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David Murray

The way Parisians embraced jazz is unique in the world.


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David Murray

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Paris Ile-de-France as seen by...

David Murray

Paris Ile-de-France as seen by... David Murray

The way Parisians embraced jazz is unique in the world.

The spiritual son of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, saxophonist David Murray has lived in the Ménilmontant district for 12 years, perpetuating the historic links between Paris and the major African-American jazz musicians.

What memories do you have of your first visits to Paris ?

I came to Paris for the first time in 1976, aged 21, on a European tour with Olu Dara and Philip Wilson. I was immediately attracted by the beauty of the city but also, from a professional point of view, by the extraordinary place occupied by jazz. The scene was very lively, and in Paris there were still a lot of African-American musicians who had moved here at the beginning of the 1970s, as well as writers like James Baldwin who I was lucky enough to meet on my second visit. From 1976 to 1978 I came to Paris frequently. People here saw me as the new Albert Ayler, although at the time I was trying to free myself from his influence... Everyone was very kind to me and I felt as though I were really well regarded as a musician... I played solo a lot in Paris during that period. I remember being on at a festival between Betty Carter and Archie Shepp. That was a really impressive and unforgettable experience. I then returned regularly as part of various groups.

Where did you live when you came over ?

I would spend several months in a row in Paris during these tours. I got into the habit of staying in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, in a hotel which is legendary for any jazz lover, La Louisiane on the Rue de Seine. That is where Dick Twardzik, Chet Baker's pianist, died in the mid-1950s, and it was also the location for some of the filming of Bertrand Tavernier's movie "Round Midnight"...

There has always been a special bond between Paris and the African-American community - and especially between Paris and jazz musicians. What image did you have in your head of the city before you got to know it?

It is true that Paris has always been a sort of mythical city for us... But when I began hanging out here, at the end of the 1970s, it was also the end of a certain golden age. Many American musicians could no longer find work and were thinking about going back to the USA... However it is clear that the way Parisians embraced jazz is unique in the world. From the end of the First World War, jazz was well regarded here and black musicians immediately felt accepted as human beings by the inhabitants. God bless the French for that!

Does Paris have a direct influence on your music ?

I wouldn't say that. A musician draws on everything around him... And Paris is certainly the most beautiful city I have ever seen in the world. I live in Ménilmontant, a district that is still working class and very welcoming, made up of a wide variety of people. My family feels happy here and that peace influences my creativity... And Paris is a mixing desk of African music. I meet lots of African and West Indian musicians here who have taken part in some of my projects and who have undeniably brought their feeling to my music.  

Are there venues you particularly like to play in Paris ?

I really like playing festivals around the Paris region: Banlieues Bleues and Sons d'Hiver at the start of the year and Parc Floral in Vincennes at the end of spring... People are more receptive there than in clubs. It is an audience which has travelled to listen to the music. I don't want to fight to push what I'm doing and I appreciate it when people who know my work give me the opportunity to work on projects, like the opera based on the poetry of Amiri Baraka, "The Sisyphus Revue, A Bop Opera" which I put on at Vitry-sur-Seine on  February 2009. It is an important project for me, as I have been working on it for nearly a year. Paris is still a city which offers an artist opportunities like that. I feel lucky to live here.

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