Clamart is a French town about five miles southwest of Paris. Each year since 1949, a jazz festival has been held there. In June 1951, soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet was injured in a car accident on his way to the festival and was replaced by Don Byas. Also at the festival was French pianist Henri Renaud with his sextet. [Pictured above: Henri Renaud]
Fortunately for us, the festival's producer had invited the owner of Saturne Records. He dragged the group off to a studio and recorded them after their performance. Renaud's band featured Bobby Jaspar (ts), Sandy Mosse (ts), Jimmy Gourley (g), Pierre Michelot (b) and Pierre Lemarchand (d). Saturne recorded them together and broke them up into small groups for the date.
Of course, Mosse and Gourley were Americans. Gourley came to Paris earlier that year and was gigging at the Boite a Sardines (The Sardine Can), a club near the Arc de Triomphe. Mosse arrived in Paris a few months after Gourley. France didn't have much in the way of American jazz on record yet so Gourley brought over a batch of Roost and Triumph 78-rpms of Jimmy Raney, Al Cohn and others. Mosse toted "Charlie Parker with Strings." [Pictured above, left to right: Henri Renaud, Jimmy Gourley, Clara Mosse, Ny Renaud and Sandy Mosse]
The result of the session was a series of 78s featuring discs with pictures on each side. Also fascinating are the varying jazz styles captured. The 10 songs recorded showcased bebop, cool and the inklings of what would become West Coast jazz.
This stylistic traffic jam makes perfect sense given how many different U.S. musicians had been in Paris after the war and remained there for extended periods. Styles and approaches rubbed off on the French artists and on Jaspar, who was Belgian. But the different approaches also reflected the uncertainty about which style was going to dominate going forward. To play it safe, the French musicians learned them all. [Pictured above: At the Kentucky Club in Paris, 1951. Left to right: Bob Aubert (g), Jean Berdin (d), Bobby Jaspar (ts), Henri Renaud (p) and Bib Monville (b).]
The tracks on the album are Milestone #2 (Miles Davis), Godchild (George Wallington), Tenderly, So What Could Be New? (Tiny Kahn), Blue Moon, If I Had You, Any Old Time, A New Date (Jimmy Gourley), Lady Be Bad (Tiny Kahn) and Too Marvelous for Words. Renaud's piano is solid, with modern chord voicings behind the ensemble. Mosse and Jaspar combined a clear affinity for Lester Young's warm and insistent airiness and Warne Marsh's metallic flintiness. [Pictured above: Sandy Mosse]
Why did American musicians hang out so long in Paris? There wasn't much work in the States, Paris was comparatively inexpensive and its inhabitants' love of art and life was intoxicating and stimulating. But perhaps most important, French and Belgian jazz musicians could swing.
What's beautiful about this session are the musicians' compelling harmonies and lyrical solos. Their agility and dexterity also are admirable. One can only conclude that French jazz artists in the 1950s—like those in Britain—really haven't been given their proper due for their prowess and contribution. The soulful, poetic approach to jazz by musicians in Paris had a certain hipness and grace that rubbed off on Americans who lingered there.
JazzWax tracks: This album doesn't seem to be in print on CD or available as a download in the U.S. But it is available from ParisJazzCorner.com here (scroll down). Hopefully a label like Fresh Sound will re-issue this material so it's available in the States. It's tremendously important.
JazzWax clips: Here are tracks by various splinter groups featuring Henri Renaud that were recorded for Saturne in June 1951. The last one features Sandy Mosse on tenor sax: