Jazz Is Alive And Well In Paris

Paris and jazz have long enjoyed a love affair.  The city remains a top destination for local and American artists and boasts a lineup of clubs and nightly acts that often rival New York City.  If you love music, seeing a live jazz show in Paris is a must.

But first some history.

Did she get your attention?  That is Josephine Baker.  Dancer and jazz/pop singer, she grew up poor under the yoke of discrimination in America.  When she traveled to Paris she became a featured singer at ‘Le Ball Negre’ (more on that later) and her career took off from there.  The Ball Negre was a cultural icon frequented by the cutting edge of Paris society in the 1920’s frequented by everyone from Picasso to Hemingway to F.Scott Fitzgerald.  You can read more about it here https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bal_Nègre

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With her stunning looks, eclectic personality and arresting voice (think Piaf meets Billy Holiday meets the personality of Cheavalier) she quickly became the toast of the town.  Indeed, she was said to have received over 1,500 marriage proposals in her life as she became a cultural icon in France.  For more information on her life go to her official website http://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/about/biography.html

And no accounting of this period, however brief, would be proper without a mention of Gypsy Jazz and the great Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt who dominated the Paris scene at that time with his syncopated hyper fast picking.

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From World War I on, Paris was a refuge for countless American jazz artists who enjoyed the open bohemian spirit of the city.  Jazz artists who took up residence there in the included Sidney Bechet, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis to name a few. And with the embrace of jazz by the French the feelings were mutual.

Today Jazz remains alive and well in Paris.  You can hear it in small clubs throughout the city, on the radios of taxis and on the streets emanating from restaurants and bars. This recently renovated venue exemplifies this love.  The aforementioned Bal Negre was located on Rue Blomet, a 15 minute walk from the Yellow Flat vacation apartment.  It reopened on March 21 after lying in neglect and disrepair for years.  This must have been a labor of love, just look at what it looked like.

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The development was also the subject of controversy. The owner wanted to keep the original name, but in doing so, drew vocal protests of racism from the local community. It is an interesting question to ponder, when is an homage to a club and the use of a historical name inherently or explicitly a racist statement? Le Bal Negre was the name of the club with incredible historic significance.  In any case, the controversy resolved, the club is open and the music is alive at Le Bal Blomet.

Many well-known clubs abound in the city.  One place to start is New Morning where I enjoyed a recent show by vocalist extraordinaire Kurt Eling and his band.  This large scale club presents a wide variety of music from around the world, so be sure to view listings in advance.

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A tour of traditional and historically significant clubs always starts with the Duc De Lombard.  The granddaddy of Paris jazz venues leans to swing and cabaret and draws top talent, playing there now is Michael Fienstein.  Also located in the same part of the 1st district near Les Halles are Le Baiser Sale which has excellent open mike evenings and Caveau De La Huchette across the bridge in St Germain for more swing.

Paris has countless local clubs with home-grown talent.  These include Sunset Sunside and L’Improvsit. You can always get an up to date calendar by visiting http://www.parisjazzclub.net/.

If you want to see Gypsy Jazz then a trip out to Saint Ouen for a Sunday afternoon to La Chope Des Puces.  Its located at the flea market so you can combine the two sites in one day.  Pay attention to the area and watch yourself when walking.  Pickpockets abound. Other venues include the supper cub L’Atelier Charonne and Bouquet Du Nord, located near the Gare Du Nord.

And should you wish to feel a bit of Paris without leaving home, it is home to one the worlds great jazz stations TSF.  Listen at: http://tsfjazz.radio.net

So be sure to get your bop on when visiting Paris.  A little effort will be rewarded with a great time out.

The Yellow Flat is a one bedroom vacation rental apartment located a short walk from the Eiffel Tower.  Bright, warm and secure, it is our home away from home when we visit Paris and the perfect short term rental for you, your family and friends.  Returning guests always receive a 10% discount on their stay.

To learn more about the yellow flat, visit www.yellowflat.com or contact us at jkragen@prodigy.net

Don’t be scared, it’s only French cheese.

