The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir [NOOK Book]


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 the International Herald ...

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The Parisian Jazz Chronicles: An Improvisational Memoir

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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 the International Herald Tribune that have entertained us for decades. Based in Paris, or, rather, stuck there, as Zwerin likes to say, he has been a music critic for the Trib since 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 as The Birth of the Cool.

The Parisian Jazz Chronicles offers 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.

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Editorial Reviews

David Liebman

"Jazz musicians are by nature secret agents, meaning as they travel and perform throughout the world, they observe and take notes . . . all to be digested and used for source material in their art. Zwerin does just that, examining everything from language to the music and all of life in between. His observations on the differences between French and American culture warrant the price of admission, not to mention his insights into Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, and other notables. Zwerin takes you for a ride that is informative, entertaining, and as hip as it gets."—David Liebman, jazz saxophonist
Rafi Zabor
“Mike Zwerin’s insider’s take on the musician’s life follows Miles Davis in knowing what notes not to play: he sees everything, and says just enough. Zwerin has written inimitably for decades, and this book raises his work to new expressive heights. The clear-eyed, bleakly honest closing chapters lead to an earned, effervescent, ultra-Parisian turnaround and climax a stylish ramble through the obliquities of hip intercontinental life. A masterly take on cosmopolitan culture in our time.”—Rafi Zabor, author of The Bear Comes Home and I,Wabenzi
Robert Wyatt
“Mike has lived it and played it with the best. His transatlantic home has a rather beautiful and complicated relationship with jazz. Let this great journalist be your guide.”—Robert Wyatt, musician
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300127386
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Mike Zwerin has been a music columnist for the International Herald Tribune since 1979, and, since 2005, for Bloomberg News. A world-class trombonist, he has played with Miles Davis, Earl Hines, Eric Dolphy, and other jazz legends.
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Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2005 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10806-4

Chapter One



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 his Financial Times, which, printed on salmon-colored newsprint, is perfect for cleaning dog doo.

Like the Lenny Bruce routine about Puerto Ricans and garbage, the French love dog shit so much they'll steal it from next door and move it in front of their own house. Or better yet, dump it on the public sidewalk. Not really, Lenny was joking, but it's the same joke. Sooner or later somebody-probably some stupid foreigner-will step in it. Beautiful. Génial.

Foreigners wonder how such a highly developed culture can allowso much dog poop on its sidewalks. The Socialist mayor of Paris pushed through a law stipulating a 183 euro fine for not cleaning up after your dog. Lots of luck. Mike's theory was that the Algerian who stabbed the mayor one night was not actually, as was thought, a rabid homophobe-Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was gay-but a poopophile. The French consider dog poop on a sidewalk a cultural exception. Delanoe recovered.

Unlike the majority of her compatriots, Mike's almost sort-of ex-wife is user-friendly with non-French names. Marie-France called his smuggler friend Bush "Bulsh"-which fit him totally. A painter named Kanovitz became Cannabis. An Irish cook named Seamus, who hit shamelessly on women, was Shameless. She had exceptional comfort with foreign names, and the English language in general, for a French person. It did, however take years to make her understand that "asshole" is not polite conversational English, or even American.

She was so cute when she said it: "Hasse-ole."

Adding an "h" where there should not be one and subtracting the one that's there is a metaphor for the way Francophiles relate to Anglophiles. The English call a condom a "French letter." The French call syphilis the "English disease." One expression French women use when they start menstruating is: "The English have landed." In general, Euro-neighbors land hard on one another. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told German jokes. Germans tell Polish jokes. The French are famous for joking about foreigners who fail to speak the French language properly. The French mispronounce non-French names on purpose. A non-French name is not to be taken seriously. A name in any other language is not proper.

Mike disliked the way the French pronounced his first name, "Mick-a-yel." The guttural Parigo pronunciation sounded like working-class Arabic-worse, like a French joke about working-class Arabs. At an age when responsible professional journalists tend to go in a more formal direction, adding their middle initial, Michael changed his byline to Mike. The French pronounce it "Mahik," with a nice slow drawl.

