One hundred years ago, jazz emerged out of New Orleans at precisely the same moment that America and France joined together in a new spirit of cooperation to face a common foe. On February 26th,1917, a band from New Orleans made the first ever jazz recording at the Victor Talking Machine Company studios in Manhattan. The record was an immediate sensation; it sold a million copies and heralded the beginning of The Jazz Age. Less than five weeks later on April 5th, just as this first jazz record was taking the country by storm, Congress declared war on Germany, resolving to fight alongside France and the Allied Nations in the first World War.
The birth of jazz and the long friendship between America and France, and the cultural cross-pollination resulting from that friendship specifically between the two world wars), will be celebrated in an evening of music, song, and dance at Central Park SummerStage on Saturday, July 1st. This five-hour mini-fest titled “US - France: A Centennial Voyage” (alternatively titled “The Bridge”) is co-presented by the New York Hot Jazz Festival, SummerStage, French Mission du Centenaire of WWI, and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Join us as four exciting bands, plus guest star vocalists and dancers celebrate the amazing legacy and the historic musical voyage that spans the distance from Storyville and Harlem to Montmartre.
This remarkable voyage will be represented in three acts by three major ensembles: The headliner, Grammy-winning Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks (the subject of this year's critically acclaimed documentary film, There’s a Future In The Past, which is getting wide release on July 11th), will cover the beginnings of jazz in the United States and France with From Harlem To Montmartre: A Jazz Age Voyage. This set will pay tribute to James Reese Europe’s groundbreaking orchestra, with its jazzy form of ragtime, as well as Reese's Protegees, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. The set will also illuminate the early voyage of Sidney Bechet from Storyville to Montmartre, and the incredible international popularity of Josephine Baker, an African-American chorus girl from St. Louis who captured the heart of Paris dancing with a string of bananas around her waist. Joining the Nighthawks will be Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Catherine Russell who recently released her album, Harlem on My Mind, and Kat Edmonson, Sony Music Recording artist who, along with Vince Giordano, recently appeared in Woody Allen’s film Cafe Society. Additionally, the Nighthawks will be joined by Paris-based Nicolle Rochelle, who starred as Josephine Baker in Jerome Savary's musical “A La Recherche de Josephine,”for a few song and dance numbers along with tap dancing wiz DeWitt Fleming, Jr. Nicolle is a founding member of an electro-swing band Ginkgoa and has starred as Josephine Baker in Jerome Savary's musical “A La Recherche de Joséphine.”
The rising star French vocalist Tatiana Eva-Marie and her Avalon Jazz Band, hot off the release of their new album Je Suis Swing, will present Do You Zazou?- a tribute to Zazous, the swing kids of Paris during WWII. Zazous incorporated Swing lifestyle into their persona of non-conformity and as a way of rebellion against the Vichy regime. Additionally, Tatiana will be joined by the French guitar virtuoso Stephane Wrembel (himself hot off the release of his Django Experiment I album) to pay homage to the rise of the first great non-American jazz star, the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
New Orleans-based soprano saxophonist Aurora Nealand and her band, The Royal Roses, will expand on the legacy of Sidney Bechet in her Sidney Bechet: the Paris Years set. The program will shine further light on the French sojourns of the legendary New Orleans jazzman, during the time he was becoming one of the pre-eminent musicians in all of Europe. Aurora has recorded Live at Preservation Hall: A Tribute to Sidney Bechet and has been named one of the top rising soprano saxophone players in DownBeat magazine critics’ poll over the past few years.
The US entry into WWI inadvertently contributed to the acceleration of the Jazz Age in unexpected ways. The coming of the war led to the Department of the Navy to convince New Orleans to shut down Storyville, the famed red light and entertainment district, where jazz had proliferated, thus launching a diaspora of underemployed musicians from the Crescent City in search of work. Meanwhile, African-Americans all over the south were joining the Great Migration north to work in war plants, and they took their music with them.
The music soon began spreading across the ocean, most famously with the all African-American 369th U.S. Infantry Regiment, who were called the “Harlem Hellfighters” by the French for their unparalleled bravery on the battlefields of Europe. The regimental band was led by Lt. James Reese Europe, a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance, who started a craze in Paris with his jazzed-up form of ragtime which quickly evolved into jazz. As future composer and bandleader Noble Sissle (then a young soldier in the Hellfighters’ regiment) remarked, “the jazz germ hit France and it spread everywhere.” After the war, many musicians, as well as dancers, and other entertainers, returned, settled, and delighted cabarets and club audiences in Paris’ Lower Montmartre, which became known as Black Montmartre. Black American musicians were drawn to France not only for the ability to work and the notoriety they gained overseas, but also for the freedom they enjoyed living in France, which, for many stood in stark contrast to the Jim Crow rule of law in the States. As a result, France became jazz’s home away from home, and major African-American artists enjoyed long sojourns there, most notably Sidney Bechet, Noble Sissle, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Carter, all in the 1920s and ‘30s. (In the same period, Louis Armstrong, Rex Stewart, Dicky Wells, and even a very young Dizzy Gillespie also all toured through Paris.) American songwriters like Cole Porter who created La Revue Des Ambassadeurs found a home in France as well. In the early ‘30s, the Jazz Age gave way to the Swing Era and jazz in France took on a decidedly French twist, as Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli formed Quintette du Hot Club De France. Then came another great war and as a form of rebellion and resistance a subset of the French youth, or Zazou’s as they were called adopted a swing identity as a form of rebellion and resistance sprung up. And once again, the US and France stood shoulder to shoulder to defeat a common foe.
As part of the non-hot jazz and swing musical riches of the day, attendees will be treated to an opening by special emissaries from France - Ensemble Matheus with international opera star Natalie Dessay as a star guest vocalist. For more than twenty years, the Ensemble Matheus, under the direction of Jean-Christophe Spinosi, has been one of the boldest ensembles in the world of classical music. The great coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay had been among the top stars of the opera world before leaving the stage in 2013. Still, she continues to delight audiences worldwide with regular recitals.