Sunday, November 15, 2015

Best Of American Jazz In Paris (Studio Recordings)

Image courtesy of Vogue Records.

25 Greatest Jazz Records by Americans in Paris

The Infinity of Lists, by Umberto Eco, is among the titles on my to-read list, though even before opening the book, and judging from the cover, I can catch the point and apply it to this list of my favorite studio recording of American jazz musicians in Paris.

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 long history of hosting American jazz musicians and giving them the space to play and record, the Paris-recorded albums are too important to remain unlisted. This is one attempt to pay a closer listen to the Parisian jazz records.

These are recordings I have listened to and mostly loved over the years, knowing that there are still hundreds of recordings there, waiting to be rediscovered. 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 nothing unusual or unique for any internationally recognized artist. But I reckon, back in the 1950s, it must have been a rare experience being present and recording in Paris for someone like Gerald Wiggins. This uniqueness is derived from, among many other things, 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. Many of these notions remained a romantic and flawed reading of jazz history, but the recorded documents tell of a joy and sense of exploration which was bestowed to the musicians because of the place of recording.

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. They are available here, here and here.

Furthermore, last week I posted a video about the lives of American expatriates in Paris, from the documentary Harlem sur Seine, that can be viewed 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.


Cat Anderson
In Paris
EMI, 1958-64
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'.


Don Byas
Dreyfus, 1945-49
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.

Sonny Criss
Mr. Blues Pour Flirter
Brunswick, 1963
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).

Bill Coleman
From Boogie to Funk
Playdor, 1960
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.

Thelonious Monk
Piano Solo
Vogue, 1954
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!

Roy Eldridge
Vogue, 1950
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.

Gerald Wiggins
Joue Pour le Dance
Vogue, 1950
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
Gitanes, 1954
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
Emarcy, 1965
A nostalgic reminiscing of the glorious days of Paris and its jazz Belle Époque via stride piano and Chopin.

Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie & The Double Six Of Paris feat. Bud Powell
Phillips, 1963
An odd session of vocal bop repertoire in French, and one of too many live and studio sessions Dizz had in Paris.

Zoot Sims
Avec Henri Renaud et son orchestre et Jon Eardley
Ducretet-Thomson, 1956
Zoot in Paris is as relax and laid-back as Zoot anywhere.

Max Roach
Parisian Sketches
Mercury, 1960
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!


George Wallington
Jazz Time Paris, Vol.9
Vogue, 1954
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
Peterson-Grappelli Quartet
America, 1973
"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
Jimmy Raney Quartet Visits Paris
Vogue, 1954
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.

Lucky Thompson
Lord, Lord, Am I Ever Gonna Know?
Candid, 1961
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.

Slide Hampton
The Fabulous Slide Hampton Quartet
Pathé, 1969
Poorly recorded but fervently played piece of the late 1960s angst. NH Pedersen and Philly Joe are among companions. Dangerously beautiful!


Coleman Hawkins
The Hawk In Paris
Vik, 1956
"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.

Bud Powell
A Portrait of Thelonious
Columbia, 1961
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
Pathé, 1968
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!


Earl Hines
In Paris
America, 1970
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.


Chet Baker
Broken Wing 
Sonopresse, 1978
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
Emarcy, 1956/1959
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.


Dexter Gordon
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."


  1. You missed this studio recording:
    Charles Mingus - The America Sessions

    1. I'm sure there are many more studio recordings from Paris jazz, but these are those I have listened to and liked. I was planning to include Mingus on my live recording post - a marvelous concert from 1964.

  2. The Vogue label has a box set that includes most of the Vogues listed here. It has 35 albums on 20 CDs and is just great. Highly recommended! Also, extremely inexpensive.

    1. With exception of labels such as Mosaic, I've become suspicious and weary of the commercial repackaging of jazz recordings. Usually, I rather pay no attention to these sort of luxury products.

  3. Replies
    1. That falls into the category of my favorite LIVE Parisian recordings. The list above are only about the STUDIO sessions.

  4. Where is Mulligan/Brookmeyer at Playel?

  5. Hi Eshan, just discovered your blog yesterday, and I love it. One of my favorites in this list would be Erroll Garner Early in Paris. Check it out!