Image courtesy of Vogue Records.
25 Greatest Jazz Records by Americans in Paris
For the people of Paris. November 2015
For the people of Paris. November 2015
The relationship between Paris and musicians has been mostly a love affair, started from the early years of jazz and continued to this day, with the post war years as the peak of interest, visits and involvement in Parisian scene. The curiosity about jazz, similar to that of African artwork revival in the early 20th century Paris, was expanding in various directions in the years between early 1950s and late 1960s. Jazz appeared in or influenced French literature and cinema, while I'm sure, the connection between this American art and France goes beyond these two primary examples.
With a profound history of hosting American jazz musicians and giving them the opportunity to play and record, the Paris-recorded albums are too important to remain unlisted and unnoticed. This is one attempt to pay a closer attention to the Parisian jazz records.
These are recordings I have listened to and mostly loved during the years, but I'm sure there are still hundreds of recordings there, waiting to be discovered. Probably you will notice the absence of more contemporary albums on the list, but that can be explained in regard to the current international status of jazz and the blurred concepts of nationality and borders in the 21th century jazz scene. Now, appearing in a Parisian studio or a concert hall is a common stage of activity for any internationally recognized artist. But I guess, back in the 1950s, it must have been a very unique experience being and recording in Paris for someone like Gerald Wiggins. This uniqueness is derived, among many other things, from the status of Afro-Americans in France and the fact that they have been cherished as artists and seen as heroes of the Existentialist and Anti-colonial movements of the post war period.
This list was initiated as a part of my short-lived jazz program, targeted for Iranian listeners, which ran between 2011 and early 2012. The episodes 22 to 24 were titled Jazz In Paris, and during three sessions I played many tracks from the albums I've listed here. If some Farsi speaking and commentary in between the tracks don't bother you, they are available here, here and here as podcast.
Furthermore, last week I posted a video about the lives of American expatriates in Paris, from the documentary Harlem sur Seine, that can be accessed here.
Most of these recording are available in digital formats, thanks to three extensive reissue projects, Jazz In Paris (Universal/Gitanes), Vogue jazz reissues and Americans Swinging in Paris series.
This is part one of my listing affair with jazz in Paris. The second part would compile a list of favorite live recordings in the city.
Please let me know about your favorite Paris albums by leaving comments or adding your lists to the bottom of this post.
I'm a superstitious man. I start every list with someone related to Ellington and Ellingtonia. Aside from this old ritual, it must be said that this one is an exceptionally well-played and well-recorded anthology with great tunes such as Confessin'.
Byas and his warm tenor sound creates the core concept of Paris of romantics and artists in this collection of ballads that sometime feels too timid or to restricted to its romantic notions, but generally the feeling is there and genuinely so.
Mr. Blues Pour Flirter
An auspicious encounter between one of the most neglected giants of alto saxophone and three superb local talents: Rene Thomas (guitar), Pierre Michelot (bass) and Georges Arvanitas (organ).
From Boogie to Funk
It's hard to resist the sound of old-timers in Paris, as if the city brings them back to the vitality of their heydays and makes them roar, like this Coleman and Bud Johnson session, with a witty/funky Afromotive in Blue as one of the highlights, and played mostly by muted trumpet.
It doesn't give the listener a Parisian feeling. The master, as always, has locked himself in the asymmetric sound patterns, and his Gothic structures challenge the Gothic cathedrals of Paris. It's a piece of art which is recorded in Paris, but actually belongs to a bigger and inner metropolis: Monkville!
The first volume from a two CD set of the Little Jazz's complete output on Vogue, and like any other thing from the man, energetic, blithe and full of life. He is accompanied by the right kind of people, among them Zoot Sims in his first Parisian stint, Dick Hyman, Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke.
Joue Pour le Dance
During the summer of 1950, Gerald Wiggins was staying in Paris as Lena Horne's accompanist and he recorded a session as Jerry Wiggins, working along Lena's drummer Chico Hamilton. Don't pay attention to the title of the album, because this music is anything but danceable, unless the French have invented some appropriate body movements with this elegant, lively trio sound.
Mary Lou Williams
I Made You Love Paris
The first lady of piano and her trios and quintet that makes anyone love Paris. Swinging and bright!
