[Dixielandjazz] When Jazz went with Europe to Europe

David Dustin postmaster at fountainsquareramblers.org
Wed Jan 3 17:19:32 PST 2007

Roger Fendrick wrote:

I really don't know why I should be amazed at the quality of the jazz
from Europe, since Lt. Jimmy Europe imported our original art form
there in 1917 and, as someone pointed out the other day, trad jazz was
the music of choice in the UK until the early sixties.

Roger, two years ago I had the honor of standing in the unprepossessing
Graslin Square, in the western city of Nante, France, where Lt. James Reese
Europe and the Hellfighters Band (all African-Americans) gave the first
public performance of jazz outside the U.S in 1917! For me, it was a
pilgrimage.  Lt. Europe and the band were lionized by the French, who went
wild for the players and the sound (and quickly made it their own). It
started a strong commerce between France and African-American jazz musicians
who could not believe the welcome and respect they were given in France.

That winter day in Nante, I followed a name-unknown French jazz band around
the city.  The 15 or so players looked to be in their 30s through 60s. wore
silly hats and great get-up of all types, and played all day in a drizzle,
no charts, stopping in porticos or under awnings just long enough to fire
off another cigarette or pull from another bottle of wine. Seemed like the
trumpets were the heaviest smokers...go figure.  The bone players all played
Kings.  They were led by a young woman in a derby with fake flowers coming
out of it and white swallowtail coat, who kept a serious beat going,
walloping the bejesus out of an 18-inch bass drum ensconced in a baby
carriage, one-handed cymbal fixed on top. She had two well-behaved and VERY
patient young kids with her (all day long!), waving the Tricolour.  One of
their big numbers that came out at every stop was a memorable arrangement of
³Watch What Happens,² by Michel LeGrand, from the 1962 film ³The Umbrellas
of Cherbourg² (a city near Nantes) which was directed by Nantes nativee
Jacques Denny. The brass parts in that arrangement were especially rich and
entertaining.  I can¹t get that song out of my head...  I should have
remembered to get the band¹s name.

David Dustin

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