Gypsy Jazz Jams in Paris

By Michel Mercier In France amateurs and local pros can find some regular Jams in big cities like Lyon, Lille, Nantes, and Toulouse, but the Eldorado definitely remains in Paris. Any non-Parisian Jazz manouche fan visiting the French capital is thrilled by the amount of jams sessions and the very high level of musicianship. This is where the story began after all and Paris deserves its status as the “Jazz Manouche Capital of the World.” Of course we all know the Parisian “pompe”, slightly thick and focusing on the 1st and 3rd beat as you can hear it played for instance by the Garcia Family or Richard Chiche to name a few. However, Paris is probably the place where you can hear the widest range of styles as far as soloists are concerned. From Alsacian/German style fans (a sadly endangered species in the capital though) to early Django fans, crazy be-bop fingerstyle players or “New School” representatives. Strangely (and unlike the rest of the world where Stochelo fans are everywhere) you won’t find many Dutch style players here. It’s hard to know why… maybe that – just like with cheese – Frenchies prefer to go local! Paris allows you to hear all the top players on a daily basis, whether at Les Petits Joueurs, l’Atelier Charonne or la Taverne de Cluny to name a few. It’s really insane because you never know who’s gonna walk in : Angelo Debarre, Adrien Moignard, Romane, the Ferré Bros, Seb Giniaux, Noé Reinhardt, Moreno, Rocky Gresset, Benoît Convert, Samson Schmitt, Pierre Manetti, Levis Adel, Steeve Laffont… Just stay a month in Paris and you will see them all, each day of the week there’s a jazz manouche jam somewhere in Paris. We’ll talk here about open jam-sessions, not the ones where you have to wait until the end of the 3rd set and know the band member’s family for 2 generations before being invited to play. Some can have a first set played by the hosting band but that’s all. There is really a lot to do for everybody whether you’re beginner or an advanced player. Please note that July and August are much quieter because of school holidays, so try to avoid this period if you plan a gypsy jazz manouche trip to Paris. You’ll still be able to hear Serge Krief at Les Tuileries’ fair or some other famous players here and there but the scene is definitely much quieter. So let’s take a look at what’s happening each week in Paris! On Monday the tiny and crowded “les idiots” holds an acoustic jam run by Mika Gimenez which often features talented young players as co-jam-runners (Benoît Convert, Brady Winterstein, Eva Slongo, Edouard Pennes, Mathieu Guinot..):  you’d better play tough and loud there! Tuesday evening allows players to experience the friendly acoustic jam at l’Oberzinc in the Ménilmontant neighborhood. Previously known under the name La Locandiera, it’s one of Paris’ oldest jam-sessions: the venue is cozy and open to all musicians regardless of skill-level. Music can be either tight or slightly sloppy but you can quickly feel at ease to play. A lesser known, but very interesting jam takes place also on Tuesdays at Les Petits Joueurs. Held by Mathieu Guinot, with only two amplified guitars on stage and not so many people in the audience. Compared to the Wednesday nights, this jam is a great chance to play in gig-like conditions with tasteful players. Moreover you can play until 1 am which is quite rare. Sometimes Seb Giniaux (a regular of this venue) runs the jam and you can eventually get your butt kicked on 2 or 3 songs for the price of a 2,50 € beer. I guess a lot of people would agree to pay more for that! Musicians are really at ease at these Tuesday night jams. They are less for show and more about playing for pleasure. I remember young G.H. from USA who stayed a few days in Paris after Samois 2013. We were hanging around with him and Denis Chang and eventually went to Les Petits Joueurs. He was awed when he saw Seb Giniaux entering the club. But that was nothing compared to what happened next: when G.H. came jamming on stage he looked behind him at some point to see that Seb Giniaux had just joined the band to play the double-bass (yeah, that guitar virtuoso also plays bass… and piano). You should have seen his face! Wednesday night will have you make a choice: the nice and easy La Venus noire jam-session, right in the heart of Paris in a picturesque medieval cave with a rather young audience or the Mecca, the arena, the gypsy jazzodrome: Les petits joueurs. After the show (featuring Daniel John Martin on violin and world class players like Angelo, Tchavolo, Benoît Convert, Adrien Moignard or Rocky Gresset to name a few), jammers get a chance to play on stage. Let’s say it’s not really for beginners. Quite a big part of the jazz manouche who’s who are regulars of this jam and you never know who’s gonna come in. The lively owner Olivier David, the typical French food and cheap drinks make this place one of the best Gypsy jazz venue : true magic often happens here despite the noisy (but lively) atmosphere. Last month violinist Phoebe freshly arrived from Australia and found her playing on stage with Benoît Convert. Daniel John Martin likes to welcome friends or visitors on stage but this can be tricky. I once found myself sitting between Samson Schmitt and Noé Reinhardt (one of my two favorite players!) playing three songs including two I didn’t know. It was an honor and a quite a scare all at the same time! On Thursday night you can hang around Beaubourg and its modern art museum before going to Le Komptoir. This amplified jam has also been here for a while and the idea is really to play for fun, with lots of energy. Again taking place in a cellar, this can only but remind us of the glorious jams of Django’s time. A good way to start your Friday evening is to go at the Trudain’s café and attend the jam of Gwen Cahue. Starting early in the evening and located in Pigalle (a neighborhood where Django lived for a while), you will have the opportunity to play with one of the best of today’s young players for Gwen is a protégé of Tchavolo and Bireli (yeah, you read well…). By the way he’ll be playing in Samois on stage with the Matthias Guerry Quintet, be sure to check him out. Back to our Parisian Fridays, the best jam takes place at L’Apostrophe. This is a very interesting jam-session because you get to hear excellent and lesser known musicians. Sometimes Adrien Moignard or Serge Krief can pop in but you get all those great bass, clarinet, guitar players, singers, etc. It’s packed with musicians from the Parisian jazz manouche scene! The atmosphere (thanks to the owner Kamel) is very lively and Parisian, prices are affordable and the jam ends quite late. Nothing on Saturday for everyone is giggin’ somewhere: musicians have to earn money at some point to spend it in jams the rest of the week, right? Finally, Sunday has its good share of jam-sessions as well. Every two weeks or so, the Green Linett (an Irish owned pub in the center of Paris) allows jazz manouche fans to play acoustic, enjoying the end of the day in a cozy atmosphere. Wooden furniture, pool, darts, books, English speaking personnel… and playing acoustic gypsy jazz for hours. Quite like if you were jammin’ at home actually, except that you have to work a bit on your right hand when the pub is crowded. The famous atelier Charonne has its own jam on Sundays (run by talented guitarist/bassist William Brunard) and you will be able to hear and see all the famous players that frequent Les Petits Joueurs. Needless to say that the playing is of the highest caliber, but William really organizes the jam so that everyone can play. A pity the atmosphere and prices of the place feel more like a tourists’ restaurant than an underground café… Well jams come and go but this will give you an overview of the main ones. Let’s also remember that people in France, as well as in many other countries, love to jam at home or outdoors. I was surprised to meet a French friend living in Norway telling me that the people of his band never saw each other except in public places (bars, restaurants) or gigs! You play in the same band or you live in a city with only 10 people playing jazz manouche and no one ever organizes a jam at home? How sad… I believe this is an exception but if you live in such a place, come over to France! Michel Mercier P.S. Last month I told you about a new magnetic pick-up coming, well it’s now available on Handmade in France by the son of Yves Guen, creator of the original Stimer pick-ups,  check it out here:
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