Paris Jazz Diary 2007
Proof that jazz is an international language was evident all summer in the cosmopolitan city of Paris, where people of all nationalities and ages come together to perform and/or listen. The past 11 summers that I've spent here and in other parts of Europe have convinced me that Europeans love "America's musical gift to the world.
But it's pricier over here than in the States. There are cover charges (7 to 22 euros, $9.50-$30) even for local bands, but the clubs were full every night I was out and about and, despite an unusually cool, cloudy and rainy summer, even for the outdoor concerts. Jazz is pervasive in Paris, and not just in clubs or concert halls, but also in parks, Metro (subway) stations, on the trains and street cornersincluding even a pianist who schlepped his instrument on a wheeled platform.
All summer, there were free weekend afternoon jazz concerts in the beautiful Parc Floral in the Bois Vincennes, admission 5 euros ($7) into the park. Everyone brings picnic supplies, which I call a BYOB (Bring Your Own Baguette, Blanket and Bottle). With those items in my backpack, I arrived to enjoy two solid hours of the extraordinary Wynton Marsalis Quintet. I was part of an audience of thousands perched on sloping hillsides, under shady trees and near ponds, as well as occupying 400 seats under the covered outdoor stage. In addition, there was an unusual exhibition of cutout metal art of portraits of jazz figures by a French artist in the visitor's center. Parisians truly value and venerate "Our Music another reason I like to come here. And they like Americans, contrary to what you may have heard or readthey just don't like our politics. Previous concerts in this spacious big-city oasis (think Central Park in New York City) featured various top European musicians plus U.S.-based Geri Allen, Joe Sample and Randy Crawford, Chucho Valdez, Dave Holland, Philip Catherine and big bands.
Jazz a la Villette was another annual festival of super-jazz performers. Three saxophonists were in residence at the host venue, Cité de la Musique, August 29-September 9: Americans Wayne Shorter and Steve Coleman, and Frenchman Julien Lourau. My home state (Arizona) was represented by saxophonist Tony Malaby, now a New York musician who performed with Coleman's "Aquarius Ingress sextet of four saxophones (Ravi Coltrane and Miguel Zenon) and two clarinets (Mike McGinnis and Chris Speed), reminiscent of the World Saxophone Quartet. Altoist Coleman says he employs sounds as language, so rather than following the usual jazz format, his concert demonstrated his interest in unrestricted spontaneity of irregular sound patterns. The mainly youthful audience dug it, as well as flutist Magic Malik's pre-set that combined instruments, voice and electronics, including a turntablist.
The festival's highlight concert for me was the duo of guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Ron Carter, a meaningful musical dialogue from these septuagenarians (77 and 70, respectively). Hall's legendary crisp style was complemented by Carter's warm sound in a theater seating 1,500 on three levels. "Alone Together was an appropriate opener for the diverse 90-minute set that offered familiar charts whose titles alone elicited applause, such as "In a Sentimental Mood, "Skylark, "My Funny Valentine and an encore of "Bag's Groove. Hall's original, "Bent Blues, showed his ongoing interest in new sounds, and "Peace was performed free-association-style by this incredible pair.
The Cité previously staged an "Organ Summit, which featured global star (and another Arizona resident) Joey DeFrancesco with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Reuben Wilson. An earlier gospel-soul concert offered Solomon Burke, Lucky Peterson, The Campbell Brothers and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Also, on six consecutive summer nights, Arenes de Montmartre in the legendary artist-colony area staged a series that included the trio of saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum along with organist Rhoda Scott and others. The now-annual Paris Plage (manufactured beach created on the Right Bank of the Seine) offered a mix of music, including jazz.
My first jazz-club outing upon arrival in July was to hear expat trombonist Sarah Morrow's newest band, Elektric Air, at the Sunset Jazz Club. Morrow, who has a strong Paris following, has shifted into a new sound in complete contrast to her straight-ahead concert last summer at Parc Floral (archived on this site as Paris Jazz Diary 2006). She has fused jazz with hip-hop for exciting and melodic improvised music, complete with a Los Angeles turntablist. The band of Americans from three coasts was fresh from the Vienne Jazz Festival in central France, playing to a curious and then appreciative audience of this infectiously funky sound.
When an American jazz-musician friend arrived on his days off from his hotel gig in The Netherlands, we headed to one of the many jam sessions. Pianist-vocalist Bobby Hamilton wowed listeners at Le Café Universel with his rendition of "Green Dolphin Street (following eight singers and wannabes, but remember they are singing "our music in "our language !
As always, I consulted the weekly Pariscope magazine to plot future nights at 30-some jazz venues. Music starts later than in the U.S., at 9:30 or 10 p.m., and most have an entry charge, although not all require drink orders. Many clubs now have no-smoking areas, and the audiences are always respectful listeners.
