Travel experience: Gypsy Jazz in Paris

//Travel experience: Gypsy Jazz in Paris

Travel experience: Gypsy Jazz in Paris

On my most recent visit to Paris, I was on a mission: Mission Jazz Manouche.

There are many reasons I love Paris, among them architecture, walkability, dining options and the café culture. Therefore, each visit to the city involves long strolls, hour spent at bistros and many cups of café crème. A new addition to the list is gypsy jazz, a music genre that originated in Paris in the 1930s.

Ever since I took interest in jazz manouche, as the style is commonly referred to in French, I wanted to hear it live in Paris. I imagined that I would sit in a cozy club with a glass of wine and feel like I’m back in time. A few months ago, I did just that.

My plan involved stopping at La Chope des Puces, a venue that pays homage to the pioneer of gypsy jazz, guitarist Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt. It is located in the north-suburban town of Saint-Ouen, near the place where Reinhardt lived. Unfortunately, there were no scheduled performances at Chope during my stay in Paris, so I needed an alternative.

DAY 1

After doing some research, I identified three jazz clubs with shows later that day, and I also found out that there was a street in Paris named after Django Reinhardt. The decision to look for the alley was made easy by the fact that it was near Place d’Italie, an area I remembered from my previous trip to Paris and one I wanted to see again. Without thinking twice about it, I got on the subway and headed south-east.

Despite my familiarity with the neighborhood, finding Django’s street was not easy. The map I carried wasn’t very detailed and it pointed me to a farther-away area with high-rise apartment buildings, surrounded by many parking lots and driveways, but few “proper” streets. After wandering around for a while, I was ready to leave when I finally spotted a navy-and-green street sign, attached to a white metal fence: Allée Django Reinhardt. There it was!

Feeling a bit disappointed by the setting that didn’t seem to match the extent of Reinhardt’s contributions to music, I was nevertheless happy to have found the street. The outing was an important part of my gypsy jazz exploration and made me even more excited about the performances to come.

(click images to enlarge)

Allée Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt - Guitarist and Jazz Composer

Even heavy rainfall in the evening couldn’t stop me from enjoying live music. With a rainproof coat on, I took the subway to the Ménilmontant stop in east Paris and quickly found La Locandiera on Rue Oberkampf. However, it turned out that the night’s performance had been cancelled. Once again, I had to change my plans.

Without enough time to get to another club in Montmartre to the north, I opted for a place a little closer – L’atelier Charonne near the Bastille metro station. At first I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a dinner show (I prefer to focus on music alone), but all my apprehension was gone once I arrived at the club. Since I got there later than other guests, I wasn’t required to order food. Relieved, I settled into a seat near the stage, with just a glass of Bordeaux.

Performance at L’atelier Charonne

There were two performers that night, both playing acoustic guitars and one of them also singing. That was a change from what I’m used to seeing in the US (guitars supported by upright bass and violin), but interesting in that it was both so familiar and so different at the same time. I heard several known tunes, but the way the musicians approached them was novel to me.

When the show was over, I knew that I wanted to experience more live jazz. Back at the hotel, I looked up what shows were scheduled for the following evening. I would be going to Montmartre after all.

DAY 2

Street performance in front of the Orsay Museum

The next morning, I had lots of exploring to do around the city and decided to (finally) visit Musée d’Orsay. As luck had it, there were hundreds of people in line and I needed to rethink my sightseeing itinerary. But before I could leave the museum plaza, I heard the unmistakable sound of la pompe, the special style of guitar strumming used in gypsy jazz. I turned around and saw a group of street musicians performing for the crowd. This time, there was one guitarist, an upright bass player, a clarinetist and an accordion player. An unexpected treat and another entry on my jazz manouche check list.

In the evening, I took the metro to the Abysses station in Montmartre and, after a few wrong turns, arrived at Au Clairon des Chasseurs at Place du Tertre. The venue is a restaurant, but there were just a few other people in the audience, which made the space feel more intimate and more club-like.

Gypsy jazz duo at Au Clairon des Chasseurs in Montmartre

The two guitarists who performed took turns playing rhythm and soloing, then played alone and back together. Yet again, I experienced a performance much different from what I am accustomed to. This versatility of gypsy jazz and the many ways in which it can be interpreted has deepened my already strong appreciation for the genre.

I wished I could stay until the concert was over, but it was time to leave if I wanted to view the midnight illumination of the Eiffel Tower and get any sleep before my early-morning train out of Paris.

With a new CD for my collection stuffed in the purse, I hurried down the winding streets of the Montmartre Hill. I felt that my Mission Jazz Manouche had been accomplished, if only partially. As I was waiting for the metro, I opened my notebook on the Paris to-do page and underlined La Chope des Puces.

Next time.

