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The Paris Jazz Festival takes place in the Parc Floral, in Bois de Vincennes, next to the Chateau de Vincennes on the eastern edge of Paris. It’s easy to get to on Metro Line 1, to Chateau de Vincennes.
What a perfect setting, informal, family-friendly, and available to everyone, as entrance is just €5 into the park. Jazz in the open air, jazz sounds wafting through the gardens, the high notes floating up to the clouds. Jazz is very attractive music for people of all ages, all cultures, as it speaks universally. Luckily, the ‘Mairie de Paris’ makes it readily accessible here every year.
We went on Saturday July 28th, 2007, the second-to-last day (final was on July 29th) and it was extra special as Winton Marsalis, a super-star, and his quintet were the main feature.
The weather was very variable all day, with the clouds coming and going, so the threat of rain must always be an issue with a big outside event like this. Fortunately, umbrellas were not needed!
A group, Le Gros Tube, was playing just inside the entrance gate, their lively music getting the visitors primed for what’s to come. They were very good, and later they played by the café and then briefly as an introduction on the stage before the main acts.
Parc Floral is large, a Botanical Garden with a slight difference as many of the botanical sections are in separate structures. But there are also open gardens, wide thick grassy lawns studded with white clover flowers, and big flowerbeds. There’s a Butterfly House, various cafes and a couple of stages around the park. The Jazz Festival is held on the big stage, behind the pond and expansive lawns, so we wandered through the gardens to this main stage. Even 2 hours before the first act, it was getting crowded, with many people on the grass, lying or sitting on blankets or mats, or on portable chairs. Many bring picnic stuff, in bags, baskets, or wheeled chariots and set out sandwiches, beers, cheeses and wines.
The stage structure has a roof (an advantage if it rains) and many rows of seats—an extremely long line of people queued for ages and then madly rushed when they were allowed in. Hard to know exactly how many were inside, but we guessed perhaps a thousand or so. Others, including us, opted to colonize a park bench around the edge of the lawn next to the stage, as we could be more flexible with moving around. And people do move around; it’s a very relaxed setting with folks coming and going, to get coffee or beer, kids playing on the grass, some people reading (and listening I hope!).
Close to the stage was an open grassy area to try jazz dancing before the performance, which many people did, and they seemed to be having fun.
At 3pm the first group, Daniel Humair “Baby Boom”, was a quintet, newly formed, who were a bit avante-garde in some of their sounds, a bit “Eastern” and sometimes disconnected, but still very good and a lot of fun, and got the crowds fired up. They had their instruments “talking” in very interesting ways.
At 4:30pm was the main act, the Winton Marsalis Quintet, who were almost riotously welcomed. We were so lucky to have a big name like that, our chance to have this kind of music affordable. Sometimes uplifting and foot-tapping, sometimes mournful melodies, the plaintive notes drifting, tapping into the deep part of all human psyches. Some music was soft and sentimental, some with very interesting effects especially in the solos. All perfectly played. The crowd was insistent, and the quintet gave 2 very long encores, so the act only ended a little after 6pm—what a feast! We could relax and let the music fill our souls, allowing us to forget the rest of life briefly.