to Spain permanently.”

Around the time of his retirement in 1982

In spite of Ysaye’s longing for rest and relaxation on the Spanish coast, he couldn’t escape the fact that music was in his blood. “After I had arrived there, I went to a bar where I met an excellent English pianist. His wife was a singer who knew all the American jazz standards. I went to play with them from time to time. At some point, we formed a small group of excellent musicians. We had three sets of music, which we performed a few times a week in bars and restaurants along the Costa del Sol, where the wages were good… very different from what I had been used to in Belgium! We even accompanied operettas in Fuengirola’s theatre. All in all, that episode as a clarinettist in that jazz group lasted about five years.”

“Furthermore, at the request of the RTBF, I conducted the Belgian part of a large-scale show programme in Geneva that was broadcast in all Francophone countries under the title Chantons français. I simply caught a plane from Southern Spain to get to Switzerland. There I got to work with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. It was a very pleasant stay. My wife and I also regularly travelled back to Belgium for family visits. After the death of my wife, I returned to Belgium in 2006, initially living with one of my children in Rhode-Saint-Genèse.”

In his final years, Jacques Ysaye, together with his younger brother Michel, put a lot of energy in keeping alive the legacy of his grandfather Eugène. In 2012, the two brothers were invited to the 75th edition of the Queen Elisabeth Competition, originally founded as the Concours Ysaye; that year, the second prize of the competition was officially renamed Prix Ysaye.

“Three years before, we had been invited to attend the rehearsals as well as the award ceremony, but that was it,” Ysaye recalls. “Now there was finally official recognition that the Queen Elisabeth Competition had evolved from the Concours Ysaye. My brother and I were officially introduced to Queen Fabiola by the Duke of Launoit, upon which we had the pleasure of having a short chat with her. I told her how happy we were that our ancestor's name was connected to the competition again, but that we weren’t so happy that the Prix Ysaye went to the second laureate instead of the winner. Grabbing my arm, she kindly answered me, 'But that means that my prize would be abolished!' Still, she assured me she would look into the issue. (…) She was well aware of the reasons why the name had been changed – and they are simple: firstly, in 1938, our family had fiercely resisted opening the competition to instruments other than just the violin – what a blunder! In addition, the malpractice of the man who had organised the finances of the competition had also played a role.”

In 2011, Jacques Ysaye moved from Rhode-Saint-Genèse to a retirement home in Uccle, a southern suburb of Brussels. There he died in 2017, mere weeks before his 95th birthday.

Ysaye (on the right) backstage at the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition with his younger brother Michel (left) and Czech violinist Josef Špaček, one of the finalists in that edition of the festival


In the first Eurovision Song Contest, held in Lugano in 1956, Jack Say already had an involvement – not yet as a conductor, but as a composer. Each country submitted two songs; and the first of the two Belgian entries, the rather gloomy chanson 'Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine', was composed by Say in collaboration with his good friend Jean Libotte (who used the pseudonym Jean Miret). The lyrics were written by Robert Montal.

When asked about the origins of the song, Say explains, while digging into his memory, “Lyricists and composers received a call-up from the management of the French-speaking branch of national broadcaster INR to submit songs. Thereupon, I contacted my good friend Jean Libotte. He worked as a sales manager at Volkswagen in Brussels and a deserving amateur singer. He also was a hobby composer; he played a little piano, which is how he created his songs. Because we knew each other, I regularly helped him to put his compositions to paper, because he didn't read music. Before the Eurovision Song Contest came along, Jean himself had performed in competitions in Knokke and even in Deauville with songs which we wrote together, but he never achieved his breakthrough as a popular chansonnier.”

“When the request from the broadcasting service to send songs reached us, Jean and I decided give it a try. I always enjoyed participating in festivals. I was a professional musician; and any composer dreams of writing a song that will be a great success one day. Eurovision had the potential to achieve just that. We met at my place. Lyricist Robert Montal, whose real name was Robert Frickx, was Jean's cousin. He was a French and Latin teacher at a large school in Brussels. Robert was a special guy. He was five years younger than me, but he looked fifteen years older than he really was. The guy was an old soul, also in terms of character. Funnily enough, he had a very lively wife, but he was melancholy by nature. He was completely submerged in his teaching job. Writing poems and lyrics was his hobby.”

