Le Jazz Hot: One century of American Jazz


One French guitarist. One hour. One century of American Jazz.

Alain Pacowski gives us the pleasure of hearing ourselves, at our best, as others hear us.

He grew up in France — first Paris, then Biarritz — listening to jazz as the sound of America. His father played clarinet and saxophone in a band (and a period) inspired by Illinois Jacquet, Arnett Cobb, the Basie band.

Alain mastered the jazz guitar, and embraced the music as his idea of “le gai savoir,” a Nietzsche title meaning “Joy of Knowledge.” Alain Pacowski defines “le gai savoir” as the celebratory way, as he says, “to live, to be in life. It is the embrace of life through the quest for knowledge. It encompasses both art and foie gras. Jazz is a central and greatly underrated part of my idea of ‘gai savoir.’”

In America, Alain presides over a school, French in Boston, that teaches language, literature and culture. Out of school he talks about us Americans. Alain’s distillation of jazz history — with a very personal selection of CD tracks — does not pretend (as Ken Burns’ did) to be definitive, but it’s a great deal more than a party trick. He will make anybody want to revalue American culture upward.

Conversation with Alain gives me the ecstatic lift I felt one mid-day in the Paris Metro, with my daughters in the ’80′s, when all of a sudden a tall young Frenchman in a long coat presented himself with an alto saxophone and announced: “Mesdames and messieurs, une chanson de Duke Ellington,” and broke into Prelude to a Kiss, unaccompanied. It was the most flattering of distant mirrors of home. I will ask Alain to play some Duke. Requests, anyone?

Alain Pacowski

Jazz guitarist

Founder, French in Boston

Alain’s Playlist
“Gut Bucket Blues” from Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five Hot Fives & Sevens Vol. 1

“Petite Fleur” from Sidney Bechet’s Petite Fleur

“How Deep Is The Ocean?” from Coleman Hawkins / Lester Young’s Classic Tenors, Vol. 1

“Polka Dots And Moonbeams” from Count Basie’s Count Basie At Newport

“Shiny Stockings” from Ella Fitzgerald & Count Basie’s Ella And Basie!

“Sophisticated Lady” from Duke Ellington’s The Popular Duke Ellington

“Out of Nowhere (Take A)” from Charlie Parker’s Charlie Parker On Dial, Vol. 4

“Ruby, My Dear” from Thelonious Monk’s Best Of The Blue Note Years

“Red Top (Live)” from Erroll Garner’s Concert By The Sea

“Lament” from Miles Davis’s Miles Ahead

And we’ll try to find, for Charlotte Fleetwood, who in fact first suggested Alain: “Django” from Joe Pass’s For Django

Extra Credit Reading
Marc Sabatella, A Jazz Improvisation Primer, Outside Shore Music, 1992: “While listening to a piece, try to sing the theme to yourself behind the solos. You may notice that some soloists, particularly Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, often base their solos on the melodic theme as much as on the chord progression. You will also notice that liberties are often taken with the theme itself; players such as Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane were especially adept at making personal statements even while just playing the head.”

Mr. Monkeysuit, Gypsy Jazz Sundays, Relaxin’ at Camarillo, February 25, 2007: “[Douce Ambiance is] the only recorded solo I’ve ever bothered to learn all the way through, and I did because playing anything other than Django lines over Hotclub tunes sounds rubbish unless you happen to be a genius bebop innovator or possess the wanker chops of Joe Pass. It’s an exemplary study in making melodic improvisations out of simple triads.

Mr. Monkeysuit, How to Be Achingly Hip, Relaxin’ at Camarillo, June 30, 2006: “How do you get those hip-sounding ‘outside’ tones that make jazz sound like jazz? If you’ll allow me to be egregiously reductive for a moment, modern jazz has educated us in a vocabulary of improvised melodies that begin diatonically, move briefly away from the key, and then resolve back in, producing a very familiar ‘in-in-in-in / out-out-out-out / in-in-in-in’ sort of sound.”

