Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the spiritual home of Parisian jazz. Students, artists and – according to legend – Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would file into smoke-filled clubs to listen to the era’s musical greats: Sidney Bechet, Henri Salvador, Mezz Mezzrow. Paris has a special place in jazz folklore. Miles Davis arrived in the late 1940s, and wrote that “Everything changed while I was in Paris. It was like magic, almost like I had been hypnotised.”
American artists and musicians found in Paris a city of freedom, tolerance and unbridled creative expression. The best ended up in the underground jazz clubs of Saint Germain-des-Prés, mingling with Paris’s terrace philosophers and bohemian intellectuals. Many were drawn to Le Tabou, a dingy, subterranean venue, where the music didn’t stop until the early hours and Miles Davis fell in love with Juliette Gréco.
All golden ages end; Le Tabou closed, Miles Davis moved on, and rock ‘n’ roll moved in – but jazz lived on in Saint-Germain. Unlike in its homeland, where it is all-too-often seen as a museum piece, jazz continues to be a fundamental part of Paris’ urban fabric. Here, it’s vibrant and innovative, and American artists are flocking to the city to be part of the Gallic Renaissance.
It’s not hard to find jazz in Paris – the city plays host to more than 600 concerts every month. Head to the right spots on the Left Bank, and you’ll hear the muffled sounds of trumpet riffs and saxophone solos from behind club doors, listened to by curious students and jazz cognoscenti alike.
Paris’ jazz musicians are coming out of the clubs for the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Jazz Festival, which runs until 31st May. A showcase of the best contemporary jazz, international musicians play alongside new talent and a handful of gifted amateurs. Fans can listen in venues dotted around the quarter – from traditional underground clubs to churches and open-air venues – as well as in a host of locations not normally open to the public.
Joining us for some jazz? Take a look at our homes in Saint-Germain-des-Prés here.