See also:
A Swinging Journey – interview with Alfonso Ponticelli, a gypsy jazz guitarist from Chicago

 

By | 2014-02-05T23:37:16+00:00 April 30th, 2012|STORIES|51 Comments

About the Author:

avatar
Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

51 Comments

  1. avatar
    Erin Marie April 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I’ve been dreaming of Paris lately and this made me want to go back even more! :)
    Erin Marie recently posted..What I Loved About Aruba: Top 5.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      I really hope you get to visit soon, Erin! And same goes for me, if you don’t mind. ;) I miss Paris all the time…

  2. avatar
    Karla May 1, 2012 at 7:15 am

    I love this Paris adventure, Pola! What a fun exploration of the city and this unique musical genre. You make me want to learn about gypsy jazz!

    • avatar
      Jetting Around May 1, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Thanks, Karla! If you come visit me in Chicago, I’ll take you to a great performance. :)

  3. avatar
    Leah Travels May 1, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Maybe this is something that Lola and I should experience! You’ll have to tell us more in Chicago.
    Leah Travels recently posted..SupercalifragilisticexpialidociousMy Profile

  4. avatar
    Traveling Ted May 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    What an awesome adventure. I felt like I was there the whole time. Very descriptive.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Munchen mag Dich (Munich likes you)My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around May 14, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Thank you, Ted! Good times indeed, I hope to do this again someday. :)

  5. avatar
    lola July 5, 2012 at 8:27 am

    it is so cool to learn more about your love of Gypsy Jazz. Leah & i may have to go find some of these post you mention, if for nothing else but an ode to you, Pola!
    lola recently posted..lola – the ambassador of AmericaMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around July 5, 2012 at 8:57 am

      If you do, I might have to catch the next flight to Paris and join you… ;-)

  6. avatar
    D.J. - The World of Deej July 5, 2012 at 10:47 am

    What an awesome day…Only in Paris:)
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Rees Jones – Interview with an ArchitectMy Profile

  7. avatar
    Tawny- Captain and Clark July 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    I’ve never been to Paris… which is a travesty considering one of my majors in college was French. Your pictures have me wanting to visit even more!
    Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..Getting a taste of San Juan, Puerto Rico.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around July 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Oh, I hope you make it there soon! How lucky you are that you studied French in college, it’s been longer than that for me and a lot is lost. But at least I can order coffee and find my way around the subway and jazz clubs… ;-)

  8. avatar
    the lazy travelers July 5, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    the hubs is ALWAYS on a mission for live music when we travel. on our first trip to paris, we ended up at a piano bar until 4 am with a bunch of exapts on leave from the army or the navy or something? i don’t remember because there was too. much. wine.
    the lazy travelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around July 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      That must have been one crazy night – and clearly unforgettable, despite the wine ;-). Meeting people is another great thing about venturing out to music clubs – you never know who you might encounter or strike a conversation with.

  9. avatar
    John July 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I love live music and jazz is one of my favorite genres to watch live. It’s just not the same listening to a recorded version. I didn’t realize that jazz was popular in Paris as well.
    John recently posted..Exploring Outer Space In Broad Daylight at the Griffith ObservatoryMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around July 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

      I’m glad you like jazz too, John. :) It’s amazing where you can hear great performances outside the US – e.g. my hometown Krakow has a well-established jazz scene. It’s too bad that when I was in New Orleans, I didn’t have time to check out their jazz clubs.

  10. avatar
    Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) July 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Pola, I had never heard of jazz manouche and wouldn’t know what it sounds like. I will be in Paris 1 day at the end of July and as I ponder how I want to spend my day, maybe hearing some would be a good thing. Now to figure out where it may be playing that day (would love to get the names of the other two places you had found out about)! Thanks for the tip. Oh, and I really like the Musee d’Orsay – a great venue for a museum and lots of good art!
    Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..A Fourth of July Celebration at the Peachtree Road Race in AtlantaMy Profile

  11. avatar
    Craig Zabransky July 8, 2012 at 12:03 am

    There is nothing better than going to live music in a foreign city. I am such a big fan I always check the local paper (or internet) for listings… and Gypsy Jazz, I never knew about this form of Jazz… thanks for enlightening.
    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..Siga, Siga … Sailing the Greek IslandsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around July 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      I agree – local papers are the best, especially the free weeklies you can find in bars and coffee shops. A lot of them will list some out-of-the-way shows and venues and give great ideas for exploring. I’m happy to help spread the word about gypsy jazz. :)

  12. avatar
    Laurie October 11, 2012 at 3:20 am

    I love this Paris adventure, Pola! What a fun adventure of the city and make me want to learn about much more GREAT POST
    Laurie recently posted..Hari Rayad Aidilfitri Brunei 2013My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around October 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks, Laurie. It truly was fun.

