Paris Jazz Diary 2006
I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles... with jazz! The City of Light certainly was sizzling with unusually high temperatures during the first three weeks of July, but that didn't deter me or other jazz fans from going to sometimes-sweltering clubs.
In Paris, jazz is the international language, bringing together people of all ages and nationalities to perform and/or listen. During most of the year, there are 30-some clubs. That's comparable to my home base in the Phoenix (AZ) area, where jazz is played in 50-some venues.
My 10th annual summer in Paris is fueled by the preponderance of live jazz, as well as my love for this dynamic city. After settling into a sublet studio apartment, I immediately head for a nearby news kiosk or bookstore to buy "Pariscope. This small every-Wednesday magazine lists jazz performances, as well as classical, blues, rock, gospel, etc., and a similar weekly publication is L'Official des Spectacles. For 40c I soon had access to who was performing where, and not just the names of the venues, but addresses, phones, arrondissements (20 geographical districts of Paris) and closest Metro (subway) stops, making it easy for even a newcomer to find.
But even before I consulted this compact "entertainment bible, I knew there would be no Azure-Te ("Paris Blues ) for me and other jazz fans because of the breadth and depth of clubs and musicians. So while much of Paris was busy cheering on Les Bleus in the World Cup soccer finals, I returned to my favorite boites de nuit.
I checked with listings and found most of last year's regional favorites, and frequent bookings of touring American stars. The breadth and depth of jazz in Paris is richly impressive. Summer weekends bring three separate outdoor festivals. The largest on weekends during June and July is the Paris Jazz Festival, staged in the Parc Floral on the eastern edge of the city. Another during those months is the smaller La Defense Jazz Festival, and the other is in early September, Jazz a la Villette, indoors and outside on the western edge of Paris. All the concerts have both American and European musicians performing. And one club, Sunside, stages three weeks of bookings during July, performed by regional and U.S. musicians.
An annual favorite venue is Le Caveau de la Huchette, the oldest ongoing jazz club in Paris (since 1946). It's an underground swing-dance venue where in previous years I have heard organist Rhoda Scott and saxophonists Houston Person and Richie Cole. The music always swings at Huchette, and the dancers provide a bonus floor-show. This year, my earful treat was tenor man Scott Hamilton for a crowd-pleasing two nights via "Polkadots and Moonbeams, I Got Rhythm and a samba-style "Just in Time.
(Last year at Huchette, I was treated to a rare performance by octogenarian tenor man Hal Singer. That night was the exact 40th anniversary of his first gig in Paris, just across the Seine at Trois Mailleznow defunct. It also was a reunion with the drummer of that initial performance, Michel Denis, heard often at Huchette with various bands. During a brief interview, Singer recalled his U.S. gigs, gaining recognition via his torrid tenor on Wynonie Harris' Good Rockin' Tonight in 1947, and continuing to be a first-call player in the jump-blues and R&B circles. His album Cornbread was Billboard's Number 1 listing for six months in 1948. His jazz history includes work with legends such as Willie "The Lion Smith, Roy Eldridge, "Hot Lips Page, Billie Holiday, Jay McShann, Buck Clayton and the bands of Duke Ellington and Lucky Millinder, before a European tour with Earl "Fatha Hines, deciding to stay in Paris and marrying his French wife, Arlette.)
One of the more memorable concerts at Sunside featured Rick Margitza, who relocated to Paris three years ago after decades in New York City. He often reaches into his Romanian roots for the rhythms of his originals, along with sambas and standards such as "Cry Me a River.
Another Sunside night featured pianist Alain Jean-Marie celebrating the re-release of his 1992 album, Beguine Reflections (Declic, France), a passionate marriage of jazz and Caribbean melodies and rhythms inspired by the music of his roots in the French island of Guadeloupe.
At Duc des Lombards, a long-famous Paris jazz venue, pianist Philippe Duchemin presented his homage to Oscar Peterson (For Oscar DJ732-2). But instead of the piano-guitar-bass trio playing hits of the '70s Peterson-Herb Ellis-Ray Brown collaboration, Duchemin fused OP3 into his own classically influenced compositions, including the dazzling "Take Bach and hauntingly beautiful "Ballade en Pologne, as well as jazz standards such as "Con Alma, "Girl Talk and "Nuages. I went three times to the five-night booking, so remarkable was the alliance of Duchemin, guitarist Dano Haider and bassist Manu Marches. The trio is on a tour that may include the U.S. next year.
I caught American ex-pat Sylvia Howard at several venues, her classy style in perfect harmony with the plush Bilboquet restaurant-jazz club. Her sets with the Philippe Milanta Trio drew SRO audiences nightly for a full week. She puts her individual imprint on every song, in particular "That Old Black Magic, "Georgia, "Angel Eyes and the Nina Simone hit "In the Dark.
This summer I added two venues that were new to me: Swan Bar, launched two years ago by former university lecturer Lionel Bloom in the Montparnasse area, where. Howard also performed, as did Manda Djinn (who has created "La Bakeer, a scripted Centennial birthday tribute to Josephine Baker). Also appearing at Swan were the Theard twins, tenor saxophonist Les and pianist Lowell. Louisiana-born, they also fit perfectly at my second newbie, Blue Bayou, a Louisiana-style restaurant where former New York saxophonist David Murray guested with the pair, as did pianist Henri Miezen.
A special treat toward end of my summer stay was hearing former Phoenix tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, now based in New York City, who was in Paris to perform with two bands. The first was drummer Daniel Humair's trio at Sunside, a free-jazz experience that featured the reedsman shifting from high-screaming to low-growling contrasts, along with multiphonic murmurs. Later in the week, Malaby performed with [bassist] Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra at the Jazz a la Villette festival.
Despite the global reputation of the French as smokers, several jazz clubs now have signs that request no smoking during the sets, or only at the bar area. Although many have admission charges, there are many more that do not, especially for jam sessions.
Le boeuf is the French term for a jam, and I've had many discussions (in English and French) to try to find out why. No one seems to know the origin. I've explained that the word "jam in English is logical, because making that foodstuff requires a mixture of ingredients (musicians), and it has to "cook until it's "hot. I did find out, consulting a Larousse French dictionary, that there is a slang expression, C'est boeuf! that means "It's terrific. Ah, but which came first, the jam or the slang? No one seems to know. I continue my global sleuthing.