“The three of us were at my house at the same time; Jean and I were at the piano, while Robert was sitting with us for the lyrics. This is how we created a song, in which words and music were born simultaneously. We played the piano a bit, with Robert trying to write the words to it; or vice versa, he came up with a line of poetry, with us looking for a musical solution to it. I couldn’t think of a more ideal situation when writing a song. Although the lyrics were given as having been written by Robert alone, in reality Jean made a great contribution to it. He made sure the final version exactly fitted the music. Of course, it was a special song for the Eurovision Song Contest, because it is actually about someone considering suicide. If you had known Robert, you wouldn't have been surprised. He was just a very sombre chap.”

Choosing from the material submitted for the competition, a professional jury selected ten pieces for Belgium’s first national final – including 'Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine', performed by crooner Fud Leclerc. In the pre-selection, a second jury then picked this song as the winner, while the audience’s favourite was 'Le plus beau jour de ma vie', a piece by David Bee (pseudonym of jazz musician Ernest Craps) which was performed by Mony Marc. As such, both Fud Leclerc and Mony Marc earned a ticket to the international final in Lugano.

At the 1956 Belgian national final in Brussels, from left to right - Léo Souris, Fud Leclerc, Mony Marc, Henri Segers, and Jacques Goossens - the last-mentioned probably being the host of the programme

It is unclear which orchestra accompanied the first Belgian national final. There is a photo of the two winning artists with Léo Souris, jazz pianist and orchestra leader, on one side of them, and Henri Segers, the leader of the big band of the INR, on the other. Segers went on to conduct five Belgian Eurovision entries between 1960 and 1972. In the initial jury meeting in which the ten finalists had been picked, Segers had played all the piano scores for the jurors. Since both Souris and Segers were pianists, one would assume that Segers played the piano in the orchestra, while Souris conducted the ensemble. In the end, Léo Souris accompanied the two Belgian candidates to Lugano, conducting the Swiss orchestra for them.

When asked if he remembers why Souris was sent along to Switzerland instead of Segers, Jack Say can do no little than guess. “I wasn’t there in Lugano and there was never a question that I would conduct the song myself. If Segers’ name had been considered for Lugano, I think he could not or didn’t want to go for personal reasons – upon which the job fell to Souris. Honestly speaking, Henri Segers wasn’t a very good conductor either and his orchestra at INR was a pure big band without strings. Léo Souris, on the other hand, had his own entertainment orchestra of about twenty men with which he performed in the Taverne du Palace on Place Rogier in Brussels. The regular singer there was a Fleming, Jean Walter, who could handle both French and English repertoire well. I wrote many arrangements for that orchestra. Léo was an excellent musician, with whom I always enjoyed a very good relationship. On a number of occasions, he played as a pianist in an orchestra conducted by me. Léo was the brother of André Souris, an accomplished classical conductor.”

“I followed that festival in Lugano on television. Yes, we already owned a TV set at the time! I remember the winning entry well, 'Refrain' by Lys Assia. That was a song of extraordinary quality… a very complicated composition. It must also have been difficult piece for the singer, especially at the start. It was surprising that such an intricate song won first prize, but on the other hand you have to remember that the jury at the time consisted of professional musicians. Such people knew how to appreciate a composition like that.”

Because the international jury did not announce a result except the winner, it is unclear how the other songs did in the vote. However, according to an unofficial source which was never confirmed, 'Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine' finished third, behind Lys Assia and West German participant Walter Andreas Schwarz.

“Afterwards, in Belgium, a bit of fuss was made around our song”, Jack Say concludes his memories of the 1956 festival. “As it turned out, there was a chanson by Philippe Clay, a French singer, which was very similar to ours in terms of lyrics. Its title was ‘Le noyé assassiné’ – and it was older than our song! Now, please believe me when I say that neither the lyricist nor Jean nor I had ever heard of that French song. It had only to do with the lyrics; the melody was completely different. The themes were very similar. Nevertheless, we were reprimanded for it by SABAM, but that was it, because ‘Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine’ was never released commercially.”

