Thursday, March 28, 2013

Le Jazz à Paris

Duke Ellington in Paris

‎"America is my country and Paris is my hometown." -- Gertrude Stein

Jazz found its second home in Paris, France. Josephine Baker and Charleston dance paved the way for Sidney Bechet and La Nouvelle-Orléans music. It started in Pigalle and moved to Saint-Germain. Surrealist were fascinated by it, but it was existentialists who cherished it. French films used a good deal of it as their soundtrack, or even their story. Cinéma de papa liked it (Marcel Carné) and the rebellious figures of modern cinema, known as Nouvelle Vague (New Wave), liked it even more: a generation confronted another generation, nevertheless jazz stood there as their only concurrent kick.

The anti-colonialist attitude and a certain tendency toward exotica made Paris of post-WWI the place for American drifters and jazz community. They were free, accepted and treated like kings. "The best of America drifts to Paris," said F. Scott Fitzgerald, "the American in Paris is the best American." So it was when Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Lionel Hampton, Kenny Clarke, Miles Davis, Bill Coleman, Don Byas, Bud Powell and many other resided in the city for shorter or longer periods.

Next week I'll give you my list of favorite American jazz recorded in Paris, those Parisian albums I canonize. But for now, I have a short black and white documentary from 1962, Harlem sur Seinedirected by Gilbert Bovay, which gives you a picture of American jazz musicians and their lives in Paris. It contains 13 minutes of rare footage of artists such as Joe Turner, Kenny Clarke, Don Byas and Lou Bennet.

Watch it here:

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