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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