Monday, September 21, 2015

The 1948 Jazz Festival in Nice - #2

Georg Lankester continues and concludes his essay about the first International Jazz Festival of 22 to 28 February 1948, Nice (France). The text was earlier published in Dutch, here

Festival program 
American Overrepresentation
It was made clear from the beginning that the intent of Pananssié was to implement an American show, and as a consequence well known Frenchmen were missing. Think of musicians like Alix Combelle and André Ekyan, but also others. The only French contribution was the orchestra of Claude Luter, known for playing in the New Orleans tradition, greatly admired by Pananssié.

The co-organizers had a disagreement about the lack of French participation, but at the last minute was then decided to have Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli to join with their quintet as co-representatives of the French jazz .They would be on stage at the final on February 28th in the large ballroom at hotel Negresco, and the concert would be broadcasted by the RDF in the program "Nuit de Jazz”'. The musicians had to travel in haste by train from Paris to Nice.

Django was actually proud to participate in this international festival that presented so many Americans. The proof is that he later launched a composition with the appropriate title "Festival 48".

The Egos of the Two Star-soloists
Their performance would, however, be determined and no success ... the atmosphere between the two soloists was tense. There was still some rivalry between the two men which manifested itself in this festival again.

Django was in 1947 in top form. After his unsuccessful American tour he had fully recovered and was again asked for everywhere. Also in terms of recording it was a successful year in which he released several new compositions and played with various musicians in the studio. The guitarist made nearly 120 recordings, as I said, in many combinations. He surprised the world with songs like "Manoir de mes Rêves", "Crépuscule", "Artillery lourde" (following the war), "Belleville" and several other songs.

What Stéphane concerned, we must remember that he was in England at the beginning of the war. In England he performed everywhere and often with respected musicians like the pianists Arthur Young and George Shearing. He had become well known as a violinist and entertainer.

The two soloists were aiming to perform at this festival as major European jazz artists. They had thereby as accompaniment Joseph Reinhardt, Challin Ferret on guitar and Emmanuel Soudieux on double bass, so more or less a formation as in earlier times
Although at the beginning of the festival they still had some hilarious moments (see photo above shot during their arrival at the station), the mood inside was later determined tense.

A Lukewarm Reception
After the announcement of the Hot Club Quintet followed only a meager applause from the audience. This increased the tension between the musicians and especially Django was irritated. He wanted to hear that he was still the greatest guitarist. But Grappelli wanted to take the lead.

Unfortunately, it is unknown to me what repertoire was performed by the quintet on 28th of February, but there are preserved some private recordings (adapted from the radio), although of poor quality. The tunes are "Swing '42" and "Nuages". A rare and actually a historical document!

First is heard that Django plays an electric guitar and Stéphane is too far from the microphone. Everything sounds rough and you feel a  certain coldness between the musicians. We hear the countdown and then a strained Django, almost hesitantly, in "Swing '42". Because the guitar sounds much louder than the violin, the beginning is not a very harmonious duet. Django's solo sometimes exhibits bebop traits. Stéphane is in his improvisations too weak to be heard and does not seem stride. The ride off (twice the final strain of the melody) proceeds remarkable because Stéphane no longer is to be heard the second time through. Next follows an announcement of "Nuages" where the violin is barely audible and Django only comes to terms quite late. During the guitar solo there is a lot of buzz in the room. Then a few inspired solos by Grappelli accompanied by rough, almost violent chords from the guitar. The performance leaves an imperfect impression, not as in former times, and bad amplification worsens the audible output.

The reaction of the audience was significant. A barely audible applause was their lot and that was it! Afterwards Django's face showed some traces of despair, it was noted. The media were extremely critical and ruled that the quintet just repeated old routines and thus was not modern enough. Likewise ruled Boris Vian, who had been enthusiastic about the formation of the quintet in the past. He wrote in "Jazz Hot" that the guitarist was still the same and little had evolved in his playing!
All in all, a stark contrast to the traditional bands which received praise from the entire press that wrote plenty about American bands and particularly "Luter & ses Lorientais" was praised.

Yet the event still took a somewhat favorable turn for Django. He did the early hours participating in plenty of jam sessions of Americans including Louis Armstrong.

Further Setbacks and Restated Style Adaptation
Back in Paris, on March 10th at Studio Pelouze the quintet made a series of recordings, which can be said containing interesting titles, including the new composition "Festival 48". And there is certainly already a more modern style conception.

Then the musicians departed for England to give a concert in Hackney. But .... their instruments and personal belongings were stolen from the hotel. The rhythm section left them and was in a hurry replaced by English musicians. Django was pretty stoic during these events; Stéphane immediately bought himself a secondhand suit.
Their performance went significantly better than in Nice, which emerged from a review by the well-known magazine "Melody Maker". It reported that Django took everyone by surprise with very particular guitar playing and there were further bebop influences to be heard in Stéphane's improvisations.

Cautious Conclusion
Perhaps Dizzy's presence as well as the influence from other Americans in Nice had an effect on the quintet? The Jazz Festival in 1948 could therefore be considered as a (small) milestone for the quintet.
Hugues Panassié
And last, in the Hot Club de France organization came not long after the festival a final break between Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié, as Panassié kept focus exclusively on traditional jazz.

Georg Lankester

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