When he was younger, Mike's uncle Max had told him-it was sad to hear: "I'm afraid that the working man will have to find another solution to his problems than the labor movement." Uncle Max had been a labor organizer for the left-wing CIO in the steel mills in Alabama in the thirties. He'd put his life on the line. The labor movement was his life. He had a thick head of steel gray hair and an unlined face for his age, but he smiled reluctantly, and his eyes were steely. After being beaten up by company goons, he carried a revolver. When he could no longer avoid seeing that the gangsters were taking control, he joined the federal arbitration agency the National Labor Relations Board as the lesser of two evils. To be more "American," he changed his name to Mike. Uncle Max joked that this was probably the first time in history that an uncle had named himself after a nephew. Later, Michael named himself after the uncle who had named himself after Mike.

The French are not good travelers. "Why leave France?" they ask. "France has everything you need." And, indeed, there are snowy mountains, fertile valleys, an ocean, a sea, surf, beaches, canals, palm trees, lakes, fertile farmland, and thick forests. Unlike in America, what man has constructed in France mostly adds to, not detracts from, the scenery.

Mike and Marie-France took a decade out in the Vaucluse, a spectacular and peaceful valley in southern France running east from Avignon and north of Aix-en-Provence. It had been dubbed "the French California" by the Belgian hippies who, you might say, "discovered" the place. Living there, Mike learned that there was a layer of history, a map of nations, buried but not yet quite dead underneath the map of European states. The "South of France" had been superimposed over an ancient culture called Occitania. There were similar layers in Brittany, Catalonia, Wales, the Basque country, and Lappland. All of them were about some sort of devolution of power.

In the middle of it, Mike got the idea to write a book about it. His pitch was bought by a British publisher run by an English Marxist who disapproved of the title, Comes the Devolution. Mike thought it was really neat. But the publisher said: "Devolution is the name the reactionary central authorities use. They think of devoluting power to the people as a gift when in fact it's a basic right." It was eventually published as A Case for the Balkanization of Practically Everyone. The publisher went bankrupt. Don't ask.

Researching it, Mike flew up to Kiruna in Swedish Lappland from Marseille, the nearest international airport to the French California. Kiruna was a boomtown in the wild north. Iron, copper, nickel, and chrome had been discovered in quantity. Jackhammers, bulldozers, and climbing cranes were everywhere. Suburban streets spreading into exurbs. German freezers for sale in Swedish Lappland. Volvos everywhere. The only cinema in town showing "Memories Within Miss Aggie," American porn à la Ingmar Bergman-the perfect image for Kiruna.

The book was about "internal colonialism"-modern states superimposed over and exploiting ancient nations. There had been troubadours in Occitania while the French were still living under rocks. Occitan and Catalan, spoken in northeastern Spain, were cousins. Frenchmen who spoke Occitan but not Spanish could have a conversation with Catalonians who didn't speak French. The northern Basque country came to be in southwestern France, and the southern Basque country is in northern Spain. Mike interviewed a former member of the military wing of ETA, the Basque liberation movement, in his small café in St. Jean Pied de Port, in the French Basque Country. He said he had retired from the terrorist organization because it had become too Marxist. "But don't get me wrong," he said. "I'm not anti-Communist, I'm anti-Spain."

Similarly, the Lapps were anti-Scandinavian. Sami was the Lappish people's name for themselves. Even their name was occupied by Scandinavians. Young Swedes were coming up to Kiruna to hustle for a few years and take a bundle back south to the capital. It is the type of situation that has been described as "colonial." Mike rented a Beetle from a blond-bearded speed freak whom he had seen jamming gears around town, and in intense conversations in the lobby of the Ferrum Hotel. He drove north to Kautokeino, the capital of Norwegian Lappland. The road was a two-lane asphalt strip through what was called "the last wilderness in Europe." Thirty miles between lonely gas pumps on desolate tundra. In August, the secondary roads were all melted, and many villages could not be reached without a snow scooter or a very long walk. The Finnish border at Kersuando was a bright yellow barge across a rushing blue river. Not much of a border, a loose frontier. Norwegian immigration was a wooden shack next to a drop-pole over the road. Another easy border. But borders nevertheless. Imposed national borders cutting up an ancient nation. To telephone from Kiruna, Swedish Lappland, to Kautokeino, Norwegian Lappland-some three hundred kilometers apart-the connection went fifteen hundred kilometers south to Stockholm, over to Oslo, and back up. The mail went the same way.

