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by Seth Colter Walls

May 28, 2014

Radio: Parisian Cafe Hits

by Seth Colter Walls  |  May 28, 2014

Welcome to the sound of France's hottest nightclubs in the high-kicking era between the World Wars. Click play on this station, and you'll have an instant soundtrack for your own brash and sophisticated late-night hang-out space: one where Django Reinhardt and George Gershwin bring you hot riffs and populist classics. You can hear how pop stardom was being permanently redefined by American expatriate Josephine Baker. And likewise how, around the same time, the owner of the Cafe de Paris contracted bandleader Louis Mitchell to bring a part of 1920s Harlem to the Montmartre district. ("Ain't We Got Fun," as recorded by Mitchell's Jazz Kings, is said to be the first jazz record cut in France, circa 1922.) Cuts from Louis Armstrong’s later yearlong stay in Paris are also included in our station.

Classical musicians were getting in on the fun, too, whether it was Igor Stravinsky writing (and recording) his own "Piano Music Rag" while living in France, or Gershwin sending his "American in Paris" into the wider world. Other European composers — from Kurt Weill to Erwin Schulhoff — incorporated jazz-like sounds into their music. (Some of the first recordings of Threepenny Opera arias were created in France in 1930, and in French! We’ve got those, too, of course.)

For their part, the French composers in the group Les Six — including Darius Milhaud — wanted to leave behind the gauzy qualities of the prior era of "concert music." Though they didn't always go in for the blues, they adopted some of the directness of the Roaring Twenties vernacular (and occasionally played Parisian nightclubs, too). This station doesn't merely include all that aforementioned music, it also boasts prime early singles by French national treasure Edith Piaf. And, just to prove that this music isn't merely a relic, Parisian Cafe Hits Radio also includes persuasive modern-day recordings of the wild and tuneful music of the Jazz Age. Enjoy!

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