For much of the twentieth century, Paris was the go-to place for American artists looking to hone their craft, but now it seems that trend has been reversed.
From Hemmingway to Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker to Miles Davis, the list of American artists who came to Paris to live, learn and perform is long and illustrious. But now it seems that the transatlantic traffic is going the other way, with many young French musicians opting to move to New York to develop their careers.
Despite booming rents that have left few affordable bases for struggling artists of all stripes, jazz musicians tend to consider the American cultural metropolis the premier petri dish for cultivating their craft. “There’s a long history,” said Clovis Nicolas, a bassist who grew up near Marseille and has called New York home for 16 years.
Josephine Baker loved Paris so much that she eventually took French citizenship, bu these days the traffic seems to be in the other direction. Photo: AFP
After a few visits in his late 20s, he decided to move there from Paris. “I was getting so much information and inspiration from the music scene that it would make me play better,” he recalled.
“The standards are pretty high. It’s a place where all the best musicians from the US and the world come to meet,” the 46-year-old told AFP at a diner a few neighbourhoods south of his home in Harlem.
Jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, like Nicolas, took part in the recent France Rocks concert series highlighting the strong presence of French musicians stateside. The sheer number of hopefuls vying to be the next Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie or Billie Holiday have helped maintain the city’s status as a jazz capital, he says. “There is a mythology to New York,” he said, adding that shortly after he arrived in 1994 “all of the French musicians were coming here… it became a little bit of a gimmick.”
Pilc lived in New York for nearly two decades, becoming an American citizen before moving to Montreal in 2015 to teach his craft at McGill University. “I think musicians need energy, and there is a particular type of energy in this place,” Pilc, who recently played at New York’s historic Blue Note club in Greenwich Village, said of his old stomping ground…Cont/-
(all photo credits: AFP)
Last modified: July 31, 2019