一本道理不卡一二三区

How Paris fell in love with jazz

一本道理不卡一二三区 A new TV series from the director of La La Land is set in Paris's jazz clubs. Tim Smith-Laing delves into that scene's 100-year-old history

Duke Ellington (left) and Louis Armstrong were among the jazz stars drawn to Paris
Duke Ellington (left) and Louis Armstrong were among the jazz stars drawn to Paris Credit: AP

It was inevitable that Damien Chazelle would make a jazz drama set in Paris. After Whiplash’s moody homage to Buddy Rich’s New York, and La La Land’s paean to Arthur Freed’s LA, Paris had to come next. The Eddy follows club owner Eliot Udo (André Holland), an American in Paris who could hardly be further from the technicolour pizazz of Gene Kelly. Once a fêted pianist, Eliot is divorced, bereaved, saddled with a failing business, and fresh from a break-up with singer Maja – played with downbeat rumpledness by Cold War’s Joanna Kulig. Soon, his life is destabilised further by the recklessness of his business partner Farid (Tahar Rahim), and, the title predicts, he finds himself spinning in a current, struggling to stay afloat.

What Eliot does have, though, is a community of fellow fans for the obsession of his life: jazz. The Eddy’s Parisian patrons and players approach it with a gravity that suggests no other music need exist. While the show’s loungey soundtrack might not inspire quite the same devotion among viewers, it is a portrait of jazz fandom that Francophiles will recognise instantly. In France, where it is a mainstay of cultural programming on television and radio, and the subject of annual festivals that attract artists and fans from across the world, jazz is serious stuff. There is perhaps nowhere else on earth is it treated with quite such reverence.

一本道理不卡一二三区The French have good reason to feel a special bond with jazz. While America gave birth to the genre, and to almost all its great innovators, Paris was the first place beyond America to welcome jazz with open arms, beginning a love affair that has continued ever since. The beginning came amazingly early, with the debarkation at Brest in January 1918 of New York bandleader James Reese Europe, head of the Harlem Hellfighters regimental band. Their repertoire of patriotic songs scattered with a few syncopated blues and ragtime tunes would hardly count as jazz today, but their tour of 25 French cities that year introduced France to something entirely new. It was enough for "ragtimitis" to set in for good. 

一本道理不卡一二三区One of those who carried on the beat after the Hellfighters returned to Harlem was another African-American transplant: Eugene Bullard. A force of nature, he appears to have been a one-man invasion force for jazz. After stowing away on a ship bound for Europe in his teens, he made his way as a boxer and vaudevillian, before joining the Foreign Legion in 1914. By the Armistice, he had fought at the Somme and Verdun, been seriously wounded, and flown as a machine gunner in twenty combat sorties for the French Air Service.

On his return to Paris, while still working as a prize fighter, masseur, and trainer, he became the drummer at Zelli’s, the best club in Montmartre. He was such a draw that by 1928 he owned his own club, Le Grand Duc. Along with Bricktop’s – owned by fellow African-American transplant, Ada "Bricktop" Smith – Le Grand Duc made Paris throb to the rhythms of le hot. The two made Montmartre the beating heart of the années folles, where visiting stars like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller played to patrons like F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin and the recently abdicated Edward VII. 

While most players came and went, the undisputed star of the scene made her home in Paris, and kept the party going all the way until the Second World War. Like Bricktop and Bullard, the all-singing-all-dancing Josephine Baker had little time for the segregation and violence of America. Having witnessed the 1917 massacres in East St Louis as a child, when rioters killed as many as 250 African-Americans and drove some 6,000 more from their homes, she had no intention of going back. Paris provided both refuge and opportunity.

Arriving in 1925 to dance with the Revue Nègre, Baker went on to top the bill at the Folies Bergère, then owned a succession of her own clubs. Between her dancing, records, and films, she became the queen of the jazz age – so untouchable that she would be able to remain in Nazi-occupied Paris, tapping collaborationist officials for information that she passed on to the Resistance.

For all its popularity, though, jazz was still an exotic commodity in 1930s Paris. Imported from foreign shores, it was prized for its "primitivism" – incarnated by Baker dancing clad in a ostrich feathers, or, worse, bananas. "Africa" – strictly in inverted commas – was in, not just for dancing and drinking, but as an imaginative wellspring for the Dadaism, Surrealism, and Cubism, powering Picasso, Matisse and their contemporaries to new, and foreign, ways of making art. 

Josephine Baker in costume for her 'banana dance', c1920s Credit: Getty Images

For jazz to become French, it would take that Frenchest of things to intervene: bureaucracy. In 1931, five Parisian students founded what would become The Hot Club de France, not a venue but a national organisation dedicated to promoting jazz through concerts, listening parties, talks, and erudite criticism. Despite what jazz historian William Kenney III called an enthusiasm for "long internal memoranda and belabored complex organizational charts", the Hot Club did more to promote jazz than any organisation in the world. And, in 1934, they gave jazz its first truly French group: the Quintette du Hot Club de France. 

Until the Quintette, jazz in Paris had hardly detached itself from minstrel shows. Footage of Josephine Baker shows her act as part erotic dance, part slapstick routine, eyes crossing and uncrossing in an endless succession of funny faces. What it was not was insouciant. The Quintette were nothing but. Formed around the core of violinist Stephane Grappelli and guitarist Django Reinhardt, they made le hot cool. A 1938 reel designed to promote the group shows Reinhardt, cigarette dangling from his lips, throwing off casual fretboard lightning slouched in an armchair. Grappelli answers with his violin from the bed. The other members of the group watch on while playing cards. 

Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1946 Credit: Redferns

He too was an exotic import, but one from far closer to Paris. A Belgian-born Romani, he was the son of travelling circus performers, and dedicated enough to gypsy life that he did not live in a house until he turned 30, and would disappear on and off for the rest of his life, wandering away from gigs and engagements whenever the fancy took him. He was, what is more, equipped with a backstory like no other: badly burned in a fire that destroyed his caravan, he was left with a permanent limp and only two working fingers on his fretting hand. All of which made his virtuosity, solo and sparring with Grappelli’s sinuous violin lines, even more astonishing. He was the first truly cool star of music – setting a template that rock stars have been following ever since.

With the Quintette, France finally made le swing its own, and gave jazz a form that would feed into the coolness of Paris right through to the 1960s, when stars like Juliette Greco and Serge Gainsbourg picked up its baton and made the world swoon. It is little wonder the love affair has never ended. ​

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