2009 Paris Jazz Diary
Paris, France: Proof-positive that the jazz scene here is still thriving came via five encores for 91-year-old pianist Hank Jones during the Jazz a la Villette Festival, and the crowds of enthusiastic listeners that filled small jazz clubs night after night.
During my annual stay in the City of Light, I planned outings to more than a dozen pure-jazz venues, plus concerts and festivals, by perusing the every-Wednesday Pariscope and L'Official Spectacles magazines (35 centimes at newsstands) and Lylo, a free music directory found in clubs and music stores. Clubs range in size from claustrophobic to grand, and performances start later than in the U.S., at 9:30 or 10 p.m. Most have an entry charge, although not all require drink order and all are non- smoking. Audiences are attentive and respectful, showing veneration of America's musical gift to the world. Although several longtime venues have closed in recent years (Le Sept Lezards and Le Bilboquet last year, Le Petit Opportun and The Slow Club more than five years ago), the remaining ones attract substantial houses every night of the week.
My clubbing route took me most frequently to Caveau de la Huchette, Le Duc des Lombards (remodeled to two levels, adding food choices), (oldest continuous underground jazz venue since 1946, swing-dancers favorite), Sunset-Sunside (two-level location) and its neighbor Le Baiser Sale (mostly jazz-fusion), New Morning (largest, mostly touring stars), Jazz Club Lionel Hampton (posh lounge in Hotel Meridien Etoile), Le Petit Journal St. Michel and Le Petit Journal Montparnasse (longtime supper clubs), Caveau des Oubliettes (subterranean, jail-themed), Cafe Universel (Sorbonne student favorite, no cover), Jazz Cartoon, Cafe Laurent (piano acts in Hotel D'Aubusson), 9 Jazz Club (formerly Habana Cafe) and newer venues including Chez Papa, Swan Bar and Autour de Midi et Minuit. Some boat-restaurants anchored on the Seine River booked solo or duo jazz artists on weekends.
The jazz clubs were full even when admission was 12 to 25 euros ($18 to $36). Many tributes to deceased and living jazz luminaries were scheduled, including frequent" jazz manouche" nightsreplications of the gypsy-jazz sound created by Django Reinhardt. Most jam sessions ("boeufs") had free admission, and piano bars are plentiful in tourist areas. In mild weather, there are musicians performing on bridges and street corners.
Radio station TSF-fm (89.9) plays jazz 24/7, while a highlight of my visit was hearing 80-year-old Benny Golson perform his memorable originals at Le Duc des Lombards, opening with "Whisper Not," then displaying his raconteur skills in a wonderfully intricate tale about how "Stablemates" came to be written for Miles Davis, and closing the set with a maxi-memorable rendition of "I Remember Clifford."
Another jazz peak was the Hank Jones concert, where the 91-year-old satisfied a rapt audience with his trademark straight-ahead, in-the-pocket gentle-swing style on 14 golden standards. An hour of pure piano bliss wasn't enough for the audience, which demanded the five encores. The brilliant pianist Jacky Terrasson opened the concert, his energy and percussive strength creating a one-man rhythm section. His vigorous bass clef work was interspersed with brisk vaults to the treble keys, sometimes striking the inner soundboard with fingers and hands, delighting the 1,000 listeners.
A third highlight was the week-long booking of Ted Curson at Caveau de la Huchette, his residency sponsored by the Spirit of Jazz organization, a new non-profit jazz promotion-production-support organization. Curson played both trumpet and flugelhorn, also singing for the listeners and swing-dancers. His sit-in guest one night was former Arizona vocalist Sylvia Howard, who was part of his Ted Curson in Paris CD. She also had two bookings at Le Duc, performing a standards book to full rooms all three nights. Another ex-pat, trombonist-composer Sarah Morrow, has again reinvented her sound as the exciting Elektric Air Quintet that included jazz-poet Mike Ladd. Touring vocalist Freddy Cole scored two sold-out nights with his quartet at Le Duc, satisfying with evergreens and a sampling of songs popularized by his older brother Nat King Cole.
Among the recurring European favorites I heard were pianist Alain Jean-Marie with saxophonist Alexandra Grimal (duo at Cafe Universel), Huchette owner-vibraphonist Dany Doriz, sax duo of Nicolas Dary and Luigi Grasso, organist Philippe Petit, bassist Patricia LeBuegle and drummer Michel Denis. To cap my visit, the traditional Parisian "la rentree" (return from vacationing) in early September at the Swan Bar featured a sampling from six vocalists.