Fud Leclerc performing 'Messieurs les noyés de la Seine' on the Eurovision stage in Lugano, with Léo Souris conducting the orchestra behind him

In the following years, Jack Say continued to be involved in Eurovision in various guises. In 1957, a song composed by him competed in the preliminary round organised by Flemish television; 'Voor jou, chérie', with lyrics by Nelly Byl, was performed by Wim Van de Velde, but failed to reach the final. In 1959, yet again, Jack Say tried his luck in the Flemish selection programme, in which he was represented with two songs; however, both ‘Twee harten, één gedachte’ and ‘In d’eenzaamheid’, performed by Eric Franssen and Al Verlane respectively, were eliminated in the semis.

In the intervening year, 1958, INR’s French-speaking branch organised the national final, in which Henri Segers conducted the orchestra for ten competing entries, the titles and composers of which are unknown. The winning song, 'Ma petite chatte', with Fud Leclerc taking care of the performance, was not composed by Jack Say, but he was involved in the entry nonetheless, given that he arranged the live version. In addition, he also took a seat on the jury which determined the Belgian vote in the international final, which took place in Hilversum.

“This wasn't the only time,” Say stresses. “In total I was part of the jury two or three times. I still remember the 1958 festival, though. All the jurors got together a few hours before the broadcast was due. At broadcasting house, we were treated to an excellent dinner. It was a jury of ten people, part of them professional musicians, part journalists… and, as you may know, there is no better way to please journalists than with good food! One of the other musicians was David Bee, Claude Lombard’s father. During dinner, we received a telephone call from the lady who provided the commentary in Hilversum on behalf of Belgian television (probably Paule Herreman – BT). She stated that the unanimous view among journalists there was that the Italian entry was head and shoulders above the rest. She said our votes should go to Italy no matter what.”

“Of course, that Italian entry was ‘Volare’ by Domenico Modugno. It was a magnificent song, a real world hit. The ten of us sat together in a small studio at INR in Brussels – and when we heard that song, we told each other, 'This is the winner... hands down!' We must have given all our jury points to Modugno. What do you say? Was it really only four votes out of ten? Well, then let me assure you those four points all came from music professionals! André Claveau's song which won the contest was certainly beautiful, but it didn’t even nearly do as well in terms of record sales.”

Fud Leclerc on the Eurovision stage in Hilversum (1958)

In 1960, Jack Say took another chance in the Belgian Eurovision heats. With Robert Montal, the lyricist with whom he also worked on 'Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine', he penned 'Mon amour pour toi'. In the pre-selection, the song, yet again performed by Fud Leclerc, was put in first place by the professional jury.

“This song has a slightly different history than ‘Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine,” Jack Say explains. “Whereas I sat with two other songwriters in 1956, in this case Robert Montal had already prepared a poem, which was brought to me by Jean Miret. In those years, I worked extensively with Jean on the Grand Prix des Variétés at Radio Luxembourg. Jean had already tried writing music to it, but he didn’t manage to make it work.”

“When I read those lyrics, I immediately thought they were fabulous. “Mon amour pour toi, c'est comme la mer quand personne n'a marché sur le sable” (literally translated, “My love for you is like the sea when no one has walked on the sand” – BT), that's a great find no matter how you look at it! I managed to write the music to it, but I think my composition was a bit too complicated. In retrospect, I should have taken a more accessible approach. Harmonically, there's quite a lot going on in the song… lots of tonal changes. For Fud, it was a difficult piece to learn. He called at my house several times. There, we sat together to work on the performance with the help of a backing tape.”

Despite the complicated melody structure of ‘Mon amour pour toi’, or perhaps thanks to it (after all, the result of the selection was determined by a professional jury!), Jack Say again managed to make it through to the international Eurovision final, which was held in London that year. There, the song finished in a respectable sixth place. Yet Say was not entirely satisfied with the performance. This was mainly due to the role of Henri Segers, who, having conducted the pre-selection in Brussels, made his debut on the Eurovision stage in London as Belgium’s conductor in the contest.

“This time, I was invited to attend the Eurovision Song Contest,” Jack Say recalls. “It was a very short stay, just one day and one night as far as I remember – un billet aller-retour. Fud Leclerc and Henri Segers had previously travelled to England for rehearsals. I arrived in time to witness the dress rehearsal. Fud gave a stunning performance, but unfortunately something went wrong in the concert. I wasn't in the auditorium, following events from the wings on a monitor with sound. The orchestra started, but the pace indicated by Henri Segers was too slow. Fud Leclerc got ‘stuck’ as a result. Those must have been difficult moments for him, because the song didn't get the build-up we had intended. Fortunately, the score wasn’t too bad, but we spoke about it afterwards. Segers immediately admitted his mistake, ‘I indicated the first bar too slowly and then tried to speed up the orchestra, but they didn’t follow me.’ Henri may have been a fine jazz musician, but it was now more clear than ever that his conducting abilities were below par. His technique was insufficient to put his mistake right.”

Belgium's representatives at Eurovision 1960, from left - performer, composer/arranger, lyricist, and conductor

Two years later, Jack Say took part again in the Belgian pre-selection as a composer. He wrote 'Toi, mon copain', with lyrics by Robert Charles Lanson, who had surfaced as a participant in the Grand Prix des Variétés in 1960. In the Eurovision heats, however, Lanson's performance failed to convince the jury. 'Toi, mon copain' was defeated by Fud Leclerc's rendition of 'Ton nom'.

In 1968, Jack Say became chief conductor of the entertainment orchestra of RTB, the broadcaster of the French-speaking community in Belgium. As such, he was musical director of La Caméra d'Argent, a televised song festival which ran for several seasons and was very popular with the viewing public in the French-speaking part of Belgium. In 1970, when it was RTB's turn to designate a candidate for the Eurovision Song Contest, a large-scale preselection was set up, following the example of La Caméra d'Argent. The program, which was given the name Chansons Euro '70, was spread out over six preliminary rounds, two semifinals, and a final. The field of participants included Johnny White, Serge & Christine Ghisoland, Ann Christy, and Nicole Josy. In addition, there were guest appearances by stars such as Georges Moustaki, France Gall, and Adamo. Naturally, all musical accompaniment was provided by Jack Say’s TV orchestra – although he had to have himself replaced by his Flemish colleague Francis Bay in the first episode due to illness.

“I don't remember any of that,” Jack Say admits, “but I'm not surprised that Francis Bay took my place when I was ill. Frans was not an easy man, but we had a good professional relationship. I was also a regular stand-in for him at the BRT Television Orchestra when he was unable to attend. For example, some time in the 1970s, I did a show with Louis Neefs and his younger sister Conny which was broadcast on BRT Television with the title Zus en zo.”

The winner of Chansons Euro '70 was a 28-year-old young man from Verviers, Jean Vallée, who had already won the Prix de la Chanson Française in Spa in 1966. In the Eurovision preliminary round, he saw off all of his rivals with the self-written 'Viens l'oublier', released as a single by the French branch of record company Philips in an arrangement by one of Paris’ prime studio arrangers, Alain Goraguer. At the international final of the Eurovision Song Contest, held in the RAI Congress Centre in Amsterdam, the song was performed in this arrangement, but the Metropole Orchestra was led not by Goraguer, but by the conductor who had also done the preliminaries in Brussels – and so Jack Say returned to the contest, making his debut on the conductor’s podium of the festival. The prospect did not make him particularly nervous, though.

“Conducting in the recording studio and conducting in front of an audience are two different things. In the studio, the focus is on being effective and concise, but in public the situation changes a bit. A show element is involved. I had to learn along the way. The real work of a conductor on a television show takes place in rehearsals. When properly rehearsed, an orchestra could play just as well without a conductor up front, if I may put it that way. In such a situation, you are more concerned with the audience and not so much with the orchestra anymore. There’s nothing wrong with making gestures which are perhaps a bit more flamboyant. Speaking for myself, I readily confess that I behaved a bit differently as a conductor with an audience present.”