William A. Smith, I wish i spoke jazz, Thoughts & Musing O’Mine, September 16, 2006: “The beauty of jazz to me is the fact that I could spend hour upon hours trying to communicate the different stories of my life, good and bad, or I could play Count Basie’s ‘lil Darlin’ as performed by the Ray Brown Trio and those stories would unfold just like it they do each time to me. Jazz KNOWS me and that is perhaps why I love it so.”

robby, great jazz writing, robby’s myspace, January 19, 2007: “Jazz is insulated by such snobbery that too many people who haven’t heard it think you have to know about it to like it, i.e. that you have to know ‘how’ to listen to jazz. that’s a heap. to listen to jazz: use your ears. if you like what you hear, then you listened ‘right’ and you’re a jazz fan. if you don’t like what you hear, then you also listened ‘right’ but you’re not a jazz fan.”

via nother: Siddhartha Mitter, In search of jazz with ‘maximum creative risk’, The Boston Globe, March 22, 2006: “Something important is missing — a sense of risk, the idea that the musical product results from struggle, challenge, and resolution….Now that the scene is defined by music-school graduates, I feel nostalgic for the days when musical expertise was a hard-won trait,’ he writes. ‘When I hear mastery without risk, I feel ripped off.’

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  • nother

    Considering that this is Duke’s house that we’re all living in (at least in the US), it might be apropos to belt out a little of “Duke’s Place.”

    Yet, my favorite Duke composition is the – so haunting, I get shivers song – “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)” – off of the album “Money Jungle” with Mingus and my man Roach. I’m not sure out how it would translate to a guitar though.

  • nother

    “Bechet to me was the very epitome of jazz… everything he played in his whole life was completely original. I honestly think he was the most unique man to ever be in this music.” — Duke Ellington

    Would love to hear Mr. Pacowski’s take on Sidney Bechet or “le dieu” as the existentialists apparently called him (I think that means God). It seems that he doesn’t get his due in the U.S. because of his immigration to France, so I would be interested in how he fits into the pantheon from a French perspective.

    You might say that Mr. Bechet was our return gift for the Statue of Liberty.

  • Requests, anyone?


    No, kidding. Anything y’all want to play is fine by me.

  • herbert browne

    Maybe he can take on Brubeck’s paean to Ellington- “The Duke”… or John Lewis'(?) “Django”… or one of Monk’s ballads, like “Ruby, My Dear” (but Monk did no wrong… any will please me). I don’t think it could be played by one guitarist, but Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” is pure magic. A samba standard, Jobim’s “Waters of March”? It’s the rainy season here… “Guitar” means “the Blues”, right? I’ve never heard a guitarist play Sidney Bechet’s “Nobody Knows the Way that I Feel, This Mornin'”… Could Alain take this one on? Hope so…

    Hey, nother, are you familiar with Max Roach’s “Freedom Now” Suite, that he did with Abbey Lincoln (in the Wayback Machine, somewhere)? That was my intro to Roach… I don’t remember who played bass, but it was pretty wild stuff, in its day… wish I still had it around… ^..^

  • nother

    Thanks man! I just downloaded “Freedom Now Suite” for 5 bucks on itunes; I’m looking forward to delving into it.

    The Roach that moves me is an album from 1999 called the “Beijing Trio.”

    Here is a quote from the site “Chinese-American pianist Jon Jang unifies the Chinese folk songs of erhu virtuoso Jiebing Chen and the legendary percussion of Max Roach to create a riveting aural portrait in creative musical exploration.”

    I checked out the trio with a half capacity crowd here in Cambridge MA. around 2001. The anchor of classical themes from Jang’s piano, the ancient cries of a far off place from Chen’s erhu, and the pounding – the slow spatial pounding of Max Roach’s percussion, made for a serene evening. The generosity of his minimalism that night, sticks with me.

    Here he was, collaboratively creating at 75, and I saw him smile.

    After the show Max stood alone at the end of the hallway and greeted a couple of us. He wrapped his long sacred fingers around my hand with a slow shake and asked someone to the side about how he was going to get paid. (For most of the history of Jazz, getting paid after a gig was not assured). I nervously mumbled something to him and he indifferently mumbled something back while signing my CD cover.

    But dig this, there is a small picture of each instrument on the CD cover and Max actually drew an arrow from his name to the drums. But not in an ironic way, in an earnest, humble way that said – I’m just one-third of this trio.

