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First "Paris Festival International de Jazz" (May 1949)

To quote the liner notes introduction of this 1977 radio archive release: "Such was the eagerness and curiosity with which this concert was attended that the announcer in charge got carried away by the general excitement and grew so lyrical he had to be interrupted by another one who stuck more closely to the facts" :D:

Even to non-French speakers, the gist of the first announcer's quintessentially Parisian intellectualizing [in French] is perhaps clear enough: "Chaque pays, chaque époque a son génie propre, et la musique, comme l’architecture, en est I’image et le témoignage perpétuel. Le plein chant des cathédrales, l’héritage de la musque antique, la polyphonie de la renaissance, les fugues de Jean-Sébastien Bach, la sensibilité spirituelle de Mozart, tout cela reflète l’histoire de l’esprit et les folklores de tous les pays reflètent I’histoire de l’homme. Alors qu'on espérait avec le vingtième siècle de grandes reformes musicales répondant aux grandes découvertes scientifiques du Siècle de la Machine, la musique livrée aux mains d’experts alchimistes se confinait dans des alambics sans issue. Voici un orchestre qui apparaît, je laisse à nouveau le micro à mon ami Cullaz...".

Fortunately, as the opener "Rifftide" starts up, Maurice Cullaz, a well-known radio critic in 1949 (and in 1977 President of l'Academie de Jazz) gets down to basics: "Vous entendez actuellement le quintet de Tadd Dameron et Miles Davis. C’est un quintet qui se livre à la forme la plus moderne du jazz, au style bebop. Miles Davis à la trompette, James Moody, ancien saxophone ténor de l’orchestre du fameux Gillespie, Tadd Dameron au piano, Spieler à la basse et notre ami, je puis dire, parce qu’il est parisien depuis déjà longtemps, Kenny Clarke, un des deux meilleurs drummers probablement de l’époque actuelle. Voilà Miles Davis…"

The whole album can be heard here.

By this time, Clarke (pictured above on right at the piano, with Miles) was already a well recognized figure in Paris, thanks in particular to the Gillespie orchestra's tour of February 1948. Referencing the recording of one of those concerts, the writer Burt Korall noted "Undoubtedly this concert and, very likely, all the appearances by the [Gillespie] band in the City of Lights left Parisians in awe of Dizzy Gillespie, his orchestra, and certainly Kenny Clarke. In her book "Paris Without Regret", Angela Broschke Davis says: "Kenny called it [the tour] the "highlight" of his career; he felt that it was one of the major reasons why he was so well received in Europe, and it contributed to his decision to settle in Paris eight years later." John Lewis [pianist on that tour] echoed the sentiment: "Dizzy's tour was absolutely sensational. It wouldn't have been on that level without Kenny. It was so exciting; it was just impossible not to be affected by what he played with that band." From February through August 1948 [staying on in Paris after the tour], Clarke taught drums and played and recorded with a variety of people. His affection for the French capital and its people grew. He felt he could very easily live and work there, without looking back."

His next opportunity (after 9-10 months back in New York with Tadd Dameron and others) came in May 1949 at the First Paris Festival International de Jazz. Korall continues: "Having been called on by Mme Nicole Barclay to help select the talent, he turned to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Max Roach, Al Haig, Don Byas, James Moody, Tommy Potter, and Barney Spieler. The traditional contingent was headed by Sydney Bechet. The performances by the Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet (Davis, Moody, Dameron, Spieler and Clarke) further entrenched the drummer and modern jazz in the minds and feelings of the French." Henri Renaud, writer of the album notes for the 1977 release of these recordings, concludes: "And, of course, the man behind the drums that night was Kenny Clarke, who made each beat in each bar swing like the Harlem's Savoy in its heyday, in a stupendous exhibition of that bebop polyrhythmic drumming to which his name is forever linked. "Klook", then 35, was one of the major attractions of the Festival."

Clarke stayed on in France for two years after the festival, playing in Paris and elsewhere in small groups and big bands (including that of French pianist Bernard Peiffer), recording among others with Sidney Bechet, and even appearing at festivals with Coleman Hawkins. He returned to New York in 1951, but would ultimately emigrate to Paris for good in September 1956.


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