Jean Vallée during his rendition of 'Viens l'oublier' at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam

“Jean Vallée did extremely well in the dress rehearsal in Amsterdam. He was even named a favourite for victory by journalists. After that rehearsal, I popped into a café opposite the concert hall with Jean and some others. There was a billiards table. I liked to play billiards in those days and Jean joined in. We were all very relaxed. This is how we amused ourselves for about an hour, until suddenly Jean's wife came storming in. ‘I've been looking for you everywhere,’ she yelled. ‘Where were you? You should prepare for tonight!’ She pushed him back into the stress I had wanted to save him from. I always felt it was best to think about other things in the hours leading up to a TV appearance. Jean's performance in the contest was okay, but just a little less natural than he had been in rehearsals.”

After achieving a somewhat disappointing 8th place, the Belgian team left for the hotel. “There we wanted to have a drink with the whole team, but the bar turned out to be closed… and I was the only one with a refrigerator in his room. That's how we ended up in that small room. There must have been about eight people. Some sat on the two beds, others on the two or three chairs that were there, to raise the glass to our friendship. I poured drinks into plastic cups for everyone. Now, you have to know that RTB’s commentator (probably again Paule Herreman – BT) was quite fat, to put it mildly. She lay down at full stretch on one of the beds. Because I had tried it, I knew that the beds had a massage function – and without telling her, I switched on the mechanism; I can tell you the sight of her body parts shaking back and forth left us all in uncontrollable laughter… but the worst part was that she couldn't get up, because I had put the vibration on the highest setting and I didn’t know how to turn it off! Eventually, the elevator boy saved the day. He knocked on the door, because it was already past 1am and we were disturbing the other guests!”

In 1972, when it was the turn of French-speaking RTB to hold Belgium’s Eurovision pre-selection again, Jack Say was not involved as a conductor, although he was on the broadcaster's payroll in that capacity, accompanying several successful TV shows with his orchestra. Instead of him, Willy Albimoor led the orchestra in the pre-selection, in which only four songs competed, all performed by Serge & Christine Ghisoland. Albimoor, who was a Fleming, had also arranged the recorded versions of all four songs, making him the logical choice for the live show as well. Although not as a conductor, Jack Say played a part in the event; one of the four entries, 'Vivre sans toi', was written by him, with lyrics by his old friend Jean Miret. This song ended up third, as the audience picked the rather tacky 'A la folie ou pas du tout'. In the international Eurovision final in Edinburgh, the couple from Mouscron ended up in a disappointing penultimate place.

In the Scottish capital, however, the orchestra for the duo’s performance was not conducted by Willy Albimoor or Jack Say, but by Henri Segers. Possibly Albimoor had been passed over because he was Flemish, or he himself had asked to be replaced because of his lack of experience as a conductor on stage. But why did the broadcaster choose Segers, who had not performed as a conductor for years, to stand in for him instead of Jack Say?

“Maybe I wasn't available,” the latter responds. “I don't remember exactly. But there was something else going on with the Ghisolands… look, their songs weren't bad, but they were very unpleasant people to work with. I didn't get on well with them. My professional relationship with them was bad. I certainly wouldn’t have insisted on accompanying them to Edinburgh. Conversely, they wouldn’t have demanded that I be their musical director. Perhaps that’s the reason why Henri Segers was called upon. After his dismissal as a conductor of the RTB big band in 1966, he remained a broadcasting employee. He had a desk job – as a producer of light music, but nothing much happened because he was in poor health. In fact, the Eurovision Song Contest in Edinburgh may very well have been his last TV performance.”

Serge & Christine Ghisoland representing Belgium at the 1972 contest in Edinburgh (1972)

Although nominally employed by RTB(F) as conductor until 1978, Jack Say was no longer involved in the Eurovision Song Contest in the remainder of the 1970s; instead, the candidates sent by the French-speaking broadcaster worked with their own record arrangers, invariably from France. In 1980, RTBF’s festival entry, the distinctly piss-take 'Euro-vision' by Telex, was even played without any form of orchestral accompaniment. Finally, in 1982, Jack Say had the opportunity to conduct the Eurovision orchestra for a second time. In the RTBF preselection, Stella Maessen emerged as the winner with 'Si tu aimes ma musique', a disco schlager produced by a team from Flanders with a synth-dominated arrangement. The song originally had English lyrics written by Rony Brack.