Being a summer visitor on a budget, I know the free entry clubs, including Le Caveau des Oubliettes (Caveau with prison theme including a guillotine), the aforementioned Café Universel (popular with the Sorbonne student community), Le Bilboquet (St. Germaine-des-Pres tourist area, 30-year-old supper club, pricey drinks), Chez Papa (no cover with dinner, white baby grand piano, old LP album covers, California-themed posters) and Café Laurent (same area in the Hotel Daubusson).
Other favorites charge entry but should not be missed. In the Latin Quarter, Le Caveau de la Huchette is the oldest ongoing jazz club in Paris (since 1946), a subterranean cave with swing music and always crowded with dancers (choose a seat on one of the upper levels to best hear and watch). Piano bars are found in all the tourist areas, and Le Relais de la Huchette offers its black baby grand as a perch for various vocalists, who often sing French songs, too.
Larger clubs include the spacious warehouse-like New Morning that books mostly big-name touring artists, where I've heard Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis, Spyro Gyra, etc. (Big stars also play at La Stade, a huge venue with huge admission prices for such as Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Stacey Kent and Roberta Gambarini), Jazz Club Lionel Hampton (inside posh Hotel Meridien L'Etoile, entry fee includes first drink). Two of the longest-running supper clubs (but no dancing) are Le Petit Journal St. Michel (tiny cave-like) and Le Petit Journal Montparnasse (inside another Hotel Meridien, a large venue with frequent big bands, including Claude Bolling's). I found a few new (to me) places, including L'Entrepot, a triple-treats with a cinema, café and jazz club under one roof. There are at least two floating jazz clubs on the Seine, such as Melody Blues and Guinguette Pirate, but I've found the bookings to be erratic, as they also are at Le Franc Pinot and Blue Bayou.
There are four clubs in two blocks in the Les Halles area: Sunside-Sunset and Le Baiser Sale are next to each other, but nearby Au Duc des Lombards was closed all summer for renovation and expansion. Again this year, I heard former Phoenix vocalist Sylvia Howard several times in Paris clubs, including Le Sept Lezards in the Marais district.
She's a favorite at European festivals, too, a singer who puts her imprint on every song she chooses. Sylvia has been residing in Paris for eight years, after living and performing in the Orient for 10 years. A special guest that night was jazz poet Moe Singer, an expat who honored Max Roach's death earlier in the week by reciting "Jazz Is," accompanied by drummer John Betsch.
Tributes to Django Reinhardt are ongoing in Paris, and the concert I attended featured gifted guitarist Frederick Belinsky, who played melody lines at Uzi-speed (or TGV-speed, as I say in Paris, referring to the high-speed train that operates at nearly 200 mph). This was a trio setting with rhythm guitar and bass but no violin, as when Stephane Grappelli was part of the Hot Club of France combo. Performing in front of an icon-studded altar in Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre Church, the trio satisfied with 15 charts, including "Minor Swing, "Lady Be Good and, of course, Django's "Nuages (as a guitar solo).
I again was the speaker for Paris Soirees, a weekly Sunday arts salon created by expat Patricia Laplante Collins. My subject this year was "Celebrating Four Great Ladies of Jazz: Dinah, Billie, Ella and Sarah," accompanied by their music via CDs.
Vintage films played at theaters and outdoors all summer in Paris, including The Last of the Blue Devils (Kansas City reunion of Jay McShann, Big Joe Turner and Count Basie), the original 1952 Moulin Rouge (a massive outdoor screen set up behind the St. Eustache Church) and an incomparable experience of seeing The Wizard of Oz in French (no subtitles, original English- language songs, the Munchkins speaking French!).
At a news kiosk, I found French magazines that featured Arizona musicians this year: hamonica player Bob Corritore, who performs annually in Europe, was the subject of a five-page feature article in France's Blues Magazine. The article's photos were by photographers including state-mates Bruce Stevens and Marilyn Szabo. Corritore also was the subject of an 11-page article in ABS Magazine last March. Arizona's longtime vocal bluesman Big Pete Pearson was the "cover boy of the summer issue of Virus de Blues.
It was with regret that I confirmed my flight back to the U.S., knowing I would miss several upcoming concerts at New Morning, including "Jazz in Motion, featuring American-born Paris resident Sarah Petronio and her daughter, Leela, free-form tap-dancing to the jazz of pianist Philippe Milanta, bassist Bruno Rousselet and drummer John Betsch. I'm hoping to help put Arizona on her next stateside tour. In the meantime, I'll be listening online to the 24-hour Paris jazz radio station, TSF 89.9 fm.
Paris Jazz Festival, Jazz a la Villette, Jazz Paris, le Bilboquet, Cave au de la Huchette, Sunside-Sunset, Petit Journal-Montparnasse, Jazz Cartoon, 7 Lezards, Café-Laurent, Tap Dance, TSF Jazz