Paris Jazz Diary 2012
Paris is the New York City of the European jazz world. Any night of the week, live jazz is played somewhere in this multicultural metropolis where America's global gift is valued, venerated and celebrated. There are more than 30 live jazz venues, as well as sporadic and spontaneous performances on street corners and bridges, in Metro stations and parks, and at a large series of annual festivals.
Live jazz is available in clubs every night, from swing to Latin to avant-garde, some free-admission but most with a five to 30 Euros entry fee (the value of the Euro decreased during this time to as low as $1.21 USD, compared to many recent years when it was $1.45). It's easy to find jazz in Paris by consulting music venues listings in the Pariscope and L'Official Spectacle mini-magazines that are issued every Wednesday, and are available at newsstand kiosks. There also are two free booklets, LYLO and Paris Jazz Club Agenda, found at clubs and FNAC stores.
During the 1940s and 1950s, American musicians thrilled new audiences in dark, subterranean places. It's where saxophonist Charlie Parker and pianist Bud Powell found favor, saxophonist Dexter Gordon and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie gained new fans, and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins became revered among the jazz giants. In modern-day Paris, time seems to stop and images of the World War II era are sensed when descending a steep, foot-worn stone staircase to arrive in a cellar showroom.
Paris has 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; once again, the venue 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 manouche replications of the gypsy-jazz sound of guitarist Django Reinhardt.
There were also numerous summer-season festivals in July and August throughout France, in Nice, St. Emilion, Vienne, Juan-les-Pins, Vannes and Marciac. But even those who opted to stay in Paris had many choices, including two "American" festivals. The first was in June and July, in the 75-seat Duc des Lombards on the Right Bank. American stars ranged from pianists Dr. John and Aaron Goldberg to trumpeter Dominick Farinacci and singer Gretchen Parlato, with admission averaging $30 per person per set. The Duc booked local and touring European combos on other nights.
The second American fest filled the 80-seat Sunside jazz club, with performers including pianist Uri Caine, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianists Dan Tepfer and Ran Blake, and guitarist Wayne Krantz. There also was a rare club date for 93-year-old tenor player Hal Singer, an American expat since 1965, who sold out the 80-seat club. Singer's sound was still strong and inventive, although his ending-phrase notes were not sustained as long as in the past. Downstairs, in the smaller Sunset, organist Rhoda Scott performed three nights with her "Lady Quartet" of three young Parisian females, Sophie Alour and Lisa Cat-Berro on saxophones, and Julie Saury on drums.
During the same time, a series of even more legendary musicians performed at the huge Olympia hall, including dynamic 82-year-old pianist Ahmad Jamal with guest reed/woodwind multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef (at 91, still extraordinarily inventive), Dr. John, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and organist Joey DeFrancesco, but tickets were expensive, at 45 to 99 Euros ($56 to $124 USD). The largest jazz venue, New Morning, offered an impressive lineup that included pianist Eddie Palmieri, singers Roberta Gambarini and Patti Austin, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and blues guitarist Lucky Peterson.
There also were plenty of other stars booked at the Duc des Lombards nightclub, among them Dr. John, singer Tierney Sutton, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, a guitar summit with Larry Coryell and Mike Stern, and a Django Reinhardt tribute led by clarinetist Evan Christopher. A few hotels offered duos and trios in their lounges, such as the Hotel L'Aubusson (Café Laurent, 10 Euros and included one drink). Larger aggregations performed in the Hotel Meridien L'Etoile Jazz Club (the hotel has dropped the longtime moniker of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club) for 26 Euros that also included a drink.
The Paris Jazz Festival's weekend concerts at Parc Floral included an afternoon concert by Lisa Simone, singing from her own repertoire and the songbook of her mother, Nina Simone. Simone has been a Broadway mainstay since the 1990s, and demonstrated the vocal strength to sustain that segment of performance, but also the more understated nuances of her maternal influence. Another weekend featured the blues of singer-guitarist Keb' Mo', as well as successive French and European combos paying tributes to Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Cole Porter. Park admission was 5.50 euros, with picnicking and wine-sipping permitted, following a stroll along a walkway that passed Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval castle.
The club scene stayed strong into early August, slowing somewhat during the traditional month of vacation for many Parisians. On many nights, four Seine bridges were crossed in order to arrive at Paris' most famous club, Le Caveau de la Huchette, in the Latin Quarter. The stone steps lead to the underground club that has presented live jazz since 1946, following the liberation of Paris during World War II. There's always a swing band playing American classics for dancers of all ages and sizes, guaranteeing the audience a visual and aural treat for 12 Euros (15 Euros on weekends), and inexpensive wine, beer and other drinks. Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, now living in Tuscany, had two summer bookings there, enthusiastically appreciated by a diverse age-mix audience. Other Americans booked at the club were pianist Al Copley and saxophonist Detroit Gary Wiggins, in addition to Joey Morant, who's known for playing two trumpets at once. Boogie-woogie pianists were also an ongoing favorite of the Huchette crowd.
As for the parallel of jazz in Paris to New York, the difference for fans on a tight budget is that there are so many French clubs with low or no admission cost. Among them are Café Universel, Les Oubliettes, Autour de Midi et Minuit, Jazz Cartoon, L'Atelier Charonne, Baiser Sale and Cav du 38 Riv.' Other venues that book local talent but have cover charges are Chez Papa, Swan Bar, Le Petit Journal St. Michel and Le Petit Journal Montparnasse.
Most jam sessions have free admission, and piano bars cost only the price of a drink. La Cité de la Musique arts complex on the eastern edge of Paris has many jazz and classical concerts, as well as exhibits relating to music. Radio station TSF (89.9 fm) programs 24/7 mainstream jazz, bebop and big band sounds.