The Parisian Jazz Chronicles

The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir

MIKE ZWERIN
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npxtf
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  • Book Info
    The Parisian Jazz Chronicles
    Book Description:

    In his Beat-like jaunt through the Parisian and European jazz scene, Mike Zwerin is not unlike Jack Kerouac, Mezz Mezzrow, or Hunter S. Thompson-writers to whom, for different reasons, he owes some allegiance. What makes him special is his devotion to the troubled musicians he idolizes, and a passion for music that is blessedly contagious.

    Many jazz fans will know Mike Zwerin for his witty, irreverent, and undeniably hip music reviews and articles in theInternational Herald Tribunethat have entertained us for decades. Based in Paris, or, rather, stuck there, as Zwerin likes to say, he has been a music critic for theTribsince 1979. Zwerin also had a distinguished career as a trombonist. When he was just eighteen years old, he was invited by Miles Davis to play alongside Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Max Roach in the band that was immortalized asThe Birth of the Cool.

    The Parisian Jazz Chroniclesoffers an engaging personal account of the jazz scene in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s. Zwerin writes lovingly but unsparingly about figures he knew and interviewed- such as Dexter Gordon, Freddy Heineken, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Chet Baker, Wayne Shorter, and Melvin Van Peebles. Against this background, Zwerin tells about his own life-split allegiances to journalism and music, and to America and France, his solitary battle for sobriety, a failing marriage, and fatherhood.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12738-6
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. 1 POOP AND HASSE-OLES
    (pp. 1-13)

    Mike and his almost sort-of ex-wife Marie-France were sitting on the terrace of a café on the Place de la Bastille betting on who would be the first pedestrian to step in the big pile of dog poop in the middle of the sidewalk. People kept veering to one side or another, taking instinctive corrective steps at the last second.

    Mike called the loser. On the nose—or rather on the sole. The victim’s bowler hat fell off while he mumbled “bloody . . .” in English, and wiped his shoes with hisFinancial Times, which, printed on salmon-colored newsprint,...

  5. 2 DEXTER GORDON LIFE AND DEATH IN THE MARGIN
    (pp. 14-24)

    A letter from the Romanian Jazz Federation arrived out of the blue one fine morning not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. President Johnny Raducanu, whom Mike had never met, was asking for advice to help build a jazz scene in his country, which, he said, with some restraint, “had not been possible under the Communist terror.”

    In the process of answering him, Mike heard on the radio that Dexter Gordon had died in New York around midnight the night before. He did not know whether Dexter had ever played in Romania, but his death would certainly be...

  6. 3 PLANELAND BRINGING UP BABY
    (pp. 25-41)

    Planeland—Logan Airport, Boston. This is a message in a bottle thrown out from an overheated, landlocked, smoke-free island with a dubious past, no future, and not much of a present.

    There is no year in Planeland; no month, week or day—only endless hours. Neither at sea nor on land and certainly not in the sky, the sovereign state of Planeland suspends normal dimensions of time and space. It is late New Year’s Day eve. Mike and his half-French teenage son Marcel are in transit on their way back to Charles de Gaulle from LAX airport, which is in...

  7. 4 THE SLUSH PUMP AND THE SILENT LETTER
    (pp. 42-50)

    J. J. Johnson told Mike that he wondered what could have been going through his mind when, in an Indianapolis high school, he volunteered to play the trombone.

    “What attractedme to it?” he asked rhetorically. “The trombone is the most ungainly, awkward, beastly hard instrument you can imagine.”

    Any musical instrument nicknamed “slush pump” cannot be considered sexy. Mike passed the entrance examination to the High School of Music and Art, on top of a hill in Harlem, on the accordion. Players of non-orchestral instruments had to learn one. He had long arms and fleshy lips, and so they gave...

  8. 5 TIMOTHY LEARY VOLTAGE SMART
    (pp. 51-59)

    Mike was stuck in Paris. Which was better than being stuck in, say, Algiers.

