A few days ago a friend asked me to give him a rundown of the jazz clubs I frequent in Paris. I love Paris and I love jazz but that does not make me an expert. However, when in Paris I have my little haunts.
Years ago I never went to Paris without spending every night I could in a club called Le Bilboquet. This sweet little club on the left bank at 13 Rue St. Benoit was originally an old cellar first operated under the name of the Club Saint Germain. It was frequented by Django Reinhardt and all the jazz performers who were fascinated in those days by the be bop from America. They chose the caves because they were available and cheap and they could play what they wanted without being criticized by the classical jazz fanatics who were suspicious of the new wave of music. They considered it to be unworthy of the name jazz. In these clubs young and old gathered to dance and listen and Django loved to play there.
When I first visited Le Bilboquet in that same location, it was a restaurant on the upper levels overlooking the club and the music and a jazz club below. The club was old style with small tables and red velvet stools or red covered couches and was a very friendly place to listen to the bands who played there. I loved the nights they featured the Ahmet Gulbay Trio. Ahmet, on the very hot piano and with a tremendous smile, was of Turkish descent and welcomed friends and visiting musicians to join in the fun. One night he had invited a young high school student visiting Paris with his parents from Berkeley, California to play with him. It was delightful.
I met many interesting and friendly people both French and from other countries including Turkey during the time I was a regular. One sad night I showed up to find the club closed forever! I felt absolutely lost.On subsequent visits to Paris I searched for other clubs but never found one quite like Le Bilboquet although they have opened a new club called Le Bilboquet rive doite near the old opera house with a dance floor and featuring Swing, Be Bop and Shuffle which could be worth a try.
On a trip dedicated to following the footsteps of Django Reinhardt I came across a listing at a website I follow for a club featuring jazz manouche on Thursday nights. That night they were featuring Simba Baumgartner. Recognizing the last name of the first son of Django from a first marriage, Lousson Baumgartner, I learned he was indeed the great grandson of Django. My daughter and I hurried over to the Taverne de Cluny where the club MONK is located and were blown away by the music and the intimate atmosphere there. Simba was sweet and shy and his music was out of this world. MONK in La Taverne de Cluny (5th arrondissement) is one place I will visit every time I am in Paris, especially on Thursday evenings when they feature jazz manouche.
I wanted to show my daughter some other authentic venues so we visited another “cave” venue called 38 Riv. on Rue de Rivoli (4th arrondissement). It was so cool and the group from Brazil who played that night was great. The club itself is worth the trip.
The site I use to locate the jazz I want to experience is parisjazzclub.net. They give you a run down of who is playing and where and it is very complete. With their help I visited several clubs including Duc de Lombards in the 1st arrondissement, with a high quality of jazz musicians. I was happy to take in a show by Hugo Lippi, a very talented jazz manouche guitarist who had just released a new album entitled Comfort Zone with the favorite, Manoir de mes rêves. The music was great and the atmosphere oh so French.
Conveniently, Due de Lombard is surrounded by less formal clubs like Sunside in an adjacent alley-like street filled with jazz clubs and cafes. Some of my all time favorites artists have played outstanding concerts in the intimate space of Sunset. You never know who might be booked! Bireli LaGrene for example was booked there for three back to back concerts just after I missed a very fancy performance of his at a beautiful site due to Covid issues.
There are numerous clubs all over town so if you are courageous, just try some out. New Morning in the 10th arrondissement, Baiser Salé in the 1st arrondissement where I see Sylvain Luc, an extremely accomplished jazz manouche player, is booked for January 26, 2024, and Caveau de la Huchette in the 5th arrondisement. That is just to name a few. If you look carefully you will find all kinds of venues in Paris featuring a generous variety of music. Just go and have fun!
Simba Baumgartner Trio at MONK Jazz Club located in Tavern de Cluny
Some fun links: Django at Saint Germain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frHLyMHfObo
Ahmet Gulley at Bilboquet:
I am a writer who covers film, art, music and culture expanding on my own experience, travels and interests. My goal is to explore and to share, hopefully inspiring my readers to follow my lead and further enrich their lives as well.