A history of Jazz in Paris

The French capital comes out swinging

Jazz in Paris through the ages

Found in the vaulted stone cellars of the ancient city centre, Parisian jazz clubs are mythical places that have hosted many of the 20th century's biggest names in music. From jazz's origins as part of a cultural, musical and political revolution in America, today the music is celebrated worldwide from the streets to the most exclusive clubs. In Paris, the movement began with the scandalous singer Joséphine Baker, who did interesting things with bananas and the Charleston, and brought jazz to the cabaret bars of Pigalle during Paris's Années Folles during the 1920s and 30s.

Duke Ellington rencontre Django Reinhardt

Duke Ellington rencontre Django Reinhardt

At the start if the Second World War in 1939, Duke Ellington discovered Django Reinhardt – the first jazz manouche player, already acclaimed in Paris – playing in Pigalle's cabaret clubs. Seven years later, Ellington offered to produce Reinhardt in New York, encouraging a wave of jazzmen to head for the French capital, and bebop fever was born in Paris. One of its pioneers, saxophonist and clarinettist Sydney Bechet, organised venues for New Orleans big bands in Paris in the 1950s. Le Caveau de la Huchette, still open today, was one of the first cradles of the movement, hosting Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Art Blakey and Bill Coleman.

Juliette Gréco rencontre Miles Davis, Boris Vian derrière

Juliette Gréco rencontre Miles Davis, Boris Vian derrière

In the same period Juliette Greco, the muse of Saint-Germain and of the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, fell in love with Miles Davis – but they couldn't marry thanks to prohibition of mixed marriages in the US, perhaps influencing Mile's recording for the soundtrack of Louis Malle's film 'Ascenceur pour l'Échafaud' (1958) ('Steps to the Scaffold'). Paris became the favourite of jazz's great names, the classic theme 'April in Paris' immortalised by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, the saxophonist Archie Shepp playing his libertarian free jazz in the Parisian clubs, Nina Simone stopping by and lending her great voice to Jacques Brel's 'Ne me quitte pas'; all the great musicians from New York and Chicago formed unforgettable memories here.

Roy Ayers au New Morning

Roy Ayers au New Morning

By the 1980s, the public's passion for jazz led the scene to expand beyond its Pigalle origins. Three new clubs opened on the Rue des Lombards: Sunset/Sunside, the Baiser Salé and the Duc des Lombards, and connoisseurs named them the 'triangle d'or de jazz' ('the golden triangle'). At the same time, Art Blakey and his Messengers opened New Morning, still one of the best Parisian jazz clubs, which has hosted Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Since then, line-ups still feature legends who played with the great jazzmen of the last century – Ahmad Jamal, Sonny Rollins and Monty Alexander ­– but also the kings of jazz funk Roy Hargrove and Roy Ayers, the pioneers of free jazz Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders, electro-jazzmen Eric Truffaut, Laurent de Wilde and Julien Loureau, the oriental jazz of Ibrahim Maalouf, the afrobeat of Tony Allen, the hip-hop jazz of Oxomo Puccino & the Jazzbastards. Today, hybrid jazz reigns supreme in Paris.