A French Musician Finds Niche With South Florida Audiences

Jul 8, 2015

  Vincent Raffard says “the magic of life” brought him to Miami.

The longtime musician from Paris, France, says he never expected to leave the ironclad boulevards for palm trees and sandy beaches.

“I didn’t have any desire to come to South Florida,” he says. 

After coming to the Sunshine State on tour, he decided to stay and continue his career as a musician in Miami. Eight years later, the 35-year-old has produced a solo album and formed a band called the French Horn Collective.

The band is wrapping up a new album that will be out this September while playing five nights a week at hip venues such as Lagniappe in Wynwood and the Delano Hotel in Miami Beach.

As the band gets ready to play Bastille Day (July 14) celebrations in West Palm Beach and Miami Beach, Raffard recalls the impact moving to the United States has had on his career.

“It’s the energy of the country,” he says.

The French Horn Collective formed about four years ago. It focuses on a style of music called gypsy jazz, which is similar to hot jazz, swing or French jazz.

The five-member band creates this “dynamic, difficult” sound. Raffard, who is the only French member in the group, sings and plays guitar and trumpet. The other four include Agustin Conti on upright bass, Steffen Zeichner on violin, Flexter Henderson on clarinet, and Alvaro Bermudez on guitar.

“I would say it’s a different type of rhythm of string,” he says as he mimics the thumping sound central to the French Horn’s musical style.

In 2013 the band really got its acoustic sound, which Raffard calls  “pure and true,” with the release of its studio album “Transit Time.” Before then, the band had experimented with other instruments, including drums and an accordion.

And the entire collective has seven more musicians skilled in singing, conducting and playing various styles of jazz.

The band also performs covers of traditional French songs from greats such as Edith Piaf and Yves Montand. Raffard says the opportunity to perform this kind of music is dying in France.

“It’s very few places where you can still have some French writer and that’s very sad,” he says. “So here in America it’s unbelievable, but I really do sing and write in French and do this French music here.”

Raffard says he got serious about music after a childhood accident. While trying to do tricks on his bike, he fell on his back. This affected his breathing and made playing sports difficult for most of his teenage years.

Raffard then turned to music. He listened to a lot of blues and rock as a teenager. It was at this point that he began loving traditional French music, especially that of George Brassens.

“He was a huge influence for me,” Raffard says.

At this point, he had already been playing the guitar and then switched to the trumpet at 18 years old. At 26, he began training as a singer because of the breathing actions required to play the trumpet.

Raffard uses all three of these instruments as band leader of French Horn. He mostly sings in French but is learning Spanish so he can perform more bolero-style songs.

When Raffard isn’t performing, he has given guitar lesson to kids at South Pointe Elementary School in Miami Beach and has done some voice-over work for a local dubbing company.

Raffard says he may not continue giving lessons if he chooses to focus more on the band. He hopes to take the band on tour throughout the state and possibly perform with the New World Symphony.

Although he’s an ocean away, Raffard always draws inspiration from his home in France.

“I try to express what I miss from France and what I love about it,” he says.

The French Horn Collective will perform Thursday at the Norton Art Museum to celebrate Bastille Day. Admission to the Norton is free for Florida residents.

Additionally, the band will be playing in Miami Beach on Tuesday, July 14 for French Tuesdays. The band's albums are available on iTunes and some tracks are posted on its SoundCloud page.