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Paris: City of Music

Whether you're visiting Paris to see the Olympics or avoid them, you simply can't miss its legendary museums, fantastic food, and all the performing arts you crave, especially the music! I saw this new article on Virtuoso.com and admire the writer's adventurous spirit and musical discoveries. It's a longer piece but goes fast, like an up-tempo jazz number. I really enjoyed it and hope you do too! 


Excerpt below from 1/25/2024 Virtuoso article by J.R. Patterson can found here

 

In music everything is about balance, said Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer, pianist, and master of musical technique. True fluid musicality cannot begin, he said, until musicians consider their two hands as a single unit, rather than separate appendages working independently. Travel as a duo is no different. With the wrong partner it’s an atonal disaster, where the tempo is forced and the instruments are out of tune. The right person, however, makes you better, more observant, more curious.

 

S. and I knew a thing or two about music. We played in the same orchestra in Porto – she the flute, I the violin. We were also a new pairing, slightly past the sight-reading stage but still learning each other’s phrasing. What we needed was a trip to practice our joint melody, harmony, and rhythm.

 

Liszt had lived in Paris in the 1820s, teaching and performing concerts alongside his friend and fellow emigrant Frédéric Chopin. From the city, too, came the soft sounds of Saint-Saëns, the rousing operas of Bizet, the foppish ivory tickling of Cole Porter, the raspy vibrato of Édith Piaf, the thump of Daft Punk. Paris was a city of music, the perfect place for a duet.

 

In a city so big, so full and rakish, it’s foolish to go without a plan. It’s also foolish to imagine any plan will stick. We had a plan, S. and I: a weekend of music, moving from hall to bar to club in a broad sweep of auditory pleasure.

 

Our first stop was meant to be an evening of Vivaldi and Schubert at La Madeleine Church, in the city center. But the plane was late, and the train was late, and the view from the Madame Rêve hotel – across the zinc roofs to the milk drop of the Sacré-Coeur – was too good, and so was the bottle of Côtes du Rhône waiting in the room. And the Royal Opéra café was simply too nice to pass by without stopping for a little apéritif before the concert, nor could we help window-shopping along the rue Saint-Honoré. By the time we reached the Madeleine, the doors were shut firm against us. No matter; some things cannot be rushed.

 

We happily retreated to Le Colibri nearby, to a silky roast chicken with fries, and some apple tart, before heading out in search of somewhere to work it off. If eating an entire bird before going dancing has a Midwestern sound to it, it’s not the only transcontinental similarity between the republics. Like a pair of siblings with a generation between them, France and America are recognizable but incomprehensible to the other. Yet the soundscape of Paris owes much to the U.S.; it belongs as much to Aaron Copland and Sidney Bechet as to Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy. France took to jazz the way America took to frites, and Caveau de la Huchette was the place to hear it.

 

Every evening, on a crowded side street in the Latin Quarter, Caveau de la Huchette offers night owls (the first set begins at 9:30 p.m.) the opportunity to hear blues, jazz, and swing in its subterranean cavern space. The Michel Pastre Big Band was our night’s entertainment. In a musty fug of hot air, they rolled through a set of jazz standards: “Fly Me to the Moon,” “April in Paris,” “There Will Never Be Another You” – the kind of music that’s been played here since the late 1940s.

 

The band was tight, all side-glances and steely looks as they raced to find the key after Pastre zipped off on his saxophonist. The bass didn’t walk so much as run a decathlon. The walls dripped. The dance floor heaved, with plenty of fleet-footed Frenchmen eager to offer themselves for a quick lesson. We left after midnight, coated with a film of sweat, tired but happy together as we threaded our way through the lively cream-colored streets.

 

The next morning, we took the Metro north to Saint-Ouen. The neighborhood is sometimes known as the world’s attic – its various markets sell every conceivable curio and bauble from the past 150 years: paintings, knickers, empty matchboxes, scrimshaw, hat racks, gas masks. There was a prevailing obsession with all things Steve McQueen, crystalline, and Jazz Age.

 

We were seeking out a musical cornerstone of that era – La Chope des Puces, a small café on rue des Rosiers that was the heart of jazz manouche, the “gypsy jazz” style that sprang from Paris in the 1930s. I was looking forward to joining the dedicated musicians, disciples of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, who gathered there each weekend to play those classic, anise-tinged songs.


Expectation became disappointment when, instead of a crèche of wicker chairs and glasses of pastis, we were met with a metal shutter. “Malchance,” said the matron of the restaurant next door. Bad luck. The owner, she said, had gone on vacation. “Reviens dans deux semaines, mon cher.” But we couldn’t return in two weeks.

