Vive l’évolution in Paris
Jazz manouche is rapidly becoming the sound of 21st-century Paris. La Chope des Puces, a venue and restaurant dedicated to Django’s legacy, is close to where his caravan once stood. The walls are covered with photos of Reinhardt and the other top players who followed him. A band is practising on the stage, the beret-wearing lead guitarist bouncing around to the bass as he bursts into a fret-skimming solo. Manager Sylvie Lacombe says that it was the 100th anniversary of Reinhardt’s birth, which occurred in 2010, that reignited his reputation. ‘Ever since, we’ve had lots of young musicians coming in, wanting to learn how to play. But it takes years to master, to start to express it from the heart. And no-one has ever got near Django. That’s why none of the musicians want their pictures next to his on the wall. It’s respect.’
It’s telling that jazz manouche developed here, on the border of the city. In Django’s day, Romani gypsies weren’t welcome in Paris, and so generated their own culture in their own space. The city positively welcomes the association, and it’s no surprise to find that the other place to put on the best jazz manouche is in the tourist-packed Gare du Nord in the centre of town. Tonight the stars of Le Bouquet du Nord are brandy-swigging quartet Csangojazz, speeding through Django classics, breaking off only to sing Happy Birthday to a party on the tables outside (85 rue de Maubeuge; 00 33 01 48 78 29 97).
Alain Rolland is the lead violinist. He’s played here for 15 years and says that he’s not surprised jazz manouche has returned to prominence. ‘This music is like a fire,’ he says. ‘The coal is always very red, but sometimes the fire starts to burn again. This period, it has been relit.’ Alain says that he sees people from the ages of seven to 77 coming to hear his band. ‘The older people like it because they remember the songs from when they were young. And the young ones enjoy it because for them, gypsy music represents freedom, travel, meeting new people.’
One section of Parisian youth have taken the jazz manouche template and combined it with hip-hop and electro beats. Now, frenetic ‘electro-swing’ nights are cropping up across town, channeling Django’s two-fingered outsider genius in new directions.