Riding back down south to the northern Norwegian city of Trondheim, where there was an airport, Mike was surprised to find himself sharing a train compartment with a couple of French tourists, a man and a woman. French tourists were rare abroad so he paid attention to them. They were both young, slim, tan, and beautiful. He had deep black eyes and a healthy head of curly brown hair that looked as though it would turn gloriously white rather than fall out. He must have been a pianist. In an article in the June 13, 1904, Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune, headlined "Music Affects Hair": "The influence of music, as demonstrated by a series of experiments, was the subject of a remarkable paper read by Mrs. Amelia Holbrook at the Actor's Home, Staten Island, yesterday. Certain kinds of music, asserted Mrs. Holbrook, prevent the hair from falling out, and other kinds produce baldness. Those who play their own compositions on the piano preserve, and often acquire, a luxuriant growth of hair. The violoncello and the harp also have a tendency to preserve the hair, but wind instruments, especially the trombone and the cornet, are fatal to the hirsute adornment." Mike was a trombone player and turning prematurely bald. The French tourist's companion was a redhead and freckled, with minimal makeup, and she had that wonderful misty-eyed, world-weary, show-me-something look French women have. The train went through forests and mountain valleys, it rimmed fjords, and it was daylight until eleven, but the couple looked only in each other's eyes. Like most French people, they talked a lot, with passion, often at the same time. They talked about Luis Buñuel's movies, a new book by Andre Glucksman, about Bob Marley and Jacques Brel, about François Mitterand, about the surfeit of Algerian immigrants, and about their studies. Mostly, they talked about food-about Provençal salad, Alsatian sausages, sauce for the goose, her grandmother's onion soup. She took out a pen and wrote the recipe down for him.

To their credit, the French are human beings like the rest of us. Smile at a French person and chances are you'll get a smile back. Or you won't. Like anywhere else. Finding out he lived in Paris, an Israeli journaliste Mike met at an Italian jazz festival asked him: "How can you live with the French? They're so rude. They think they're better than everyone else." Mike reminded her that some people say something similar about the Israelis, and she exclaimed: "Oh. That's different." When Mike was flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport on British Airways on the night French francs were discarded for euros-it was New Year's Eve-a talkative English steward (probably gay, not that there's anything wrong with it) asked him if he didn't mind living with the French. "They're so rude," he said.

Riding into town from the airport, Mike scored a friendly taxi driver. Neither African nor Asian-immigrant drivers are often friendly-this was the devil himself. A white, male, working-class Parisian. The heart of the beast. We all know how rude they can be, right? Probably a right-wing, macho Le Pen voter in addition-the racist cunt. When Mike asked him how he was doing so far with the new currency, the driver answered: "It's no big deal, we'll survive. We French have to learn that we are part of a bigger world. It's probably better for the economy anyway. You have to adjust to change in our day and age." The voice of Euro-sanity. It was a beautiful day. A bright winter sun was up. Driving down Rue de Bagnolet through the peeling twentieth arrondissement to his place in the eleventh, Mike looked out at the human-scale urbanscape and its multiracial assortment of early risers carrying baguettes, and said to nobody in particular: "I really love this town."

Realistically, Paris would probably not be Mike's final resting place. His almost sort-of ex-wife asked him what she should do if ... She hesitated-he was too old for her. Like Mike, Marie-France tended to dwell on worst-case scenarios. The best Mike could come up with, not nearly good enough, was that she should sprinkle his ashes over the Atlantic. He was an alienated American, a wandering Jew, a musician playing to empty houses on an endless foreign tour. New York would be as absurd a place for him to be buried as Paris. Or Jerusalem, for that matter. Pity he was not a Buddhist -Charles Mingus had his ashes spread over the Ganges. During the seventies, when Mike lived in the French California, he had thought for a minute that maybe the villagers would allow him to be buried in their cozy little cemetery in the garrigue up the hill. But that had been thirty years earlier, in the ancient land of Occitania.

