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Sax, Wine and all that Jazz - The Story of Jazz in Paris

“If music be the food of love, play on”.
Duke Orsino from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night would have loved Paris. The “City of Lights” is known and loved as the city of sultry jazz, smokey cafes and underground music. When it comes to jazz in Paris,  France's capital is the jazz center of Europe. In the cobbled quartiers, musical giants such as Chet Baker, Bill Coleman, and BB King have cradled their trumpets and crooned into their French wine.

Music lovers have nothing to complain about in Paris. Whatever floats your boat, be it acid funk, grimey dubstep or Russian opera, the city will have a bar pumping out your favorite beats. There is a huge and growing live music scene with spontaneous jam sessions rippling through bars and restaurants across the city.

Why is Paris the jazz capital of Europe?

Let me brush up your history, and then when you're ready I´ll give you the best 24-hour itinerary for a jazz journey around the city (Want to skip straight to the Jazz Paris itinerary? Scroll down to the bottom of the article!)

Jazz and Paris have a particularly special relationship. Like the long-time sweetheart who has always been on the scene, jazz is everywhere. From the glittering nightclubs like Le Duc des Lombards, to the industry favorites such as Le Baiser Salé, which has been pouring out swinging saxophone for over 40 years. Jazz fans are spoilt for choice among the bars, clubs, and restaurants in the French capital. When it comes to jazz in Paris, you name the genre: acid jazz, dixieland, ragtime and blues, there will be somewhere for you!

Wander around the city of Paris and you could stumble on a bunch of musicians plucking their guitars to Gypsy Jazz in the Latin quarter, or a soulful trumpeter wafting tunes over the city from the hills of Montmartre.

If you say “Jazz in Paris”; the image that comes to mind is the quaint Parisian cafe, with a red and white checkered tablecloth, baguettes, wine and of course, French jazz drifting over the cobbled streets. Or perhaps you are more of a night owl, and you picture a dark and smoky jazz bar, packed with cool cats swaying and tapping their feet to some upbeat sax.

Paris Jazz Scene of Yesterday

What is it about Paris' jazz scene that's so great? I'll tell you! Grab your best dancing shoes and let's go on a journey.

Let me take you back to the 1930s. Step back in time to Paris in the swinging thirties. World War I is over and spirits are high. African American soldiers forever changed the history of Paris, bringing jazz music across the Atlantic. The revolutionary rhythm of this new music electrified Parisian society. Let's walk down Rue des Lombards, I want to show you the new club for jazz Paris can't stop talking about. In Jazz Club Etoile we can clink our champagne glasses to this new world music. Who's that you can see over there? BB King and Lionel Hampton? Yes, they come here all the time!

It's Springtime in Paris, and the war of yesterday and that of tomorrow are momentarily forgotten. The sounds of the saxophone are all around the city, and Parisian jazz floats through the streets. The mood is electric and the jazz scene is on fire!

Two Frenchmen, Hughes Panassié and Charles Delauney, form the popular avant-garde Jazz Hot Club. A young musician known as Django Reinhardt tours France spreading the jazz gospel. One day he will be one of the legends of the scene.

Some fear jazz as being “degenerate” and dangerous, clubs are closed and the music is banned across the city. Yet the sound of the saxophone and the trumpet can be heard through Paris. When it comes to jazz Paris is an impenetrable stronghold. French musicians play on in clandestine underground caverns. I'll take you to the Caveau de la Huchette and you can see for yourself! These stone walls were soundproofed so that jazz could live through France's prohibition era. In this very club, American musicians mingle with French youth and new styles emerge. Jazz Manouche is born.

Another World War ravages Europe and jazz survives the Nazi occupation of France. Later after World War II, Paris becomes the epicenter for jubilant French youth. The Paris Cafe Culture thrives and jazz music is integral to the cultural heritage of the city.

By day philosophy and politics are discussed at the smokey literary cafes - you can visit some of them today, like Les Deux Magots or Cafe Procope - before dancing all night long at the clubs and bars. Jazz music is always in the background.

Paris was internationally recognized for jazz. 1948 saw the first Festival Internationale de Jazz - the first of many music festivals across France you can go to today! Famous African American musicians like Simon Bechet came and played to enthusiastic French crowds. Miles Davis moved over from the USA and married French singer Juliet Greco. They were the Paris 'It' couple of the 1950s.

Why don't you stay in his former residence, the Hotel La Louisiane, in the heart of the classic French neighborhood Saint-Germain des Prés? Sit back with a classic combination of Champagne and orange juice. Maybe Miles Davis was in that very seat!  (Can’t tell your champagne from your cava? Here’s a handy guide on sparkling wine.)

