Sunday, September 13, 2015

The 1948 Jazz Festival in Nice - # 1

The Nice Jazz Festival was founded by Hugues Panassié and lasted from the 22 to 28 February 1948. It featured a repertory of traditional jazz, swing, and bop music and was the first international jazz festival. Georg Lankester writes an extended essay about the festival. The text in Dutch was published earlier here, the second part in English will be published later.

A World Premiere

Hugues Pannasié
In early 1948, when the greatest misery of the war slowly faded, president of the Hot Club de France organization Hugues Panassié had the idea to organize a jazz festival from February 22nd to 28th (- immediately after the carnival) at the Riviera in Nice. He relied on the earlier success of the film festival in Cannes and the ideas of the committee which organized festivities in the city of Nice.

It would be an absolute premiere, for never before had such a festival occurred in the world. Even the Americans had not organized anything of the like.

But Pannasié's initiative, announced in the magazine "Jazz Hot", was primarily intended to get the traditional jazz into the spotlight. Because .... ..What was the state of art in Jazz? From the beginning of the 1940s had started a new jazz movement in the USA, the bebop. The swing was more or less on its peak.

Charles Delaunay
Secretary Charles Delaunay (whose efforts had resulted in Django Reinhardt’s fame) was particularly fascinated by the new style, unlike Panassié. Even Django liked all modern. There was thus already registered the start of a conflict within the Hot Club de France organization.

While Panassié’s festival was sponsored and musicians like Louis Armstrong with his "All Stars" band had been invited, as well as other greats like Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Baby Dodds, Jack Teagarden, Rex Stewart and Mezz Mezzrow, Delaunay contributed with 17 men counting on the orchestra of Dizzy Gillespie to participate. Bebop trumpeter Dizzy was shortly before the festival invited by Delaunay and now arose among jazz fans two camps: traditional or modern jazz.
Dizzy Gillespie, 1948
Before he came to France, Dizzy was dogged by bad luck. In Paris, he gave a series of concerts at the famed Salle Pleyel. But Panassié, who attended the first concert, was extremely negative and stated that this was not jazz. On subsequent appearances there were clashes between supporters and opponents and even the gendarmerie had necessarily been involved.

In the month prior to the Festival, Django Reinhardt played in the ABC theatre, near Les Halles. Dizzy went there one night after his performance. He found the guitarist along with bassist Emmanuel Soudieux. Django was positively surprised, because he had already met the trumpeter during his visit to America in 1946 and the two musicians had become good friends and admired each other.
Dizzy Gillespie & Django Reinhardt
Spontaneously that night resulted in a jam session which Soudieux remembered how great both musicians played and exchanged turns and what a pleasure they experienced doing it.

Delaunay also arranged a concert for Dizzy in Marseille plus - as mentioned earlier - participation in the great jazz event in Nice.

Festival program
Jazz and Entertainment

Now something about the actual festival: To maximize the attraction of the public to this event there had been reserved rooms the first day where could be danced to the music of famous orchestras, while later that week could be attended concerts.

Hotel Negresco
It was mainly the Americans who entertained dance lovers in the large halls of the Hotel Negresco. But afterwards several band members joined - to the delight of many Frenchmen - jam sessions in other places, i.e. "Monte Cristo" or "Christies". Well known American musicians were treated with admiration and with all respect by the staff at Negresco. Especially the drummer of Armstrong's orchestra, Sidney Catlett and vocalist Velma Middleton led to the astonishment of the Negresco staff when ordering the most expensive drinks and meals at 4 o'clock in the morning.
Hotel Negresco: l-r: Louis Vola, Barney Bigard, Django Reinhardt, Earl Hines, Stéphane Grappelli, Sidney Catlett, Arwell Shaw
And there was, of course, enormous attention and praise for Satchmo and to a lesser extent, the famous French artist Boris Vian. Nice to say is that among the celebrities were also young European jazz musicians like Humphrey Lyttlelton and Toots Thielemans, who - as we know - later would make great furor.

During the "Nuit de Jazz” there was also a "Tour de Chant" with French singers Yves Montand, Suzy Delaire and coming from Nice Henri Betti; all naturally attracted extra crowds. The hall offered for this event for 600 visitors claimed 5,000 francs for each seating.

Georg Lankester


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