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Bebop Spoken There

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Born This Day
Louis Armstrong and Steve Andrews.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Parisian Swing 2011

'The first LP I ever bought was called Parisian Swing'with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelly and the Quintette de Hot Club de France. As was the great thing with LP sleeves at the time, the back cover had a detailed version of Django's life and music as a Gypsy guitarist. It told the story of the caravan fire when he was 18 that paralysed two of his fingers on his left hand, which meant he had to completely redesign his guitar technique. Listening to the record it seemed completely unbelievable that he could play so fast without the use of two fingers but the superb black and white picture on the front of the album, which featured the quintet in smart white dinner jackets and bow ties, clearly showed his two paralysed fingers.
Since then I have been a dedicated fan of Django's music, so a planned weekend in Paris to visit the Marche aux Puces (the huge flea market) at Clignancourt and the chance viewing of a Guardian article on the 'Best Gypsy jazz bars in Paris' combined in pleasing harmony.
The article listed the small bar 'La Chope des Puces' next to the Marche as being one of the best places for jazz manouche (or Gypsy style) in Paris. Having paid homage to Django at the square named after him, we then headed for the bar at the advertised start time. However, the advertisement giving the time had neglected to mention that this was, in fact, the start time of that period at musical events in foreign countries (and the Jazz Café) where nothing happens, and very slowly.
The bar, where the music was to take place, was as authentically basic as promised and more or less empty, and around the walls were pictures of Django and guitars belonging to various Gypsy guitarists. Out the back was a restaurant with a small, but interesting museum of related material.
We took the opportunity to have lunch and I have to say, that when it comes to food, the Cherry Tree is going to have to watch out. This being France, and lunchtime, the menu was set and 'earthy'. In fact I'm pretty sure that my starter of 'rough' country pate possibly contained some actual earth. My main course of Pot au Feu was probably an even more risky choice as it was impossible to know exactly what animal might have been eviscerated to provide the contents of the glass bowl that appeared from the kitchen. If you have ever wanted to carry out bone marrow surgery while eating, Lance, then this is the place. Meanwhile, some people with guitars had appeared, and a lot of jovial handshaking and Gallic bonhomie ensued around one table by the door where an older, and obviously significant, man held court. This group then tucked into the full array of gastronomic delights the bar offered, eating with obvious relish. All this was quite atmospheric and entertaining. The only disadvantage was that we were on about our fifth bottle of beer and no music had begun.
Mais non, c'est pas de problem....at last the two people with the guitars moved towards the tiny space on the floor and, after a few final adjustments, burst into life, and what life it was! Immediately I was transported back to Paris in the 30s (figuratively speaking). The two musicians, who turned out to be brothers, Ninine and Mondine Garcia, looked the part with slicker back black hair, jeans and hand-tooled leather boots, but more importantly really played the part. Mondine was straight into the driving rhythmical accompaniment so typical of Django's music (apparently the style of accompaniment is called the 'pump' - or should that be 'le pump') and Ninine was firing off rippling solos at electrifying speed.
Unlike Lance, while I can generally hum the tunes, I can only identify about one title in five. So while I did notice Night and Day pass by in about 3 minutes and I Will Wait for You was played at such a tempo that it seemed to suggest he wasn't really going to wait that long, many other familiar tunes passed by unidentified. But regardless of titles. the music was fabulous and had all of that scorching power that attracted me to Django in the first place.
Even better, after about half an hour, the older man at the table got up and took over lead guitar duties and elevated the music to another level. It turned out he was Marcel Campion, le patron of the bar, who also runs a manouche guitar school above the club. You really got a sense that here was someone fully connected to a tradition who yet was taking it further. Later the original duo were joined by a violin player which was very enjoyable but didn't quite have the beauty of the original Django / Grappelli band. All in all a fantastic musical experience (and a unique gastronomic one) and as an added bonus a constant selection of locals came in and out who would not have been out of place in an early Maigret novel. The collection of wigs and rouged lips was something to behold. So if you are in Paris at a weekend, forget the Flea Market and head for this bar - go easy on the beers though, they are expensive..

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