As a long-time fan of the gypsy jazz made popular by the Hot Club de France, I am always pleased to find new (and not-so-new) groups playing in the swing jazz style of 1930s and 1940s Paris. One such group is the Avalon Jazz Band. If you don’t know their work let’s use this Saturday Soundtrack as an introduction.
The Avalon Jazz Band is fronted by Tatiana Eva-Marie, a Swiss-born and Brooklyn-based singer who grew up in an eclectic musical family and used the variety of musical styles she heard as a child to move toward swing jazz. She has a wonderful voice and captures the spirit of the Zazous, the “swing kids” of Paris, albeit with an American twist. An interviewer for the New School said she is “what many people would call a ‘triple threat.’ She’s brilliant, beautiful, and talented. She’s basically a Swiss fairy princess, with soul.”
To whet your appetite, let’s begin with Fit as a Fiddle followed by Ah, dis! Ah, bonjour!, written by French poet and songwriter Charles Trenet in 1939.
Besides the vocals of Eva-Marie, another key element of the Avalon Jazz Band sound is the violin, played in most of these recordings by co-founder Adrien Chevalier.
“The musical style presented by Avalon Jazz Band is inspired by the sort of jazz played in Paris in the 1930s and 40s, especially by the Hot Club de France (founded by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli) whose repertoire consisted of original music and jazz standards. This French style of hot jazz then became what we now know as “Gypsy jazz” or “Jazz Manouche”, with its technical bravadoes and virtuoso skills, embodied by the quick fingers of violinist Adrien Chevalier. The delicate voice and swing phrasing of Tatiana Eva-Marie bring the zazou element to the mix: an ingenuous and mischievous joie-de-vivre, which she incarnates to perfection.“Avalon Jazz Band official website
To give you a sense of the antecedents, here are Reinhardt and Grappelli playing The Sheik of Araby.
I became especially interested in jazz played on acoustic stringed instruments in the 1970s when David Grisman, introducing his new style of bluegrass and jazz-infused Dawg Music, credited the Hot Club as one of his major influences. A remarkable album from this period is 1981’s Stephane Grappelli/David Grisman Live, from which I’ve posted the twin-violin version of Tiger Rag — the first song played by the Hot Club of France — with Grappelli and a young Mark O’Connor.
We are in a period of time where we can use some happiness. As Eva-Marie explains in this delightful interview, that’s why this music was created in the first place and why it has such resonance today.
Runnin’ Wild is an especially good example of the uplifting spirit the band’s music inspires. Make sure you check out the break by the guy on the washboard rhythm section at the 1:35 mark.
Many listeners will also enjoy the band’s take on the Cole Porter classic I Love Paris.
“Ménilmontant” was written by Trenet in 1938 as a tribute to the famous Parisian neighborhood. Eva-Marie’s band mates playing the hot solos are Kate Dunphy on the accordion, violinist Adrien Chevalier, Koran Agan on the guitar, and Eduardo Belo on the bass.
And to send you off, enjoy some Sunshine and get those cobwebs out of your head!
More to come…
Image: Cover of the Album Paris from Avalon Jazz Band | New York Jazz Band