Paris Excursions – Everything you need to know about the Paris Jazz Festival

May 04, 2016

I love Paris… the city is the true home of art, fashion, music and an irresistible philosophy of openness.

Josephine Baker

Jazz in Paris is steeped in history and beauty – from the arrival of Josephine Baker (a brilliant jazz singer, known as the “Black Pearl”. The brilliant ex-patriot Steve Lacy and his amazing free jazz improvisational quintet. And the many greats who have made Paris a second home.

Paris continues to welcome and showcase exceptional talent and innovative music. This generation of venues includes the revered Duc de Lombards, Sunset & Sunside, New morning, Le Baiser Salé, and countless others. Her many ‘caves’ showcase everything from big bands to trios and duos of piano and voice. There is no end to what is available and the ear candy is always tasty.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Steve Potts (of the formerly mentioned Steve Lacy Quintet). He is one of the only surviving members of that ensemble and is an incredibly talented saxophonist. I also caught a BRILLIANT performance recently, in tribute to Sidney Bechet, organized and performed by his son Daniel Sidney Bechet! It was simply outstanding.

There are jazz and jazz-related-happenings all over the city! For the nostalgic, there is the ‘Buzz’ at Trés Honoré Bar on Wednesday nights featuring Brian Scott Bagely, a devotee of Josephine Baker. The show is theatrical with her flair for the extreme.

Caveau De La Huchette

And then there are those “caves” I mentioned: Autour de midi, Cave du 38 Riv, Caveau de La Huchette, Le Caveau des Oubliettes… each of them fascinating places to hear jazz. They’re intimate environs, some with very interesting histories… especially Le Caveau des Oubliettes (‘Cellar of the Forgotten’). The space dates back to the French Revolution. It is currently situated below the Guillotine Bar, and still has shackles which held prisoners attached to the walls of the cave. A more atmospheric place to hear music that speaks to the yearning of the heart and the spirit and the soul, does not exist.

For the more adventurous, Paris abounds with open mics and jam sessions which feature seasoned performers. The beauty of attending and participating in an open mic or jam session, is that no one will know you. You could be SPECTACULAR and find your ‘inner star’ without fear. The musicians who play these are accomplished and usually know almost any song you might care to sing! It’s a fun way to exercise your performance muscle, and you can go home and say “I sang in a club in Paris!”

“Paris is so very beautiful that it satisfies something in you that is always hungry in America.”
— Ernest Hemingway

Finally, festival season is approaching, and there are so many wonderful elements to the Paris jazz festival. The festival was started by two jazz fans. Who, with the support of the Floral Park organization found it to be a marvelous idea to combine their favorite music with the flora and fauna of France. It is diverse, also offers workshops in music, memory, and strategy. It has all elements of creating, listening to and understanding music.

The Paris jazz festival runs for 8 weekends in the summer. This year it’s taking place at the Floral Park (Botanic Garden) in Vincennes. Combining music with nature, it’s truly one of the cities most beautiful events.

The success of this concert series rests with its thematic programming. This year the Paris jazz festival is celebrating London: “Launching this season with a tribute to London was a way to celebrate the other great European capital that recognized the greatness of the African-American heritage at a very early stage.” Focusing on the power of Paris jazz  festival to capture and engage people of many nations and ethnicities, while paying tribute to it’s origins, has proven extremely successful and an incredible source of power, inspiration and beauty! HIGHLY recommended.

Paris lives up to its hype.

I lived here back in the 1980’s and could not wait to return to the accordion players, playing traditional French folk songs, Edith Piaf gems or jazz vocalists… to East European men singing au chorale or an African man killing it on a Kalimba… or a lonely trumpet player blowing along to a classic track in the metro. It’s still a magical, musical, artistic, delicious place, and ALWAYS distinctly itself. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Come taste it, add it to your Paris itinerary and have a big bite of a truly magnificent city. Enjoy a crusty baguette, a creamy chèvre, a bottle of Brouilly and JAZZ.

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