Like the British, the French embraced American jazz before the Americans did, and jazz players found France welcoming as well as nearly colorblind. I haven’t visited France, but INA — the French National Audiovisual Institute — sent me some holiday presents that I have been enjoying greatly.
INA has created a national archives of what has been broadcast over French radio and television, over 1.5 million hours, of which 28,000 hours are available on the site. You can see what treasures they hold at http://www.ina.fr. And each day new content is added. Eighty percent of these video and audio programs are available online for free, and the remaining ones can be purchased for downloading or burning to DVD at boutique.ina.fr.
When I first heard about the jazz videos available for viewing, I lost myself for a few hours on the site, watching, among other things, a 46-minute video filmed at the 1958 Jazz de Cannes festival, featuring Vic Dickenson, Sidney Bechet, pianist Joe Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, and others.
Two new CD sets show how deeply the French love this music.
This disc (76 minutes) draws on the radio program JAZZ AU CHAMPS-ELYSSES, which had a twenty-year run. Its creative director was pianist Jack Dieval, and some idea of its spirit can be heard at the very start of the disc where — after an introductory theme written by Dieval, you hear JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID.
The programs featured a fine French house band, full of local jazz talent, as well as appearances by American and European jazz luminaries, and occasionally a jam session where the participants would be playing from different European radio studios.
This disc — I hope the first of a long series — concentrates on the luminaries and the JACE house band. Those who know their French jazz will recognize the names of Geo Daly, Gerard Badini, Daniel Humair, Michel de Villers, Rene Thomas, Guy Lafitte among others. But the special delights (for me) of this disc come from Blossom Dearie, Stephane Grappelli, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Donald Byrd, Bobby Jaspar, Chet Baker . . . and a trio of exalted tenor saxophonists.
First, there are two performances by Stan Getz and a large orchestra with arrangements by Michel Legrand — a melting I REMEMBER CLIFFORD and an energized PERDIDO.
Then (we are climbing the mountain, in my estimation) Lucky Thompson — with rhythm — explores LOVER MAN (briefly) and DON’T BLAME ME.
Finally (at the apex), two joyous performances by Lester Young in 1956: LESTER LEAPS IN with the SDR big band (Horst Jankowski, piano) and JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID (backed by a trio including pianist Rene Urtreger). Joyous music.
And the other gift is a two-disc set of live performances from the Cannes Jazz Festival, all recorded between July 8-13, 1958:
What could be better than this picture of Dizzy, testing the waters?
The Cannes set is divided between jazz “classique” and “moderne,” distinctions which have blurred in the past fifty years, although the music has not.
The “classique” performances include Bechet ferociously bullying his Fernch compatriots on three selections, tenderly playing ONCE IN A WHILE with Vic Dickenson and Teddy Buckner; pianists Sammy Price and Joe Turner, Albert Nicholas playing the blues.
Then we move into even more exalted realms: a Coleman Hawkins solo on INDIAN SUMMER, four songs by Ella Fitzgerald, and two jam sessions — one featuring Vic, Hawkins, and Roy with French hornmen de Villers and Hubert Rostaing, and a final trumpet joust on JUST YOU, JUST ME — Bill Coleman, Dizzy, Roy, and Buckner. Hot stuff! And the rhythm sections are varied and fine: Martial Solal, Lou Levy, Arvell Shaw, J. C. Heard among others.
The “moderne” disc offers bassist Doug Watkins — always rewarding — as well as Art Taylor, Solal, and lots of Kenny Clarke and the reliable Pierre Michelot. There are substantial explorations by Donald Byrd and Bobby Jaspar, Zoot Sims, Tete Montoliu, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Barney Wilen, Michel Hausser, Berney Wilen, Sacha Distel, Stan Getz, and Dizzy — I assume having changed his clothes for his appearance onstage.
These sets (and the videos one can watch or buy from INA) are marvelous glimpses of Olympians who won’t come again.