When asked how a Dutch girl with Indonesian roots earned the ticket to the contest in Harrogate on behalf of Francophone broadcaster RTBF, Stella Maessen explains, “I was living in Flanders at the time. In 1981, I was recording some songs with my production team – Fred Bekky, Bob Baelemans, and Luc Smets. To my ears, one of the tunes had Eurovision written all over it… a wonderful song! That's why I suggested submitting it. We had recorded it in English, but it was as yet unreleased. We found a French-language lyricist in Brussels, Jo May (pseudonym of Joseph Mayer – BT) – and after he had rewritten the words in French, we submitted it, not really believing something would come of it. To our surprise, it was picked for the preliminaries, which wasn’t a fully-fledged show. There were just little music clips of the different songs. We were watching at home and then suddenly I was announced as the winner. I was amazed, because I never expected a Walloon jury to choose a Dutch-speaking singer.”

When asked, Jack Say – remembered by Stella as "a lovely man" and "a real Belgian" – explains how he was called upon to conduct ‘Si tu aimes ma musique’ in Harrogate. “I think Jo May guided them to me, because I knew him very well through SABAM, the copyright organisation of Belgian musicians. The songwriters had recorded the tune using only synthetic instruments. That tape was eventually passed on to me. There were string lines in it, which I turned into an orchestration to be used in Harrogate. In England, almost all the music for our entry was on a pre-recorded tape; that was allowed at the time. Only the strings and brass parts were played live by the orchestra, so my assignment wasn’t very complicated.”

“You should know that 1982 was the year of my retirement. That year, I sold my record studio in Brussels. Three years later, I would move to Spain with my wife permanently, but when that Eurovision Song Contest came along, we already spent large parts of the year in our house on the Costa del Sol. I wasn't very active in the music business in Belgium anymore – so the festival came as a surprise… a very nice surprise, because the English are very good at organising events like that. I recalled the festival in London in 1960; at the time, the British were far ahead of us in terms of sound engineering. Of course, the orchestra at Harrogate was fantastic. Somehow, English musicians seem to have a better feel for pop music than others.”

Stella Maessen performing 'Si tu aimes ma musique' in Harrogate

“We Belgians pulled off a great media stunt at the festival in Harrogate. Because our singer was called Stella, the beer brand Stella was willing to sponsor our delegation. With their money, a large bistro was hired, just a few hundred metres from the concert hall – a beautiful establishment reminding me of pre-war Spa (town in Eastern Belgium – BT). There were even old-fashioned tea rooms in it. Belgian chefs had been flown, who served fries with pork chops… and waterzooi, all those typical Belgian dishes. The entire space had been turned into a cozy Belgian café. All the delegates were invited to eat and drink as much as they wanted at our sponsor's expense. The English journalists loved it! I have the impression that this Eurovision was the moment when Belgian beer was launched internationally. Until then, Stella was a relatively unknown brand beyond our country’s borders. I don't think the brewery had tried to sell their beer abroad before.”

“On the other hand, participants from some other countries weren’t too happy with our Belgian café. There was some jealousy involved! I noticed how much the Eurovision Song Contest had changed compared to the early years. More countries were in it and delegations were closely following what others were doing. This caused some stress here and there – not for me, because the orchestra did an excellent job. My English was good enough to explain to the musicians what I was expecting from them. There was no problem at all.”

In Harrogate, 'Si tu aimes ma musique' gathered 92 jury votes, finishing in a better-than-expected 4th place. “Stella did a great job,” Jack Say comments. “It wasn’t that easy for her to sing in French, a language she didn’t speak. Jo May took considerable time to work on her pronunciation. That worked out well; her diction in the Eurovision performance hardly betrayed any accent. As for the song itself, it wasn’t really special as a composition, but it was a chanson populaire, a commercial tune that fitted well with the contest at that time. Belgium had often been following trends in the Eurovision Song Contest, whereas now we finally came up with something modern and up-to-date.”

