© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved
Among his recent CD releases, Jordi Pujol, the owner-operator of Fresh Sound Records has included a number of albums spotlighting a variety of artists performing Jazz in Paris from circa 1955 - 1965.
For some, these digital releases will serve as a reminder of how vibrant the Jazz scene was on the European continent during this period, but for me, they are a first-time learning experience because I wasn’t aware of the abundance of so much fine, recorded Jazz outside of the USA.
Made up of a combination of home grown talent and American expatriates, these recordings are brimming with talented and skillful musicianship which results in a veritable panoply of first-rate, swinging Jazz.
One of the most intriguing aspects of these recordings is the originality that makes up many of the improvisations on them.
Unlike so many American Jazzmen who are steeped in the blues and in what has come to be known as the Great American Songbook, Parisian Jazz musicians and their counterparts elsewhere on the Continent were coming from different musical sources as the basis for their phrasing.
Some of their improvisational lines reflect what they heard on records by major American modern Jazz artists such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, but there is much that indicates an approach to melodic invention that was uniquely developed by these European artists either through their own practice sessions or perhaps derived from local folk songs, church music or classical compositions.
Jammin’ or gigging with American Jazz musicians was also a part of their learning curve and a source for much inspiration and many of these recordings feature European musicians playing in combos headed up by the like of James Moody, Benny Golson, Clifford Brown, Kenny Clarke and Gigi Gryce.
But sooner or later Parisian musicians like trumpeter Roger Guérin, alto saxophonist Hubert Fol, baritone saxophonist Michel de Villers and pianists Maurice Vander, Rene Urtreger and Martial Solal featured as the leaders of their own groups.
The beauty of the Fresh Sound series is that it brings the listener both Parisian musicians as sideman and recordings on which they are the leaders performing with their own combos; you can actually hear the growth and development of these young Parisian musicians as they progress from sideman to leader status on these albums.
Since so much of the Jazz in Paris series involved the legendary Blue Note Jazz club at 27, rue d'Artois , a street perpendicular to the Champs Elysees in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, I thought a good place to start this Fresh Sound Jazz in Paris Series would be with a review of Jazz at the Blue Note - Vander-Michelot-Clarke [FSR CD 952] which was recorded at the club some time in November, 1960.
For me, these recordings were a revelation about a time gone by, when Jazz was the universal music of the young and the artistically inclined European and offered these people something that was challenging and sophisticated which not only expanded their minds, but touched their emotions, as well.
About the Blue Note
Ben Benjamin, former owner of the Mars Club (6, rue Robert-Estienne), opened the Blue Note in June 1958 on the site of the former jazz club founded by Sugar Ray Robinson, The Ringside, at 27, rue d'Artois, a street perpendicular to the Champs-Elysees in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.
Fans were usually crammed on the leather benches that dotted its large central hall, and if they couldn't find a spot, there was always the bar. The room acoustics were excellent, and the house band included some of the best French jazzmen led by guitarist Jimmy Gourley, who played seven days a week, from 10PM until the small hours of the morning.
They, in turn, accompanied many of the top American soloists who visited the "Blue Note" during the splendor years of the club (1958-1965). The long list of names includes Sarah Vaughan, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Sonny Stitt, Ray Nance, Lester Young, Alice McCloud, Lucky Thompson, Johnny Griffin and Booker Ervin.
The club lasted until the Summer of 1965, when it was remodeled into a discotheque.
About Maurice Vander (1929-2017)
"He started as a jazz pianist in 1950, playing at Club Saint Germain, where he had replaced Eddie Bernard. He then left for military service. On his return fourteen months later, he played with Roger Guerin, and later with Bobby Jaspar, with whom he went to Tahiti in 1952 to stay for a year, playing middle-jazz in outdoor dances.
In 1953, he returned to Paris to work with Django (with whom he made his first record), then with Clifford Brown. He also recorded with Jimmy Raney, played with Aime Barelli, and then joined André Ekyan's group at Maxim's.
"Then I had the opportunity to record with Henri Crolla, and then under my
own name for Vega when the label was just starting out; in 1955-56, I toured with Chet Baker in Europe, and then Grappelly took me to Hamburg.
1957 was a big turning point in my life. I met Maria Vincent, a singer forwhom I would become an accompanist. In her, I found my soul-sister. We left and traveled the Middle East for two years: Istanbul, Tehran, Cairo..."
Back in Paris, Vander worked at the Blue Note club, shortly after it had opened. There he formed a trio with Pierre Michelot and Kenny Clarke, and recorded this live set."
Original liner notes from the Fontana Standard album "Jazz at the Blue Hole" (680 212 ML)
If instead of playing the flute, Pan had been the king of the sax (alto, tenor, or "baritone), you would surely have found him one evening at the "Blue Note" in Paris.
The "Blue Note" is Europe's supreme Mecca of jazz. Its proprietor and prophet Monsieur Benjamin spends his time combing Paris with the zeal of a devotee for the Johnny Hodges, the Charlie Mingus, or the Stan Getz who may currently be in the city.
When he has successfully hunted down and brought to the "Blue Note" the trumpet of, say, Ray Nance or the trombone of J. J. Johnson, out come the cigarettes and the whisky, the jam session begins, and on the tiny dance floor couples dance until the small hours to the strains of their music, or perhaps to the sound of Dave Brubeck's piano or Paul Desmond's sax. This evening, the "Blue Note" offered us Maurice Vander, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke together on one record.
A special word about Maurice Vander: his intensely personal style, that inimitable tempo which gives such impulse to his delicate rendering of a melody, his able accompaniment and powerful swing, these outstanding qualities have made Maurice Vander the jazz pianist most prominent in the public eye in Europe at the present time. He is also the most sought after by the great jazz musicians of America, who are unanimous in voting him one of the finest pianists in international jazz. Such an accolade is a rare privilege.
We are proud to bring you this recording; we know you will find it a winner, for in these distinguished artists Maurice Vander, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke. You truly have "three of a kind."
The following audio only clip features Maurice, Pierre and kenny on Walkin’.