FROM THE ARCHIVES
Zazou is all hepped up about it, but the artist questions its vitality
By ALLAN MORRISON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 8, 1945
This article appears as it did in the print edition of Stars and Stripes.
PARIS — French jazz , that alien hybrid, whose growth was hindered by war and the German occupation, is making a strong effort to regain a healthy footing. Commercially times are good. The nightclubs and cabarets reopened their doors to their own jazz-starved civilians and to the thousands of pleasure-bent, swing-loving, Americans, who poured into the country.
But artistically the situation is not too encouraging. Only the "zazou" (jitterbug) set is enthusiastic about it. Musicians themselves admit sadly that French jazz today lacks vitality and needs an infusion of fresh American talent. Otherwise they fear jazz in France may degenerate into a weak, corny form that bears no resemblance to its Yankee father.
Long before: the great American jazz renaissance of 1936 there .was a large group of enthusiastic jazz lovers in France who considered jazz a form of art and dignified it with an esthetic criticism. These enthusiasts later organized a national jazz appreciation movement — the Hot Club de France— with several thousand members and branches throughout the country. Le jazz hot was their religion and its two chief apostles were aristocratic Hugues Panassie, whose books on jazz, have been widely-read in America, and frail Charles Delaunauy, artist, hot-record researcher, and one of the most devoted jazz lovers in the world.
PANASSIE spends his time at Montauban in the Lotet-Garonne Department, where he keeps his vast jazz record collection.
Delaunauy directs the Hot Club from its headquarters — a three-story house on Montmartre's Rue Chaptal — where he edits the club's monthly bulletin, organizes jazz concerts and jam sessions, and works on the current edition of his internationally-known Hot Discographie, a classified listing of important jazz records.
Occasionally the Hot Club rounds up a group of the top French jazz artists for a "bash" in the 52nd Street tradition. These sessions are held in staid old classical halls like the Salle Pleyel and the Ecole Normale de Musique. Usually they are sell-outs, for the Paris jazz movement is large and loyal.
If it's a representative group, the line-up will look something like this: Pierre Fouad or Armand Molinetti at the drums, Emmanuel Soudieux on bass, Aime Berelli on trumpet, Andre Ekyan on alto sax, Alix Combelle on tenor sax, Leo Chauliac at the piano, Hubert Rostaing on clarinet and Django Reinhardt at guitar.
Out of these sessions comes probably the only true jazz played in France today. Americans who were jazz connoisseurs at home eagerly seek out the familiar names which took part in the get-togethers and produced the records. These sold in the States under the label which said: "Hot Club of France." And those who thought jazz was something which was strictly an .American product were surprised to find that the condition isn't localized to a few blocks in the 50s in N.Y., the Village and Harlem. It's international now and respectable.
Fabulous Django Reinhardt is the greatest single institution in the French jazz world. Born of gypsy parents in Belgium, he learned to play the guitar in the atmosphere of a gypsy caravan in the Paris suburbs. His phenomenal technique is the more amazing because of a deformity which deprives him of the use of two fingers on his left hand. Temperamental, moody, superstitious and vain, Django is probably the only French musician to charm and influence American jazzmen. He has been called a genius of modern music, though he cannot read a note.
DJANGO, Aime Barelli, Andre Ekyah and Alix Combelle are the four most successful and important French jazzmen. Each fronts a combination of his own. Django and Ekyan head small jam groups that play with great freedom, while Barelli and Combelle lead larger, units that feature written arrangements. Combelle is the best-known bandleader in the country and the highest paid.
French musicians are eager for American jazzmen with whom they can jam. Many think that upon this association rests the future of French jazz. Many French jazz musicians say that they will visit America when the travel restrictions are lifted to study the American swing technique. America alone, they contend, can nourish the withering plant that is French jazz.
Husky, sardonic Ekyan, now playing, at Schubert's in Montparnasse, is deeply pessimistic about the immediate future of jazz in France. Says he: "Jazz will never be fully accepted or understood in France. Around 1938 it started to be fashionable to like jazz, almost a vogue you might say. But it is foreign music and will always be so. At best, we French musicians will play it with an accent. Our problem is to reduce the degree of accent. Perhaps we will never remove it entirely, for it is American music first and always, but we can seek that end."