  • herbert browne

    Oh, man… that story makes the little butterflies in my chest… thanks for putting that out here! I saw my first er-hu being played by a busker in Seattle at the Bumbershoot festival, last Fall… a Chinese man in his (I’m guessin’) 40s-50s sat on the end of a bench and played for probably an hour… changed the interval one time- went from a 3rd to a 5th, I think… It was a real captivating performance, because it was really just about him and the fiddle- the audience waxed & waned, but he didn’t appear to notice (had a hat on the ground for tips). I’d like to think that I could be as comfortable in an idiom as Max- and not also be complacent, but willing instead to stretch out and keep learning and listening… “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp- or what’s a heaven for?” ^..^

  • I harbor fantasies of mashing-up Duke with Charlie Christian, layering the density of « Swing to Bop » with the intensity of « Very Special » from Money Jungle. Just a thought.

  • Ben

    Can we get some Minor Swing a la Django? And maybe a little insight into the folk influences and improvisations in that era in europe?

  • enhabit

    what js bach would have done with jazz!

    i bought my first jazz album @ 13 yrs of age freddie hubbard’s “red clay”.. back when vinyl had some weight to it..still listen to it…still have a thing for that era…the older i get, the more i find myself listening to jazz..or improvisational music as some would call portions of my collection…it has something that links the higher functions of the brain and soul with the gut and the feet..becoming more and more interested in brazilian influences as of late.

    likely to ask for some jazz on my deathbed if i get the chance.

  • Charlotte Fleetwood

    Thanks so much for doing this show! As a nod to the requestor, perhaps Alain could play “Django” by John Lewis on Joe Pass’ album “For Django.”

  • enhabit

    “lush life” sorta kinda duke (billy strayhorn)…nice so nice on guitar..hard to beat “prelude to a kiss” though

  • nother

    Love the quote Herbert Browne (who wrote it) and love the Chinese guy and his fiddle – keep sharing. Sounds close to the experience Chris had in France with his daughters. Nothing like some serendipitous music to lay the soundtrack to the special moments in our life. There’s Chris together merrily with all of his daughters in The City of Light and a stranger comes along to say, I’m going to provide the score for your moment.

    Yea, Roach had this quality I’ve witnessed with so many other older musicians, a deep reservoir of chops on demand. They climb behind the instrument and something holy happens; an ageless light reflects off them. I saw it with Elvin Jones right before he died, and I see it with the 80-year-old blind lady that belts out Dixieland on the piano at my bar on Wed. nights.

    Maybe they feel the need to honor the instrument, or maybe it’s just that the joy of earnest expression is exquisite – till the end.

  • nother

    Please indulge me as I add a sentence to my last post.

    There’s Chris together merrily with all of his daughters in The City of Light and a stranger comes along to say, I’m going to provide the score for your moment. And Duke to boot, and Duke to boot, oh man, and Duke to boot!

  • herbert browne

    Nother, that quote is from Robert Browning (who had to write hard & fast to keep up with his old lady). I can hear your love of rhythm in that last post, my friend… ^..^

  • nother

    Wow, Herbert Browne, I didn’t know any of his work. I took a quick look around the Internet and the first poem I came across was the best love poem I’ve ever read. Thank you for the heads-up, that was quite a gift.

  • Mood Indigo please

  • nother

    Considering that we will be talking about the history of jazz, I think this article from the Boston Globe today is worth a look for a good take on contemporary jazz.

    “In search of jazz with ‘maximum creative risk'”

    By Siddhartha Mitter


    there is a quote about contemporary jazz from contemporary pianist Vijay Iyer.

    “something important is missing — a sense of risk, the idea that the musical product results from struggle, challenge, and resolution. “Now that the scene is defined by music-school graduates, I feel nostalgic for the days when musical expertise was a hard-won trait,” he writes. “When I hear mastery without risk, I feel ripped off.”

    Mitter ends the article writing that the musicians taking risks now are the children of immigrants who are reaching out to “foreign traditions” and “to a popular culture that they refuse to disavow.” They’re “maximum creative risk” is to make music that is “democratic.”

  • Potter

    ( I can’t decide and thank you)

    Everytime We Say Good-bye

    How Deep is the Ocean

    Willow Weep for Me

  • nother

    Ok so I’m hogging this thread, but what the hell.

    How could I have forgotten that Miles Davis had done the score for a French film? Louis Malle’s “Elevator to the Gallows.”

    I watched it last night. The film as a whole was not so memorable but I’ll tell ya, I could spend all night (and I almost did) watching the stunning Jeanne Moreau saunter along the Champs-Elysees under Paris streetlights, moving to the soulful sounds of Miles.