Jazz poured across the Atlantic from New Orleans and Louisiana, and Paris jazz blossomed. It took the best of the African American basis, Caribbean influence and added a certain French “je ne sais quoi”. It inspired legends of jazz music in Paris such as Serge Gainsbourg, Stéphane Grappelli, and Michel Legrand.

Paris Jazz Scene Today

This is the story of jazz in Paris. Today the jazz scene in Paris is flourishing. From intimate stonewalled caverns that have barely changed since the 1920s, to jazz restaurants where you can enjoy the finest French cuisine with the best live music Paris has to offer.

Got your dancing shoes on? Here is a perfect itinerary for 24 hours of jazz music in Paris!

Breakfast Jazz Brunch - Fontaine de Belleville

31-33 Rue Juliette Dodu

Why not start the day at the Fontaine de Belleville? This classic French bistro in the heart of the 1st arrondissement has been perfectly preserved since the 1920s. Think intimate round tables, mirrored walls and hand painted chairs. It is a favorite of chic Parisians who flock to their popular live jazz brunch events.

Located on the corner of Rue Juliette Dodu, this establishment has a long history with jazz. It was the favorite of musicians and still hosts Jazz Brunches every Sunday from 11 - 15. Grab your book and enjoy the sights of Paris with a croque monsieur, eggs benedict or a classic croissant.

And take your time - you're in Paris after all!

Mid-morning museum - Jazz Museum in Paris

68 Rue du Poteau

Feeling cultural? If this trip is all about jazz in Paris then where better to spend the rest of the morning than at the Jazz Museum! If the thought of an enormous dusty collection and stiff information leaflets makes you yawn - don't worry. The Jazz Museum is really more of a vintage boutique owned by the popular French jazz musician Alain Marquet.

He will be happy to show you his eclectic collection of rare jazz items and answer any questions you may have about the jazz scene in Paris.
It's about half an hour away from your brunch spot, but you can see so much on the way. If you're feeling like doing a little Paris sightseeing, check out the famous Basilica Sacre Coeur; take a tour if you have time - it's so satisfying skipping the queue! 

Remember, jazz aside there are many things to see and do in Paris. Why not work your way through the best Paris Bucket List!

1 Day Hop-On Hop-Off Bus with Louvre Museum and a Cruise



Better yet, now you're in Montmartre! This ultrahip French neighborhood is also deep in the history books of French jazz. Jazz music in Paris flourished in the underground cellars, bars, and restaurants in what was known as the “Harlem of Paris”. Today this area of Paris is still alive with Jazz. Look around and you will probably see a group of musicians or someone practicing their saxophone on a street corner.

After all that walking around, you must be ready for lunch!

Jazz may be food for the soul, but all the French cheese and pastries are making your mouth water! There are tons of cafes and restaurants to choose from, but these days there's a lot of talk about the fantastic food at a local hotspot hidden by the Sacre Coeur.

Looking for Lunch? - No Problemo!

14 Rue Charles Nodier

No Problemo is a quaint and quirky Parisian bar nestled in a quiet street of Montmartre. Luckily it's only a twenty-minute walk from the Jazz Museum.

The clientele is mostly made up of young Parisians, so you know the food will be good. Their “Tartine Merveilleuse” is truly marvelous, and best washed down with a shot of homemade rum; it's nearly evening after all!

It would be easy to lose hours chatting to locals in No Problemo, but its time to get back into that Paris sunshine! You have a couple of hours to kill before the heading to the best place for jazz Paris has to offer. There are plenty of things to do nearby - are you feeling morbid? Check out the Montmartre Cemetery! Is there romance in the air? Head to the Wall of Love (one of the more off the beaten path sites in Paris).

Time flies when you're in Paris! If all that sightseeing has left you hungry again...look no further than Bab-Ilo.

Jazz concert + Dinner at Bab-Ilo

9 Rue du Baigneur

When it comes to jazz Paris has a special secret venue tucked up its French sleeve: Bab-Ilo. This family-owned restaurant in Montmartre has been pouring jazz into the ears (and food into the bellies) of their clientele for 31 years. At Bab-Ilo portions are big and prices are small, so you can tuck into platters of homemade Algerian food guilt free. After dinner head downstairs into the historic concert cave, and dance the night away to the best jazz in Paris!

A favorite of sax lovers and players alike - the musicians on stage may have been at the table next to you!

Still got your dancing shoes on? The night is young in the swinging city of Paris! Check out nearby Lulu White Drinking Club for the best cocktails in Montmartre. Or if you fancy heading further afield, then try New Morning or Sunset/Sunrise, you could be dancing next to some big names in the jazz scene!

“I love Paris”: so sang jazz legend Ella Fitzergald. Wine, saxophone and all that could you not?

Ready to start your 24-hour jazz journey through Paris? Here's your map! 

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