Paris: The jazz heart of the city of love

Oct 16, 2012


IT MAY BE more famous for its architecture and art, but no trip to Paris is complete without taking in some jazz. Options range from the once smoky and still-crowded clubs of St-Michel and St-Germain-des-Prs in the Latin Quarter to the more sophisticated establishments of Rue des Lombards in the 1st arrondissement. For something a little more spontaneous, jazz lovers seek out one of the many bars and brasseries in the 20th.

Enjoy one perfect day inParis,the undisputed capital of romance.

Among the internationals on the scene are some highly respected Australian musicians. But then, jazz in Paris has always been something of a multicultural affair. It was first introduced during World War I by African-American soldiers, many of whom played in army bands. Embraced by the French, they received recognition and respect unimaginable in the US, where they still had to use backdoor entrances to the clubs they played. In the 1920s, US jazz clarinettist Sidney Bechet became famous in Paris, as did singer and dancer Josephine Baker.

French writers and critics became huge supporters of the new sound and in 1934 the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stphane Grapelli, was born. The French answer to American jazz, the band recorded prolifically and became world-famous. African and Arab influences, a legacy of French colonialism, added to the diversity. After WWII, Miles Davis, Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon visited Paris, influencing another generation of French jazz musicians. Clarke and Powell stayed.

To this day, Parisians have a strong appreciation of live music, generously throwing euros into a hat – a common practice in Paris bars – while unemployed musicians are supported through the Intermittent du Spectacle system, a government benefits scheme that helps them survive between gigs and indirectly assists in the creation of new work.

Paris offers dozens of jazz concerts nightly, in all kinds of styles. Pick up a copy of listings guide Lylo to learn more.

Here, six Australians firmly ensconced in the jazz network share their stories & favourite Paris stages.


In 2005, packing an Australian National University School of Music jazz degree and a new album, Alex Stuart arrived in Paris. He’d lived there for four years as a child and again while travelling at 19, but this time planned to stay and forge a career in jazz. Having won the most prestigious French jazz award, the Jazz Juan Rvlations, in 2011, the 29-year-old is doing just that.

“I had decided after I finished my album, this was the place to be,” says Stuart over a drink at La Sardine in Place Sainte Marthe in the 10th arrondissement. “I’d considered New York, but decided on Paris because of the diversity of the jazz and proximity to world music. There is a lot of immigration that infuses the French jazz scene with various mixes. I was in love with the city itself: the food, the wine, the respect for culture.”

At the beginning, Stuart and Tim Willis, a fellow expat who came with him, accepted a gig for free beers and a meal. He has since explored multiple genres and now plays with a variety of performers and bands. “The level is so high here – it’s raised my game.”

Stuart has played at most of the city’s better jazz venues including Studio de l’Ermitage and Sunset-Sunside, the latter of which is his favourite for the calibre of “modern jazz-fusion and groove groups” it attracts. Sure, he misses the ocean and feels claustrophobic at times, but while Australia is still home, “the future feels like France”.


Double bass
Sbastien Girardot is perched on the terrace of a bar in swank Saint-Germain-des-Prs. “This is a great place to talk about jazz,” he says, pointing across the street to Hotel Louisiane. “This is where all the American musicians used to stay – Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday. Miles Davis lived here for six months or so and there were about eight jazz clubs around the corner.”

Girardot, 32, grew up in Melbourne, but is half-French, great-nephew to the famous French singer Lily Pons, who sung the French national anthem La Marseillaise next to Charles de Gaulle when France was liberated at the end of WWII. At 18, he was invited to play
double bass on a European tour with the Louisiana Shakers, a New Orleans-style band from Melbourne. He felt a deep connection to Paris and decided to stay put. Completing a degree at the Paris campus of the University of London, he supported himself by gigging around town. Upon graduating, he realised he had clocked up enough hours to qualify for Intermittent du Spectacle status and decided it was as good a career as any.

His current band with clarinettist Evan Christopher he describes as “Django la Crole”. Its album Finesse was named jazz album of the year in 2010 by The Sunday Times.

“The music is so diverse in Paris,” says Girardot. “If you want to find a Cuban drummer or a seven-string Brazilian guitar player, you can.”


Beneath chandeliers, a full house of well-dressed Parisians and delighted tourists are being served Champagne and foie gras. The curtains open to reveal a six-piece band, which breaks into a brassy rendition of Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island. Front and centre is a tall redhead with a full-length black gown and a winning smile. She is Wendy Lee Taylor and the setting is the Lido on the Champs-lyses.

“I have a great life,” says the 41-year-old singer. “I work at one of the most famous cabaret clubs in the world and have my days free for musical and personal projects.”

Born in Melbourne, Taylor enrolled in university to study languages, but left after a year when offered a professional performing contract in Japan. Following that, she sang and tap-danced her way through the Australian production of 42nd Street.Another musical she’d been cast in was canned, so a friend suggested that she send her CV to the Lido in Paris “because they love tall dancers”. She was offered a contract.