    The second DVD in this reissue shows Miles improvising with the silent film projected in front of him (he had Kenny Clarke on drums during other parts). Damm, he looks more debonair than any of the actors in the film. Wearing a classic suit, he blows his horn suavely and sincerely as cigarette smoke billows from his fingers.

    Apparently this was Miles’s first foray into modal, so yes yes yes, it was a precursor to – “Kind of Blue!”

    J’aime Jeanne!!!

    J’aime bien Miles!

  • Souvenirs par Reinhardt et Grappelly.

  • jazzman

    My first exposure to Le Jazz Hot was in 1970 when I read an interview with Jerry Garcia who modestly said: “I don’t consider myself a very good guitar player, now Django Reinhardt; he was the best guitar player ever.”

    My interest was piqued having never heard of Django and my local record store had nothing by him. I located a copy of Django Reinhardt & Quintet of the Hot Club of France (1934-1935) in NYC and was transformed into a Django fanatic and acquired everything I could find including a Music book of Django tablature and transcriptions which I scored in a 3rd story music store on Broadway.

    I ended up with about 20 lps ranging from 1928 (banjo and a slide flute) to1953 (electric guitar) which while interesting didn’t have the heavy metal sound of his early acoustic recordings (by heavy metal I mean you could hear the distinctive sound of heavy gauge strings and knew that his crippled hand was really pressing down hard.)

    His rhythm playing always kicked the whole band up a couple of notches and you could always tell his playing from the other rhythm guitars (replete with tasteful fills and flurries.)

    He’s alive and well reincarnated as the brilliant Dutch guitarist Jimmy Rosenberg (who sometimes plays with Django’s son Babik.) If Alain has any Jimmy Rosenberg available it’s worth an ear.

    Oh yeah, I was able to see Stephane Grappelli live twice in the late seventies.

  • Potter

    Nobody is better than Johnny Hodges.

  • Of all the pieces, this one is so full of life. (the Garner piece) No wonder you love it Chris. Life is worth living and something to look forward to if it sounds like this!

  • Potter

    Wonderful show- thank you Alain Pacowski– loved the Miles Davis… beautiful.

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  • That was great…the hour went too fast

  • nother

    Great stuff, as usual!

  • PGrossman

    Wow, what a great show! Alain, your vast knowledge and love of jazz shined through. A great historical overview showing the influence of American jazz on France and your family, in particular.


    (BTW, I can’t seem to find the link to listen online.)

  • Just caught the show the next day. Wonderful.

    Anyone who wants to hear examples of the intersection of the Blues and Jazz should check out Ellington’s “Blues in Orbit”. It’s one of the greatest albums ever, and underrated. Hodges is great here.

    Also check out Dinah Washington’s “Back to the Blues”.

    Blues isn’t always a lone man playing a guitar; it’s a way of playing everything.

  • nother

    a tiny rivision for post above:

    Apparently this was Miles’s first foray into modality, so yes yes yes it’s true, it was a precursor to – “Kind of Blue!”

    Whew, I got that off my chest, now I can get back to listening to some jazz. 🙂

  • Shaman

    Wow, I’m a Monk fan and I never knew it!

    Excellent show.

  • jazzman

    I skipped out of work early last night in order to hear the show. I agree with all those who thought it was a great show, and while it barely scratched the surface, I liked Chris’s statement to the effect that “Jazz is the best export America has to offer”.

    To do the topic justice would take at least 10 or more shows. I was moved by Alain’s melodious accent, modulation and the enthusiasm he projected. It was as if he were riffing off Chris’s questions a la Johnny Hodges (a pregnant pause then Alain leaps in with a mellifluous solo.

    I enjoyed listening to his tone while extolling the virtues of jazz as much as I enjoyed the content of his commentary. I look forward to hearing more.

  • I have just heard spoken jazz!

    Chris, when are you going to have Alain Pacowski back to continue on from Miles D? Soon, I hope.

  • Wow, I just listened to the podcast today. I can’t help but feel energized about jazz and music in general after listening to this show. As always, the outsiders perspective helps us look at something like jazz from a new angle. Listening to Alain and Chris talk like giddy teenagers about jazz, reminds me of the fist time I started to understand Miles Davis and John Coltrane..

    The jazz tune I always get giddy talking about is Countdown by John Coltrane. I think of it as the punk rock jazz song. There is so much energy coming out of Coltrane, I think might blow up my radio. Its so raw and intense I just want to smash a guitar or something every time I listen to it.

    Great, great stuff guys.

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