Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Orleans Jazz at Le Petit Journal

A huge jazz friend back home recommended I visit Le Petit Journal, referred to as the "high temple" of New Orleans Jazz. Their website (in French) is here.

They have a different show every night except Sunday, with most acts returning monthly, looking at their calendar brochure.

The club is just a 5 minute walk from our apartment at 71, Boulevard Saint-Michel in the heart of the Latin Quarter across from Luxembourg Gardens just as you exit the Luxembourg RER B station.

I will get a better picture of the street entrance later but this was taken at night with my iPhone.

There is also a Le Petit Journal on Montparnasse.

The name comes from the daily newspaper published in Paris from 1863 to 1944. I assume the jazz club now occupies the same building as there are framed copies of old newspaper on the walls.

As you can see from the picture above, it would be very easy to pass this non-descript storefront and assume nothing interesting takes place there.

You would be wrong.

This is some of the best New Orleans Jazz you will ever hear. Take it from someone who knows nothing about jazz :)

The price is 17-20 EUR which includes a mandatory first drink. Subsequent drinks are normal price. You can also have dinner for 44-47 EUR which also includes the first drink. And of course you get about 3-4 hours of jazz in a cozy cellar.

When I say cozy, I mean cozy. I don't think you could fit more than 100 people downstairs and even then they might have to be standing. Some of the tables are so close to the band you could almost reach out and touch them. I would guess there were no more than 50 people there for this show.

The peformer was a soprano sax player named Marc Laferriere although the band was a quintet (acoustic guitar, sousaphone, clarinet, and drums).

I have to admit though that the clarinetist was the star of the show, Aurelie Tropez.

I was able to talk to the drummer, also a woman, during their first break and discovered that the clarinetist and drummer (Deborah Tropez) are sisters and later found out that the drummer is dating the guitarist who is the son of Marc Laferriere. Only the sousaphonist was disconnected :)

I discovered that they play about 43 "gigs" a year, with greater frequency in the summer. They live in the Paris region but travel to jazz festivals and other events primarily throughout France. I also learned a little about the French "welfare" system as I asked if they could support themselves playing less than one night a week. She explained that part-time workers receive government subsidies. I don't believe the US has "part-time" unemployment compensation -- maybe they do -- but this allows them to focus on their music and still support themselves apparently.

The other interesting fact is that they had only played with Marc once before and they do not practice with him in advance. As he travels from location to location, he simply brings in the people (and instruments) he needs and they improvise from there.

You could see Aurelie reading a song sheet between songs and discussing with Marc what to play next. They would ask each other which songs they knew and when they settled on one, off they would go. Solos were very frequent as each musician would "hand off" to the next and then all would come together on the "chorus." As a non-musician, I found it all rather fascinating the way they could make it work.

My brother-in-law Joe played the alto sax for 7 years and thought all the musicians were flawless but was particularly impressed with Aurelie.

If you Google her, she shows up quite a bit. One site, Jazz Lives, shows several videos of her paired with a pianist at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival in July.

Around midnight, two other musicians showed up, a trumpeteer and alto saxist. Aurelie later told me that they had finished performing somewhere else and just showed up to "jam." So now we had 7 musicians and each would take turns with a song and do a little showing off.

I was able to record 3 of their songs (5 to 8 minutes each) with my iPhone to give you a taste of what the evening was like. If you listen carefully, you should be able to distinguish the instruments in each solo section.

Here are a couple of grainy pics with my iPhone, the second taken from our table. You can see how cozy the jazz cellar is.

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