 

I’d hit a sour note, but S. knew how to take up the melody. She drew me through the warren of Montmartre, that cradle of Parisian creativity; past Au Lapin Agile, the cabaret that's been open since 1860; past the Place Jean-Marais, where Zaz, the bosky-voiced chanteuse, famously sang her hit “Je Veux”; past the homes of the composer Erik Satie and the singer Dalida. Finally, near the Moulin Rouge, she found me an instrument shop where I could play Stephane Wrembel tunes on a guitar until my manouche blues were cured. 

 

I amused myself while S. learned of the Quartier Rouge, a bar in the twentieth arrondissement that did a little swing show on weekends. We hustled across town to make the 6 p.m. start, arriving even before the band. They appeared in parts: a guitar, a double bass, a drum kit, a trumpet. A short conference, a few glasses of Chartreuse, and they were off. A couple of hours later, so were we, S. sidewinding in the direction of the Seine. In Paris, there was always another show, never enough time.

 

“It’s not just jazz here,” Nicolás Ruiz, stage name Gaüd, told me, as he was preparing to play a set at the Péniche le Marcounet barge, which regularly hosts musicians at its dock on the river. He’d come to Paris from Venezuela and was slogging away as a gigging musician. “There’s a little bit of everything: Brazilian, Cuban, even Celtic.”

 

In the end, we made again for the Left Bank and the Église Saint-Ephrem des Syriaques, where we heard Natalia Kadyrova play Chopin and Tchaikovsky by candlelight. The church, like many in Paris, offers regular classical music concerts, sometimes for free. From Chopin’s mind to Kadyrova’s fingers to our ears was a compression of 200 years – or perhaps an unlimited amount of time – into a few short minutes. Chopin was the master of tempo rubato and used it to show that time was never absolute, only relative. In music, everything – Chopin’s piano, Liszt’s wisdom, the warmth of S. beside me in the pew – happens at once. The truth of musical expression frees us from any rhythmic bond. And when I looked at S., her eyes closed listening to the music, I could feel that she, too, knew the best moments arrived right when they were meant to.

 

We met none of the so-called Parisian rudeness they tell you about, only smiling people willing to use their English, Italian, and Spanish against our flailing French. Not that Paris has changed. It was still bougainvillea, pain au chocolat, warm red wine, and whip-thin girls eating fat pieces of cake. The air was still tinted with nicotine and sump and almonds. You will still see three, five, ten people a day you won’t be able to get out of your head. It’s a city of spontaneity, gaiety, and laughter – that was our Paris. 

 

The early evening of our last day found us on the right bank of the Seine. The sun still carried its heat, and the quay was lined with sun chairs and parasols, kiddie areas and pétanque pitches, watercraft and buskers. A flutist played the theme from Cinema Paradiso, a cellist sawed earnestly at Bach’s Cello Suites, and the regular cadre of acoustic folkies crooned an endless repetition of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Imagine,” and “Hallelujah.” Later in the night, small bands with electric setups would appear, playing rock music against the dark water.

 

Ahead of us, the promenade was filled with dancers. The rise and fall of their arms as partner spun partner was like the rotating crankshaft of an engine. A DJ, empowered by a small amplifier, issued forth a Latin rhythm. I asked him if this was a regular thing. He pouted and bobbled his head. “Let’s say it’s regularly impromptu.” Habitual unpredictability seemed very Parisian. We joined in, clumsily swinging each other among a licorice allsorts of carousers, a flurry of whipping hair and sweating brows.

 

The night before, Ruiz had told us we’d find the best jazz on the rue des Lombards. We took his recommendation and found ourselves on the street near the Marais, which was more like a path, tight with restaurants and clubs from which leaked snatches of rock, pop, and techno. We slipped into the Sunside/Sunset jazz club, where the Karim Blal Trio was playing. In the little stone hollow of the space, we sat right behind the pianist; each trill, each chord was right under our gaze. Paris encourages such proximity, in the same way it encourages speaking your mind, body odor, and hanky-panky.

 

Here, in the miasma of free jazz, time was again displaced, lost, sublimated into an ether of sound. The musicians themselves were lost in it – the thubbing bass strings, the kish of the high-hat cymbal, fingers scurrying over the piano keys. You can see eternity pass over a musician’s face in a second – and your partner’s, when you have the same idea to depart.

 

Out in the street, the blonde darkness unique to Paris had crept over the city. The Eiffel Tower twinkled. They were still dancing at Caveau de la Huchette, still busking and twirling along the Seine, still singing in Montmartre. The sounds of Paris were all around us, and all of them were sweeter for being in the right company. Side by side, we continued down the street, our two hands making one unit.

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