Since James Reese Europe’s orchestra set foot on the French Atlantic shore for the very first time in 1917, the country has had a long and rich history with jazz. While welcoming and sometimes being a second home for African American musicians, whose presence contributed to Paris becoming the cultural center of Europe in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, France has developed and nurtured its own jazz tradition.

Internationally famous French musicians include Michel Petrucciani, Stéphane Grappelli, Martial Solal, Daniel Humair, Henri Texier, Michel Portal, Louis Sclavis and Marc Ducret. The very first organization in the world for promoting jazz was created in Paris, in 1932: the Hot Club de France. Their most active members, Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié, promoted Django Reinhardt’s music and created the first French print media about jazz, Jazz Hot, in 1935.

French record companies, such as Barclay, Vogue or Swing, contributed to developing jazz history. France participated in building the jazz mythology in the 1950s when the basements of Saint-Germain des Prés resonated with music, as described in Boris Vian’s books. And, since the publication of Schaeffner and Cœuroy’s Le Jazz in 1926, France also has had a long tradition of jazz scholarship (André Hodeir, Louis Malson, Laurent Cugny). 

As it has become part of the French heritage, jazz is very present in our cultural life.

The country has hundreds of jazz festivals, and it is not uncommon to hear jazz even in small towns, especially during summer. Every major newspaper has a jazz columnist, and public radio stations have jazz programmes. As France is still very centralized, Paris concentrates most of the resources (even is, surprisingly, we don’t have any “jazz cultural centre” nor any jazz library—maybe because there would be too much material). Paris is also a good example of the diversity of the French jazz scene: while navigating different worlds, both traditional jazz and creative music are very much alive. In 2015, jazz attracted 1,8 million people to concerts throughout France, mostly in festivals; and in 2016, approximatively 9000 jazz concerts took place in the country (figures from CNV studies). France also keeps selling jazz records; they represent 2% of the national record market (including reissues). However, despite all that, jazz remains a small part of the music market and gets easily upstaged by pop songs and music. Today, among the main issues for jazz in France are gender equality, social and ethnic diversity, rebalancing between small and large structures in favour of the former and international exchange. 

Guide compiled by Raphaëlle Tchamitchian & Association Jazzé Croisé