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Going to Paris and not enjoying French cheese is a sin. There are hundreds and hundreds of kinds to choose from, a cornucopia of taste, texture and color. But finding the right one is often confusing as they vary by age, % of butter fat, region and the animal that produces the milk to start with.

Cheese lovers traveling to France can be divided into the aficionados, the scared and the curious.   This article is for the latter two groups. Hard core cheese lovers have plenty of books and blogs to enjoy (for example, look at: (chezlouloufrance.blogspot.com).

For the rest of us, French cheese is often a daunting subject.  Just look at this one ooze out of its skin.

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Now I have a confession to make.  I like mild cheese.  White cheese.  Mozzarella.  Jack. Queso Fresco. Always have and will.    And I am here to tell you there are plenty of French cheeses even the timid amongst you to enjoy.  Cheeses that are flavorful, delicious and very accessible.  And better yet, unpasteurized.  No soap box here, those cheeses taste better.  Period.

Still scared? Look at these little squares of fresh goat cheese covered in finely chopped chives.  How could anything so cute hurt you?

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Better yet, with the current exchange rate, cheese in France is a good deal.  Remember, you are buying in grams, so 200 grams (about 7 ounces so almost half a pound) is a good portion and what seems like an expensive price of say 25 Euros a kilo is only $12.80 a pound).

There is really only one place to buy cheese in Paris and that is the local cheese shop.  Take the time to find one close to where you are staying as every neighborhood has one.  Some have special owners that have passed the strict French regulations and been awarded the title of  ‘affineur’.  Affineurs are a part of the process of finding and creating great cheeses as they play a roll in the aging process as well.

In the 7th district there are two affineurs that we enjoy:

Marie Cantin (www.cantin.fr).  Marie and her husband Antoine’s shop has sold fine French cheeses since 1950.  They offer cheese classes as well.  The shop is located at 12 Rue Champ De Mars, metro Ecole Militaire.  Tel: 33 (0)1 45 50 43 94.

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On the other side of the Champ De Mars is Fromagerie Laurent DuBois.  (www.fromageslaurentdubois.fr)  There are three shops, the one we go to is located at 2 Rue De Lourmel, Metro Dupleix.

To get a sense of how an affineur views cheese, here is a quote from the Laurent DuBois website:

“The quality of a cheese depends on a complex series of steps. First, the search for good producers with whom we need to create a lasting partnership, and the selection of the cheeses. Then comes the aging in our cellars, keeping in the mind that the talent of the ripener lies in bringing the product to the point of excellent flavor. This precise moment also defines my taste for cheese, the particular time at which I think the cheese has the reached its peak of flavor. Then you need to know how to sell the cheese at the right moment, and thus advise clients who share our curiosity and our pleasure in the taste of good cheese.”

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Here are some basic vocabulary that you will need to know to select cheese.

Goat:  Chèvre.  Cow:  Vache

Sheep:  Brebis.  Made on a farm: Fermier

Made by a coop. Cooperative.

Artisanal is artisanal.  No surprise there.

Soft.  Doux. Aged: Gardes

Fresh: Frais

Which brings us to a list of five choices for you to try:

Goat cheese is chèvre.  Look for chèvre that is soft and fresh and when in doubt in a restaurant it is always good on a salad. Unless you know what you are getting into stay away from the ones called crotin, they are aged and strong.

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Tomme de Savoie.  Mild semi soft cheese from the French Alps.

Ossau-Itray  Semi soft sheep’s cheese from the Basque Country.

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Comte.  Unpasteurized cows cheese from Eastern France.  Slightly sweet nutty taste.

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Brie. Brie has a reputation for gummy soulless cheese that lack character.  But if you can find an unpasteurized versions of this creamy cows milk cheese in Paris, it will change your mind.

And last but not least, stay away from the Epoisse.  Avoid this stinker at all costs.

To my way of thinking, if you take the time to make a meal out of 30 euros of cheese a baguette and a good bottle of wine you can’t go wrong. It has always worked for us.

Jules and Flo. www.yellowflat.com.

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