    It’s hard not to be stuck somewhere—stuck in real life, dealingwith social benefits, utility bills, taxes, plumbers. Marie-France hooked Mike up with her plumber when he had a leak. Taking out his wrenches, the plumber asked him how come they were married and lived in two different places.

    “She’s my almost sort-of ex-wife,” Mike said. “We’re buddies. It’s complicated.”

    The plumber wrenched and looked knowingly at Mike, and said, man-to-man, that he had two ex-wives in different apartments around Paris, and he was friendly with...

  9. 6 JAZZ IN SIBERIA LEFT-HANDED TIMES
    (pp. 60-70)

    One nice thing about being stuck in Paris was how easy it was to get out of. Where Paris was was a big part of what it was. Which may sound like a left-handed compliment, but it was not meant that way, and, anyhow, Mike was living in left-handed times.

    During the early days of perestroika, a letter arrived from a Mad Russian of Mike’s acquaintance informing him that his plans for a Tashkent Jazz Festival were now “misty.”

    “The date moves maybe to next year, or even another city,” the letter went on: “Like in that known joke–everything...

  10. 7 CHET BAKER HOW ABOUT A SNIFFETTE?
    (pp. 71-84)

    In the dirty old years, the name was Staccato, Johnny Staccato.

    Staccato was born when John Vinocur said Mike could not use his own name writing forParis Passion, an English-language monthly with miniscule circulation. Concentrating on local social and cultural events,Paris Passionwas far from being in competition with the mightyInternational Herald Tribune. To be denied the use of his own name was outrageous. An arbitrary use of power. They did not own his name. He had signed no exclusive contract with theTrib. No contract at all, as a matter of fact. He was a freelancer....

  11. 8 BOB DYLAN DR. PITRE’S NOMINAL APHASIA
    (pp. 85-95)

    Mike was having a hard time remembering the name of that folk singer who wrote “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” He’d been forgetting names lately. It did not worry him because he’d been led to understand that forgetting familiar names is not necessarily Alzheimer’s, but a friendlier affliction the French call, after the doctor who discovered it,aphasie nominale de Pitre(Dr. Pitre’s nominal aphasia).

    He considered forgetting so many names to be an ethical failure. A failure of social will, if you will. A failure on a human level. Underneath it all, what Mike was really saying was:...

  12. 9 DON BUDGE PLAYING WITH WANDS
    (pp. 96-103)

    You can walk for hours in Paris without seeing anything seriously ugly. French public transport is reliable; the health care system basically works. There’s a thirty-five hour work week, and six or seven weeks’ paid vacation a year. Things are so good in the culture business that even freelance actors andmusicians go on strike. When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, it is often connected to the nearest weekend. These are calledponts, bridges. The ease with which the French build these bridges is one example of how they have resolved the quality of life equation in...

  13. 10 STEPPENWOLF BRILLIANT ECCENTRICS
    (pp. 104-115)

    “It’s not every day you get to say, ‘I have a movie opening on the Champs Élysées today,’ ” Fred Haines said, lifting his eyes toward heaven.

    Haines had studied Gaelic and read the book three times before writing an Oscar-nominated screenplay for Joe Strick’s movie of James Joyce’sUlysses. Later, Fred learned German so he could read Hermann Hesse in the original to write a scenario for, and direct,Steppenwolf.

    Lack of concentration was not one of Haines’s problems. He could sit so still and concentrate so hard on erudite material over such extended periods of time that his...

  14. 11 KENNY G
    (pp. 116-121)

    Mike’s journalistic aim was to create his own form. Not a revolution or anything, he just wanted to find his own place where readers could always tell it was him, and he would not have to explain what it was “about.”

    For example, writing a book about jazz in Europe during the Nazi occupation, he mixed his personal life into the story, trying to make it a good read rather than just another serious history book. What happened to him while writing the book was part of the book. He’d been trying to pull that off for years. Reviewers complained...

  15. 12 MILES DAVIS A MOUTHFUL OF WORDS
    (pp. 122-134)

    Mike was escorted by a trim hostess into the private elevator that goes up to the VIP penthouse floor of the Hotel Concorde Lafayette. When they arrived at the top, she opened the door with an electronic key card, and he wondered if he was locked out or Miles Davis was locked in.