Taylor hasn’t looked back. She has released two albums with her quartet – Let’s Do It (2006), which features Chris Cody on piano, and All You Have To Do (2011) – and has now been the Lido’s resident singer for a decade. “After the Lido, I’ll often go and sing at the Caveau des Legendes in St-Germain-des-Prs. It’s a gorgeous cabaret/jazz club featuring top Paris and international talent.”


Chris Cody fell under Paris’ spell at an early age. His mother, a French teacher, listened to the chansons of Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Georges Brassens, and houseguests included a university professor who taught French and also played jazz piano, particularly Fats Waller. With the discovery of Sartre, Camus and existentialism at 16, Paris was confirmed as a destination. “This literature spoke to me like nothing else had. I formulated a dream of being a pianist on the Left Bank in Paris.”

Cody studied French and music at the University of Sydney before moving on to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. During this time he met instrumentalist David Lewis, who was already living in Paris. Spurred on by Lewis’ musical tales, Cody bought a one-way ticket there in 1990. His first job was playing piano in a little bar in Les Halles, where he was also expected to sing. “I’m not a singer,” says the 47-year-old. “I had to learn My Funny Valentine in a few days. I forgot the words, so I just made them up and hoped the audience wouldn’t notice.”

Twenty years later, he has earned a reputation as one of the best pianists in the city, playing alongside Rhoda Scott and Glenn Ferris (trombonist for the late Frank Zappa and StevieWonder). His jazz skilfully fuses modern, classical and North African influences, and he can be found performing in some of the best jazz venues including Caveau des Legendes and Duc des Lombards.

While he misses the sunlight of Australia, Cody feels right at home. “Hearing Miles Davis played down the aisles of a supermarket in Paris is still pretty damn cool.”


David Lewis, 53, has a residency on the first Sunday of every month at Lou Pascalou, a cafe in Mnilmontant in the 20th arrondissement. He arrived in Paris to study at the age of 22. “My mum has always been a Francophile and I loved Debussy and Maurice Andr.” His first gig after graduating from the conservatory involved playing in a blues band for a Chantal Thomass lingerie fashion show. After that, he took on as much as he could – “from subbing in Cats to the Folies Bergre, Jewish weddings and big bands. At one stage, I was in five different big bands.”

His group, Paris Combo, grew out of a gig at Cabaret Sauvage (Paris’ Spiegeltent) and became a global hit with its hybrid of eclectic jazz, lounge, swing and Gypsy jazz, infused with Latin and Eastern European influences. “People mix jazz with other musical tendencies,” he says. “Because jazz is about swing and rhythm and improvisation, it’s a passport for going in other musical directions.”

He has now spent more time in Paris than Australia, but Lewis likes to keep a foot in both camps. “The thing that’s hard about Paris sometimes is the lack of open space, but a 20-minute walk and you’re at Notre Dame. I had a fantasy vision of Paris before I came here. In many ways, it does live up to the fantasy. There’s a magical quality even after being here for three decades.”


“You can play pretty much any night of the week in the bars of Paris if you’ve got a small line-up and don’t mind passing the hat,” says Melissa Cox at Oxydbar jazz cafe (11th arrondissement). “It gives you the opportunity to workshop fresh material and play all the time.”

Cox, 35, performs at least once a week with Paris-based Australian blues/folk legend Chris Kenna, as well as an Irish folk group, several jazz outfits, a Moroccan fusion band and her own electropop project, Black Sesame. Hailing from Sydney, Cox studied jazz at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music before embarking on a six-month residency at the Tokyo Hilton.

She won a trip to Paris in 2008 in an online competition. On her second day, she hooked up with Australian bassist Jimi Sofo and Cameroon musician Francois Essindi, who invited them to gig with her the following night. Now she is performing several times a week while completing her film composition studies at l’cole Normale de Musique and the city feels like home. “I love looking at rooftops outside my window. I love the cobbled streets.”


Lou Pascalou
14 Rue des Panoyaux.
+33 (01) 4636 7810.

New Morning
7 & 9 Rue des Petites Ecuries.
+33 (01) 4523 5141.

Duc des Lombards
42 Rue des Lombards.
+33 (01) 4233 2288.

60 Rue des Lombards.
+33 (01) 4026 4660.

Cave du 38riv
28 Rue de Rivoli.
+33 (01) 4887 5630.

Studio de L’ermitage
8 Rue de L’ermitage.
+33 (01) 4462 0286.

Caveau de la Huchette
5 Rue de la Huchette.
+33 (01) 4326 6505.

Defender Bar At
Htel du Louvre
Place Andr Malraux.
+33 (01) 4458 3838.

116 Bis Avenue des
+33 (01) 4076 5610.

Caveau des Legendes
22 Rue Jacob.
+33 (01) 4326 3626.

Source Qantas The Australian Way November 2012

comments powered by Disqus