  13. avatar
    martin October 18, 2012 at 3:47 am

    can’t wait for my own jazz mission! want to explore all the places you mentioned and will definitely discover some of my own then we can compare notes for your next visit ;)
    thanks for the great read!

  14. avatar

    […] the souvenirs naturally brought back a lot of memories – of métro rides around Paris to gypsy jazz clubs, of flying to San Francisco on my birthday, of cheering on my favorite teams on the road. I […]

  15. avatar

    […] visiting Paris last December, I was on a mission to see gypsy jazz performances, but I wasn’t going to skip a Christmas market […]

  16. avatar

    […] likely to travel for music. I walked and took Metro all around Paris two nights in a row to catch gypsy jazz shows, being a huge fan of this French-born […]

  17. avatar
    Alois December 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Hello,Thank you a lot for your posting. :) i also like gypsy jazz a lot, i have been to paris fue times to meet real jazz manouche. I visited this pub in Montmartre fue times and i played. These two guys are William Brunard and Adrien Marco. Greetings from Czech Republic (Uherské Hradiště). Alois

    • avatar
      Jetting Around December 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Alois. I’m glad to see a comment from someone who plays this music! :) And you’re in Česká Republika – I grew up in southern Poland, not far from the border. Cheers!

  18. avatar
    Back to school: French : Jetting Around December 15, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    […] enough to order food or take the subway, I wanted to be able to chat with locals, whether touring gypsy jazz clubs or attending soccer games. I needed more […]

  19. avatar
    Tara@Gypsy Shutterbug December 16, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    It’s been too long since I have been to Paris! I love gypsy jazz (and I love saying jazz manouche…one of those words that is fun to say..manouche, manouche.. haha) Now I will know a couple of places to see it live when I make it there sometime soon. Thanks!
    Tara@Gypsy Shutterbug recently posted..Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe: Paying Tribute to the Queen of MexicoMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around December 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Hi Tara. I like saying jazz manouche too! It sounds lovely. Here’s to more trips to Paris! :)

  20. avatar
    Azucena January 5, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post Pola.

    I also love Gypsy music and French.

    There is a collection of world music called “Putumayo”, they have a CD called “Gypsy Caravan”, maybe you’ve heard it before? It has some incredible tunes.

    • avatar
      Jetting Around January 5, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      Hi Azucena. Thank you for the lovely comment and the CD recommendation! It sounds somewhat familiar – I’ll look it up. :)

  21. avatar

    […] way. I love its elegance, walkability, sense of pride in the city you can feel all around, plus gypsy jazzhangouts and the cafe culture. Both my dad and husband lived there at some point, and I would like […]

  22. avatar
    5 Minutes With Pola Henderson - McCool Travel December 4, 2014 at 7:13 am

    […] to clubs around Paris to catch gypsy jazz performances. I’m a big fan of this style of music, which originated in France in the […]

  23. avatar
    http://olazplecakiem.blogspot.com/ March 3, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    I love Paris :) It’s amaizing
    http://olazplecakiem.blogspot.com/ recently posted..DZIEŃ 13My Profile

  24. avatar
    Nadia, Aga, Łukasz March 3, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve never been to Paris, but lately I love jazz. I’m reading a very interesting book – Miles: The Autobiography if you haven’t read it is worth.
    Nadia, Aga, Łukasz recently posted..Świątynia Zęba w KandyMy Profile

  25. avatar
    Kinga March 5, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Paris is one of my favourite city! Jazz and Montmartre it sounds like amazing mix!

    • avatar
      Jetting Around March 17, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, Kinga! :)

  26. avatar
    Alexandra MacArthur March 6, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Wow! Gypsy jazz is my favorite music! I cut all my movies with it. I saw a gypsy jazz show near Bastille too. It was at a prohibition style cocktail bar. God we really need to travel together!
    Alexandra MacArthur recently posted..What to Do When Your Vacation Is Rained Out? (Sienna, Italy)My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around March 17, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      Nice to ‘know’ another gypsy jazz fan! We do have to travel together, you know we’d have a great time chasing live music. :)

  27. avatar
    Ollie March 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    Paris didn’t steal my heart, but I think gypsy jazz could ;) If I will visit Paris again I will go to some nice places with live music, nice post.

    • avatar
      Jetting Around March 17, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      Hi Ollie. Definitely check out the music in Paris! And make sure to order some wine to go with it… :)

  28. avatar
    Justyna | one-penny-trip.com March 8, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I was never really a fan of Paris – it’s much overrated in my eyes. But they have this one great thing (and I’m not talking about the Eiffel Tower :)) which is a jazz scene. I loved it!
    Justyna | one-penny-trip.com recently posted..8 IDEAS TO MAKE YOUR TRAVELS MORE VALUABLEMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around March 17, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      The jazz scene is indeed great there – you can even catch some really good street performances. I was just in Paris again and it felt like gypsy jazz was everywhere! Such a treat. :)

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