    When in Paris, Miles always stayed in the same penthouse, which was of presidential proportions. The Prince of Silence acted like an African king, deserving every inch of his chambers. He was painting now, and it was becoming more than a hobby. Works of art were scattered...

  16. 13 FREDDY HEINEKEN HE BREW
    (pp. 135-144)

    For Freddy (“‘y’ not ‘ie,’ and why not?”) Heineken, bad jokes were an art form—more of an affirmation of life than a series of stories.

    He said he played “good tennis and badminton.” He liked sexy songs like “I’m in the Nude for Love.” He liked Mendelssohn, he also like Mendel’s father. Freddy felt a “special rapport” with Jewish people. He wanted—“this is my best bad joke”—“He Brew” written on his tombstone.

    “Brewery Magnate Dies at 78” was the title of his obituary in theInternational Herald Tribunein January 2002. After which a blackframed announcement...

  17. 14 SERIOUS MUSIC KULTURE IN THE GOYISH ALPS
    (pp. 145-154)

    “Extraordinary cultural hideaway; castle and hotel in spectacular Alpine valley one hour south of Munich,” is howSchloss Elmau advertises itself in theNew Yorker: “Concerts with internationally acclaimed artists, dances, great sports, skiing and health spa, indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, lakes and rivers.”

    Mike’s magnificently comped room had high ceilings, wood paneling, antique furnishings, and a view of a Bavarian Alpine mountain he came to consider his own. Grateful, he tried not to bleed on the carpets. His feet were rotten; it could get bloody. The operator of a bed and breakfast in Manhattan had been so furious about...

  18. 15 MELVIN VAN PEEBLES GONE FISHING
    (pp. 155-165)

    If you took three zeroes off Melvin Van Peebles’s income, divided his fame factor by about five, and ignored skin color, he and Mike were not unalike. About the same age, they had both been involved with words and music, and with the world known as “hip,” and both of them had fathered sons with French mothers.

    Mike met Melvin during rehearsals for the musical reviewMelvin Van Peebles et Ses Potes(and His Pals), which he had cast, and was directing, choreographing, singing, and starring in. “I shoot the breeze between numbers,” he explained. “Sort of like Charles Aznavour.”...

  19. 16 WAYNE SHORTER BEYOND A SMILE ON A FACE
    (pp. 166-172)

    “I’m not interested in a man,” Marie-France told Mike before leaving him: “I’m interested inmen.” She probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded—she was only trying to say that she was being faithful in her way. Parisian women regard sex as a sort of workout routine, a martial art, yoga—good for the digestion and the complexion. At least that was their reputation. He thought of her words often because they were a defining example of what he did not understand about women of any nationality.

    “You’re not as hip as you used to be,” she said....

  20. 17 ORSON WELLES PATCHED AND PEELED IN MOGADOR
    (pp. 173-187)

    In the sixties, when a New York publisher commissioned Mike to write a book about recovering addicts, drugs were still part of a jazz critic’s area of expertise. He was good at research. Following a larger than life bouncing ball going faster than the tune, he was beginning to do interesting things, like cocaine and heroin. They made him insecure, but insecurity is the fountain of youth. One thing he liked about Orson Welles was how he created money out of nothing and lost it without thinking twice. “Welles admitted that he was an anachronism,” Peter Conrad wrote in his...

  21. 18 THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TROMBONE
    (pp. 188-214)

    Who needs these garlic-chewing, truffle-nosed, cheese-eating surrender monkeys with their dumb thirty-five-hour work week and seven weeks’ paid vacation?

    When theNewYork Timesbought out its fifty percent partner theWashington Post, word got around that theInternational Herald Tribunecould be more efficiently run from Brussels or London, where everybody spoke English and there were lower social costs. Better yet, it could all be done from New York, which has even lower social costs than London or Brussels, and where theTimeswould soon have plenty of room in its own skyscraper.

    Paris, like the French language, was becoming...