Willie "the Lion" Smith
Music On My Mind
A nostalgic reminiscing of the glorious days of Paris and its jazz Belle Époque via stride piano and Chopin.
Dizzy Gillespie & The Double Six Of Paris feat. Bud Powell
An odd session of vocal bop repertoire in French, and one of too many live and studio sessions Dizz had in Paris.
Avec Henri Renaud et son orchestre et Jon Eardley
Zoot in Paris is as relax and laid-back as Zoot anywhere.
Here, the master drummer not only played and recorded in Paris, but also paid homage to the city, in the opening track of the album which is a suite about Eiffel Tower, The Left Bank, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, and other Parisian landmarks. He closed the set with Liberté and six months after, records the groundbreaking Freedom Now!
Jazz Time Paris, Vol.9
In September 1953 Wallington left the Lionel Hampton orchestra in Brussels and ended up in Paris recording eight sides for Vogue with Pierre Michelot and Jean-Louis Viale as drummer. Pure delight!
Oscar Peterson & Stéphane Grappelli
"A brilliant partnership," Richard Cook and Brian Morton calls it, and "a lovely set of standards that see Oscar and Stéphane gently spar their way through." It cannot get more Parisian.
Jimmy Raney Quartet Visits Paris
Good sessions produced by Leonard Feather during the quartet's European tour, featuring the eminent Sonny Clark. Many other sides were cut in France throughout Raney's relatively long career, but this one sounds like the most soulful to me.
Lord, Lord, Am I Ever Gonna Know?
This session resurfaced some 35 years after its initial recording to remind us of the underestimated mastery of Lucky Thompson on tenor and soprano saxophones. The house drummer of Paris, Kenny Clarke, is there to support Lucky, and the ace pianist Martial Solal adds some French flavor to the spiritual blues pieces Thomson has composed for this occasion.
The Fabulous Slide Hampton Quartet
Poorly recorded but fervently played piece of the late 1960s angst. NH Pedersen and Philly Joe are among companions. Dangerously beautiful!
The Hawk In Paris
"Paris," say Mr. Hawk, "is it. It's the most it place there is." I think it is clear enough, alas this one is a fake Paris album and never recorded in France. But I'd say the Parisian spirit is there, that abiding love for the city Hawk started visiting since the 1930s. Here he captures the essene of the city in sound, with the help of some beautiful arrangements by Manny Album and a string section attached that generates a velvety feeling throughout the album. There is a sense of yearning in it that breaks any heart. Forgive me for this deviation from rules of the game.
Al Haig & Pierre Michelot
Al In Paris
Musica Rrecords 1977
A mighty bridge between Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, but actually exceeding both masters in its divine, lyrical sensibility and the outburst of emotions.
A Portrait of Thelonious
Produced by Cannonball Adderley and no less than a masterpiece. Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke are the supporting men and one wonders isn't this listing business just an excuse to praise these two giants whose names repeat every time a good sound is raised from Paris.
Phil Woods and His European Rythym Machine
Alive And Well In Paris
It kicks off with And When We Are Young (Dedicated To Bob Kennedy) and explodes right in front of our eyes (or ears). I have heard nothing as furious and provoking as this since Freedom Now!
This is not only one of the best Paris visitation by an American jazz musicians, but a sublime example of the art of piano and one of the best recordings I've ever heard in my life.
There is something in his later recordings, a maturity or wisdom that can talk to anyone, and this session even surpasses those achievements and becomes a stunning classic with an immense sense of poesy and passion.
Cootie Williams/Joe Newman
Jazz at Midnight
It came out in Jazz In Paris reissue series and it simply changed my center of gravity forever. The album is compiled of two unrelated sessions, one an almost flawless septet session by Newman and some of Basie alumni, and then an offbeat quintet led by the ex-trumpeter of Ellington orchestra, Cootie Williams. I have strong association with the second part, Cootie and organ, which has been dismissed by few people who have tried it. Mood Indigo is the moodiest and Lil' Darlin' is the sound of angels breathing in a cold winter night.
Our Man In Paris
Blue Note, 1963
One of the first records I ever owned and where I learned my lessons of perfection in form and purity in emotions. The eternal residents of the dream city, Michelot, Clarke and Powell, plays along Dexter who, according to Whitney Balliett, "locks together giant cubes of sound in his solos, piling one on another until he has constructed a gleaming amphitheater."