Paris Jazz Diary 2010
Travelers who stay in Paris for more than three days without hearing live jazz will miss a vital element of Parisian life. Jazz is as easily available as French wine and crusty baguettes, with performances seven nights a week throughout the City of Light. It's been this way since jazz first entered Paris in the 1920s, when American bands came to entertain the World War I troops and boost the spirit of locals. The enthusiastic reception of America's music convinced many musicians to stay on, and then more came to stay during the Second World War and '50s and '60s. In the 21st century, Paris continues to be a destination for touring and expatriate jazz musicians, as well as its own vigorous European jazz community that values and venerates this nation's gift to the world.
It's easy to find jazz in Paris. Music venues are listed by type in the Pariscope and L'Official Spectacle mini-magazines that are issued every Wednesday, available at newsstand kiosks. There are jam sessions almost nightly, noted in the listings as boeuf.That translates as "beef," the term originating in the 1930s, when French and foreign musicians met after-hours on the roof of the Le Boeuf sur le Toit restaurant to jam; the venue again has live jazz. There also are performances in churches, listed in the concerts pages of the mini-magazines, with tributes to deceased and living jazz luminaries, including frequent jazz manouchereplications of the gypsy-jazz sound of Django Reinhardt.
During my annual visit, I went to more a dozen boites de nuit (nightclubs) of the 30-some regular venues, hearing high-quality jazz from both touring and resident bands. Clubs are varying sizes and types, from the plush Lionel Hampton Jazz Cub at the Hotel Meridien L'Etoile, open since 1975, where I was thrilled to hear Michel LeGrand a few years ago, to numerous small caves (underground stone cellars). Music starts later than in U.S., usually 9:30 or 10 p.m. Most have an entry charge, some require drink orders, but not all, and now there is no smoking in clubs or cafés, only at sidewalk tables. There also are many piano bars, most with an upright piano, some with baby grands. (Paris jazz musicians believe a venue isn't a real jazz club unless there is a baby grand or an upright piano). Outdoors, the summer Paris Jazz Festival at Parc Floral costs only park admission of 5 euros. This year, the series staged European bands, rather than touring American musicians of the past.
Most of the top jazz names are booked at two clubs. The largest is New Morning, a huge warehouse-style venue with rows of chairs on two levels, but not far from the stage. It's open seating, so people are on line more than an hour before the doors open. One night, I heard alto saxophonist David Sanborn, organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Steve Gadd. The fusion-jazz genius reverted to his influences, performing "The Peeper," in tribute to Hank Crawford, "Let the Good Times Roll," to celebrate Ray Charles, and "Señor Blues," to salute Horace Silver. Sanborn also offered a slice of jazz-pop via Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," followed by a big-band nod of "I've Got News for You," from the Woody Herman repertoire (DeFrancesco delivering the amusing vocal). Another night there, it was vocalist Roberta Gambarini, whose swinging ballads and lithe scatting produced hearty applause from a packed house. Her second set was revved by a surprise sit-in of trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Other stars scheduled this season at New Morning included Ron Carter, Mike Stern and Randy Brecker, Kurt Elling, Eddie Palmieri, James Carter, and Hargrove.
Another club for big names is Le Duc des Lombards, a classy longtime venue refurbished a year ago with two viewing levels and a light food menu. This year, I heard one of my longtime favorite French musicians, Philippe Duchemin, whose piano prowess is captivating, his agility and creativity truly amazing. Strongly influenced by Oscar Peterson, he solidly delivers The Great American Songbook, along with memorable original charts such as "Take Bach" and "Ballade en Pologne." He also performs at Chez Papa, the River Café, and at numerous festivals throughout Europe. Another combo at the Duc was led by trombonist Francois Guin, who once played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in Paris, and whose performance was a history lesson of charts from gospel roots to Ellington and on to "Birdland," Weather Report-style. "The Duc," as locals call it, recently booked stars such as Phil Woods, Kenny Barron and Charles McPherson.