Finally, we asked Jack Say how he looks back on his Eurovision involvement. “For me, the Eurovision Song Contest was good fun, but important at the same time. As a conductor, you were only shown on screen for two seconds, but your name was mentioned, which gave you a certain status, a certain fame. Like at the Nordring Festival, you were always well received when participating in a Eurovision programme. The hard work had to be done in rehearsals, but it always was a fun job to do.”

Note that Jack Say's accreditation pass in Harrogate gives his official name rather than his pseudonym


Jack Say wrote several songs with singer-songwriter Jean Miret (stage name of Jean Libotte), while the two also collaborated on the Grand Prix des Variétés at Radio Luxembourg. “Jacques was the musical director of that show, while I took on the role of executive producer. I've known Jacques since the 1940s and we've been friends ever since. Contact with him is always easy and congenial. His main quality is authenticity – no matter if he is conducting an important concert, working on a common project with you, or in the company of family, he remains Jacques, always the same and almost too modest. He talks little about himself, when he could tell so much. He is extremely loyal in his friendships and professional relationships. Our collaborations prove how much we complement each other, songs like 'Chaque fois' for Tohama and 'Du hast ja 'nen Piep', recorded by Annie Cordy. I couldn’t have imagined a more precious musical advisor. Our friendship has proved indestructible over the years.” (2010)


Country – Belgium (A)
Song title – “Messieurs, les noyés de la Seine”
Rendition – Fud Leclerc 
Lyrics – Robert Montal (Robert Frickx)
Composition – Jean Miret (Jean Libotte) / Jack Say 
Studio arrangement – none
Orchestration – Jack Say 
Conductor – Léo Souris
Score – unknown

Country – Belgium 
Song title – “Ma petite chatte”
Rendition – Fud Leclerc
Lyrics – André Dohet
Composition – André Dohet
Studio arrangement – Willy Albimoor
(studio orchestra conducted by Willy Albimoor)
Orchestration – Jack Say
Conductor – Dolf van der Linden (MD)
Score – 5th place (8 votes)

Country – Belgium 
Song title – “Mon amour pour toi”
Rendition – Fud Leclerc 
Lyrics – Robert Montal (Robert Frickx)
Composition – Jack Say
Studio arrangement – Jack Say
Orchestration – Jack Say
Conductor – Henri Segers  
Score – 6th place (9 votes)

Country – Belgium 
Song title – "Viens l’oublier"
Rendition – Jean Vallée 
Lyrics – Jean Vallée
Composition – Jean Vallée
Studio arrangement – Alain Goraguer
Orchestration – Alain Goraguer
Conductor – Jack Say 
Score – 8th place (5 votes)

Country – Belgium 
Song title – “Si tu aimes ma musique”
Rendition – Stella Maessen
Lyrics – Rony Brack / Jo May
Composition – Fred Bekky / Bob Baelemans “Bobott”
Studio arrangement – Fred Bekky / Luc Smets
Orchestration – Jack Say 
Conductor – Jack Say
Score – 4th place (96 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Jacques Ysaye (Jack Say) in Sint-Genesius-Rode, February 2010
  • Jacques Ysaye’s unpublished autobiography, ‘Le journal de ma vie’, which he gave to friends and acquaintances at his 90th birthday in 2012; thanks to Ysaye’s son-in-law Richard Franckx for putting the manuscript, as well as additional documentation, at my disposal
  • A YouTube playlist of Jack Say’s music can be accessed by clicking this link
  • Thanks to Herman van Veen, Jean Libotte (†), Rony Brack, and Stella Maessen for their additional comments about working with Jack Say
  • Two articles by Paul Klare, published in Dutch newspaper De Tijd, “Van Veen en de anderen” (December 12th, 1970) & “Herman van Veens vijfde album maakt een pas op de plaats” (May 15th, 1971)
  • Photos courtesy of Jacques Ysaye (Jack Say), Richard Franckx, and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript

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