So he seemed to be doomed to spend his golden years stuck in a city where he had no roots, in a country with which he had no ancestral connection, and where he had no blood family and no childhood friends. Thirty-five years of exile is no lark. Not even a canary. Isolation was taking his breath away. He'd blown it. It was breathtaking. There were no old buddies to call to help get him through the night-there were no new buddies either. One-dimensional, a blur, a smear, a blip, Mike was ending the song of his life on a held whole note, a capella. He was on permanent loan to Paris, like a painting in a museum.

It has been said that there is only an inch of difference between life in Paris and New York. True enough, but it was the inch he lived in. Notice that after more than thirty years in France, he still thought of it as an inch and not a centimeter. It was no-man's-land by any measure. Everybody had started badmouthing the French. The Europeans were continuing a long tradition. In America there was talk about freedom fries and surrender monkeys. There were jokes: "What happens when you wind up a French doll? It surrenders." A lot of ignorant Middle Americans agreed with Dubya's remark to Tony Blair that the trouble with the French is that they don't even have a word for entrepreneur. That Israeli journalist in Italy had asked Mike if it was bad being Jewish in France now. She'd read about the desecration of synagogues and cemeteries. He said that he'd rather be a Jew in France than black in America, that the French hate Arabs so much there is not much hate left over to direct at Jews. Of course, the Arabs who live in France hate the Jews, but that's another story. Or is it? Americans tend to think that French anti-Americanism implies anti-Semitism. Maybe it does at that. In fact it may be time to get out of Dodge City.

But to go where? Mike was thinking about having his ashes scattered over Amsterdam. That way he could finally settle in that city which he considered the ultimate level of civilization, and he would not even have to learn Dutch. He'd liked living in France better before he learned French. To be alone in public and not to understand what's being said around you is sort of like being stoned. But sooner or later you have to come down, and you wouldn't believe the boring baloney people say to one another in any language.


Excerpted from THE PARISIAN JAZZ CHRONICLES by MIKE ZWERIN Copyright © 2005 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface XI
1 Poop and Hasse-Oles 1
Barbershops & Whorehouses I Stevie Wonder 13
2 Dexter Gordon: Life and Death in the Margin 14
Barbershops & Whorehouses II Ornette Coleman and Waylon Jennings 24
3 Planeland: Bringing Up Baby 25
Barbershops & whorehouses III Count Basie 40
4 The Slush Pump and the Silent Letter 42
Barbershops & Whorehouses IV Elvin Jones 50
5 Timothy Leary: Voltage Smart 51
Barbershops & Whorehouses V Janos 59
6 Jazz In Siberia: Left-Handed Times 60
Barbershops & Whorehouses VI Willy (Mink) DeVille 70
7 Chet Baker: How About A Sniffette? 71
Barbershops & Whorehouses VII Astor Piazzolla 84
8 Bob Dylan: Dr. Pitre's Nominal Aphasia 85
Barbershops & Whorehouses VIII Don Henley 95
9 Don Budge: Playing with Wands 96
Barbershops & Whorehouses IX Bobby McFerrin 103
10 Steppenwolf: Brilliant Eccentrics 104
Barbershops & Whorehouses X Simon and Garfunkel 115
11 Kenny G 116
Barbershops & Whorehouses XI Andy Bey 121
12 Miles Davis: A Mouthful of Words 122
Barbershops & Whorehouses XII Ice-T 134
13 Freddy Heineken: He Brew 135
Barbershops & Whorehouses XIII Brad Mehldau 144
14 Serious Music: Kulture in the Goyish Alps 145
Barbershops & Whorehouses XIV Roswell Rudd 154
15 Melvin Van Peebles: Gone Fishing 155
Barbershops & Whorehouses XV Steve Lacy 165
16 Wayne Shorter: Beyond a Smile On a Face 166
Barbershops & Whorehouses XVI Gil Evans 172
17 Orson Welles: Patched and Peeled in Mogador 173
Barbershops & Whorehouses XVII Dizzy Gillespie 187
18 The International Herald Trombone 188
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