Ken Beilman the Author:
Jazz In Paris - An American Perspective
I find it strange that jazz, America's only native art form, has
been, and apparently continues to be, more popular in Europe than in
America. Perhaps the old saying "No one is a prophet in his own country"
expresses this phenomenon. Ever since the end of WWII, when a long line
of expatriate American musicians and their fans crowded the Parisian
jazz clubs, American jazz has been chic in Paris. Today, American jazz
remains more popular in Paris than in most US cities. Americans who play
it are still the prophets on the scene.
Available for three francs (about 60 cents) at newsstands, the very
informative and up to date "Pariscope" magazine publishes much cultural
information. In the music section is a listing for several clubs that
feature big name jazz players in a variety of club settings. My
companion and I were fortunate enough to visit two of these clubs, Le
Petite Opportun and La Villa where we heard, respectively, Ray Bryant
and Geoff Keezer.
Le Petite Opportun is an interesting club located on a street of the
same name in the Right Bank of Paris (the Right Bank of Paris is north
of the historic river Seine and the Left Bank is south of the river).
The owner is, himself, a jazz pianist with an abiding interest in
keeping jazz music alive.
Despite its obvious historical location (everything in Paris is
historical), the club was unassuming and intimate by any measure. It
could hold 30 people at most. It featured a small bar upstairs and a
very small downstairs music setting. As a testimony to the club's
intimacy, we greeted Ray Bryant at the top of the stairs that led to the
club below. We took our seats at a table that we shared with another
couple next to the Yamaha studio piano. The club had textured masonry
walls that reminded me of an ancient wine cellar. Its ambience was
authentic Old World.
Our timing was good, as Ray Bryant made his entrance shortly after we
took our seats. He was accompanied by two able Parisian musicians on
bass and drums. The set began with my companion and me so close to the
piano that I thought Ray Bryant wouldn't have room to hit any keys above
middle C. But, being an aspiring amateur pianist myself, I welcomed the
opportunity to closely witness Bryant's technique. And I wasn't
disappointed. The intimate trio setting showcased his brilliant bluesy
jazz styling. While Bryant's style was mostly bluesy, his versatility
was evident as he displayed his talents on a variety of standard tunes.
His playing experience with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles
Davis, Sonny Rollins, and other notable boppers was apparent throughout
the sets. As further evidence of his eclecticism, Bryant performed a
solo boogy woogy version of "Take the A Train" at the end of his first
I had the opportunity to speak to Bryant between sets. He impressed me
with his genuine friendliness and humility. When asked how he plays
differently now than 30 years ago, he replied "Better, I hope. I would
do some things differently now than before, but that's just a matter of
evolving. But when I listen to some of my old stuff, I think, say,
that's not bad."
We talked about the jazz scene in Europe where Bryant works the most.
However, he does get back to the States now and then. He noted that he
has played with Louisville's late Helen Hume in the past and he even
offered to drop by my house should he ever be in the Louisville area. As
proof of his sincerity, he asked for my phone number and address which I
readily gave him. Realizing that my collection of Ray Bryant CD's
amounted to only one, I stocked up the next day at one of Paris' record
stores on the Champs De Elysees.
The second club that my partner and I visited was La Villa. This is a
club in the basement of the hotel by the same name. It is located in the
Latin Quarter of Paris. This part of town is a much older version of New
York's Greenwich Village. It is an area where you can retrace the
footsteps of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Henry Miller. The
Latin Quarter is filled with students, cafes, bistros, various jazz
clubs, and many good budget hotels and restaurants.
La Villa's room is modern and small, though mirrored walls make it seem
larger. Artists that have appeared at La Villa include George Coleman,
Von Freeman, Vincent Herring, Art Farmer, Teddy Edwards, Oscar Peterson,
and Clifford Jones.
We were fortunate to be in town when Geoff Keezer was playing at La
Villa. His trio provided a good taste of the New Guard's style of jazz.
Geoff's dazzling piano virtuosity was evident throughout all the tunes.
It is no wonder that, at the tender age of 18, he was one of Blakey's
Keezer's style is different from Ray Bryant's. While certainly versed in
bebop, Keezer's style departs from the bebop tradition by relying
less on the typical fundamental blues idiom. His voicings are less
bluesy, more dissonant, and his rendition of the melody is less
recognizable than the usual bebop interpretation. Throughout is a
stunning command of the piano. Judging by his sheer technical
brilliance, I presume that Geoff is classically trained. Two American
musicians on bass and drums accompanied Keezer. Geoff's sidemen were
competent but were not impressive. The drummer was positioned on the
front of the small stage platform and he overplayed a bit. This produced
a loud and distracting drum part. The bass player was adequate but not
quite loud enough. Nevertheless, the music was exciting, enjoyable, and
satisfying. We stayed for two sets.
If you decide to go to Paris for jazz, you have made a good choice.
However, the jazz scene is a bonus to the remarkable beauty and history
of Paris. Remember to check out the Pariscope magazine to get up to date
information on jazz, restaurants, historical sites, and happenings in
Reprinted from the Louisville Jazz Society Newsletter October-