New York City still a 'Mecca' for French jazz musicians
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New York City is a global hub for jazz. Artists from around the world, including France, continue to flock to the bright lights of the Big Apple with the hope of making a name for themselves.
French jazz musician Camille Bertault’s first concert in New York City was three years ago, for the launch of her 2016 album “En Vie”.
"I didn’t want to fall into the cliché and be impressed with the city of New York, the city of jazz, the American dream,” the 29-year-old musician told FRANCE 24, “but then I realised I had fallen for New York from the first moment I arrived.
"Each time I set foot in New York City something happens - there’s an energy that I can’t explain," she said. "Straight away I feel an electric current going through me. It’s not something I expected but it’s something that hits me each time I come and so artistically, I find myself pushing my limits.”
Camille's first album came out with independent label, Sunnyside Records, in NYC. Since then, she has returned frequently to play her own songs or collaborate on projects.
Lullaby for New York
Camille and Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo wrote a song together between concerts during the last Winter Jazz Festival in New York while on 54th street. It’s a lullaby that talks about the geometry of New York and the giddiness of the city.
The song will feature in Camille’s upcoming album, to be released later this year.
"We wanted to escape for a moment so we wrote a lullaby to 54th street to calm the rhythm," Camille told FRANCE 24.
Camille’s path to becoming a jazz artist was not a typical one. She learned piano sitting next to her jazz-pianist father and playing ‘four hands at once’ when she was three years old. She trained as a classical pianist until the age of 20, attending the Conservatoire in Nice.
The musician who inspired her most, she says, is Maurice Ravel, the early 20th century French composer, pianist and conductor often referred to as Impressionist, and himself a great admirer of jazz.
Django Reinhardt and the heart of French jazz
Another French jazz artist who has found inspiration in Impressionist classical composers is jazz guitarist Stephane Wrembel. Stephane believes that Claude Debussy’s music is at the heart of French jazz and that it inspired the great French-Romani gypsy musician Django Reinhardt.
Unlocking the mysteries of Django’s music has become a lifelong obsession for Stephane. He spent 10 years perfecting Django’s music style in the gypsy camps of Fontainebleau, the Paris suburb where the legendary musician lived until his death.
“When I arrived in the US in 2000 Django was not yet well known in France, and well, here in the US no one had ever heard of him. When I came to New York, I was the first person they’d heard playing Django and I just started playing everywhere," Stephane told FRANCE 24.
Another lifelong obsession for Stephane has been his dream of coming to America and, more precisely, to New York. “For musicians,” he explained, “New York is a sort of Mecca. I remember they told me if you can survive in New York just with music then you can survive anywhere.
"They also told me I’d be able to play every night in NYC and that’s what I did.”
Stephane describes how when he first arrived in the US he had nothing.
“I had 300 dollars in my pocket and my bag, my guitar, my dreams, my energy and I wanted to conquer everything. After that I found myself playing at Carnegie Hall and at The Town Hall and at all the best venues in the US with all the musicians I’d dreamed of playing with. That’s the American dream. It’s making your dreams reality through hard work and energy.”
Stephane's music has since featured in two Woody Allen films, Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris.
In some ways, he is the embodiment of the American dream.
Originally from Fontainebleau in France, Stephane now lives in New Jersey, where every year students from around the world come to participate in a gypsy jazz camp organised by Stephane in his adopted hometown of Maplewood.
Both Camille Bertault and Stephane Wrembel continue to play regularly in NYC.