Paris jazz. The two simple words evoke the phantom of Gitane-infused bars in the 1930s. A decade earlier this American art form had crossed the Atlantic with African American artists like Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet and Arthur Briggs, but the French quickly embraced the sound and made it their own. At the very forefront of the Paris jazz scene was Django Reinhardt, a gypsy guitarist whose sound is still popular today and can be heard in films like The Matrix, Chocolat or Hugo.
The smoke-veiled nightclubs are gone, but gypsy jazz, known as musique manouche or musique gitane, is alive and well in Paris today. Places like L’Atelier Charonne are still buzzing with dinner concerts every night of the week. The meal is simple, and optional, but it does guarantee you a seat at this charmingly intimate venue. The highlight of the evening is undoubtedly the outstanding lineup of local gypsy jazz stars, including Django’s grandson David and Potzi from the brilliant group Paris Combo. Guitarists, pianists and violists play lively tunes that make you want to get up and dance. Sunday night, cocktail-hour jam sessions are a special treat full of surprises.
Another nightly jazz scene can be enjoyed at Aux Petits Joueurs, near Les Buttes Chaumont. Also a dinner-concert club, this address offers a wider selection of jazz styles on the menu but still remains dedicated to the gypsy jazz sound, with a couple of concerts of this genre scheduled each week.
The most popular place to head to, with a history of gypsy jazz soirées since the 1960s, is without a doubt La Chope des Puces in St.-Ouen, near the famous flea market. And because the music starts early, you can do a bit of shopping before heading over to the Garcia family weekend jams sessions that begin around 2 p.m. If you’re a true enthusiast, you can even book a class at the music school that runs here during the week.
Even the staid, traditional concert halls, like Salle Pleyel, include gypsy jazz concerts in their programs, and last month I heard Biréli Lagrène perform at the rocking La Cigale, a concert venue near Montmartre. To find out which concerts are playing during your stay in Paris, pick up a copy of the magazine Pariscope at a news kiosk as soon as you arrive, because no matter when you come to the City of Light, Paris jazz is cool, man.
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Tags: Aux Petits Joueurs, Biréli Lagrène, culture & art, Django Reinhardt, France, gypsy jazz, La Chope des Puces, L’Atelier Charonne, music, musique gitane, musique manouche, Paris, Sylvia Sabes, travel