Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Festival Swing*


              One of the best things about France is the huge number of jazz festivals. Although most of the biggest happen in summer, there's something going on here all year long. provides links to festivals in Europe and in France alone, I counted 183. By contrast, the most extensive list I was able to find for the U. S. counts 57.  And what's cool is that a lot of them are free and provide a showcase for local musicians, something else that's hard to find in the States. So if you're one of those people who spent years struggling to learn their scales and modes, listening to the masters, transcribing solos and can play through "rhythm changes" in all 12 keys only to live with the knowledge that some douchebag with a Stratocaster he bought at a pawn shop, who can't read music, knows 4 chords, maybe a couple of pentatonic scales and hacks his way through some blues and the Lynyrd Skynyrd liturgy yet scores more gigs and chicks - you should have been born over here. So far this summer we've been to two concerts of the Bordeaux area Jazz and Wine organization and heard American jazz royalty against the backdrop of a vineyard and free wine. Unfortunately you have to drive to these places, putting something of a damper on the bottomless wine glass idea.
             *hip reference to obscure Django Reinhardt tune

            Last weekend we went to one of the freebies, the 42nd edition of Jazz en Liberté in Andernos les Bains, 9 months out of the year a sleepy oyster-growing town on the Bassin d'Arcachon. When we moved here, I had a pretty good idea but still wasn't entirely sure what to expect musically. Surprisingly, you don't hear much of anything French, though is not like I thought it'd be Edith Piaf or accordions playing Sous le Ciel de Paris (Under the Paris Sky) everywhere. I was kind of hoping for it, probably because it fits in with some romantic stereotype.  I'm also not afraid to admit digging accordions, which could have something to do with having grown up in Pittsburgh where, last time I checked, you could still hear polkas on the radio. What I didn't expect, however, was a total saturation of American music of all styles (except Country, thank God, but it must be here somewhere), mainly '60s rock (good and bad), R&B and jazz. In short, if it's American they're into it. 

            This was reflected in the lineup for the Andernos festival, which included two local New Orleans style brass street bands, a Cajun/zydeco styled blues band calling themselves The Fabulous Crawfishmen and at their sound check, we finally heard some accordion. There were a couple of groups claiming Brazilian influence and a few billed as jazz manouche, Django Reinhardt inspired "gypsy jazz", and France's major contribution to the genre. The U.S was represented by an ex-pat trio of R&B influenced pop singers that we couldn't stick around to hear because we had to get our rented car back (plus it was way after our bedtime.)

               We arrived in time to experience the déambulation "fil rouge" of the Bokale Brass Band. The first word means exactly what it sounds like, strolling around but fil rouge  I'm not really sure of. As near as I can figure, this is a French Second Line. A second line, for the uninitiated, is the people marching and dancing behind a brass band (the first line) in a New Orleans street parade. Here in the Old Country, however, they deambulate. Like New Orleans the idea is to get everyone involved and as the band led the crowd in "Iko, Iko", I wondered how many times they listened to Dr. John before giving up and looking for the words somewhere else. And the crowd reflected exactly what I love about musical events, but especially jazz, in France - it's for everybody. The audience is always a microcosm of French society. There are families, teenagers, old-timers - everybody.

Entrhalled little girl ponders the meaning of "Jockomo feeno ah na nay"       
            The Quartet Encontro, featuring a great young trombonist, performed originals plus all your favorite Jobim hits among the ruins of a third century Roman villa. This sounds and is cool, which is good since the reality of having to sit on rubble for a long time is mitigated by the knowledge that the stones numbing your ass have been there nearly 20 centuries.

Among the ruins 

           The night ended for us with one of the manouche groups, Mystère Trio, from Toulouse. These guys were fabulous and an example of how categorizing musicians can sometimes be misleading but also how jazz can take from whatever it likes. While the trio was definitely Django based, at least one of the tunes we heard came from Mali and the drummer, when not at his jazz kit, had another setup that I only know enough to describe as "world persussion". I've hyper-linked their website so you can check it out.

            Next week we have tickets for two days at Marciac but I'm waiting until we get back to explain why, at one of the biggest, most prestigious and important jazz festivals in the world, I spent good money on an aging rock star. Now I'll leave you with a bit of Saturday night's Mystère Trio set.

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