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Making Jazz French: Music and Modern Life in Interwar Paris by Jeffrey H. Jackson

In 1922, as the opening night of the Paris nightclub Le Boeuf sur le Toit rolled out, jazz was already weaved into French history. The venue itself would become a key hub for the intellectual, artistic and jazzistic life of the City of Lights. Back then, however, it would have been impossible to have a national Francophone vocal hit such as Ray Ventura’s 1935 interpretation of Paul Misraki’s jazz composition “Tout Va Tres Bien, Madame la Marquise.” In this admirably researched work, Jeffrey H. Jackson accounts for the evolution of various phenomena linked to jazz-both as a musical and conceptual term-during the Parisian interwar period.

As instructive as it is a good read, this is not a musicological analysis of early jazz music in France. Rather, the book deals with how the French adapted to the arrival of such so-called Americanizing forces as jazz and modernity, as well as “how they used the concept of jazz to understand and remake their age.” This story reveals shared familiar general patterns associated with the onset of jazz in any number of societies. During the period in question, for example, Oslo, Chicago, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Prague, Istanbul and Paris reacted in similar fashion to the acceptance and rejection of jazz and modernity as a cultural, intellectual, social, economic and aesthetic challenge. The uniquely Francophone developmental aspects, on the other hand, are treated in economically detailed form, successfully coalescing any manner of disciplinary topics into research that proves exhaustive without being exhausting. Its conclusions, furthermore, are evenhanded and thankfully devoid of any kind of marring intellectual or social activism. This is the book to read if one wishes a better understanding of French society in particular, as well as jazz itself in general.

Originally Published