Paris is a haven for jazz lovers, and Parisians take pride in knowing more about American jazz than Americans do. My friends introduced me to a real find -- a neighborhood haunt better than a late-night club -- Crocojazz, 64 Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève (01.46.34.78.38) in the 5th Arrondissement, where Gilles, the manager with an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and blues, holds forth 5 days a week until 7 p.m. (except for the lunch hour, and he is closed Sundays and Mondays). The tiny one-room shop is a lively scene of habitués and visitors seeking serendipitous discoveries or a collector's item in the stacks, boxes and shelves of popular and hard-to-find music.
Gilles is a "prof" and a therapist. He digs deep into his rich knowledge of jazz and blues for our benefit, but also listens to our musical needs and -- voila! -- comes back with a handful of CDs that respond to our tastes. He's happy to preview the music after carefully opening the LPs and CDs so as not to destroy the packaging. He comments on what we're hearing musically as if he were there when the session was recorded. The habitués add further details from visits to New York, Chicago and LA.
Interestingly there are hundreds of LP records in his shop, and I ask why, since most Americans have tossed their record players and scratched records. "Vinyl," as the French call LPs, is much higher quality -- and Crocojazz has originals dating back to the '50s and '60s.
There are lots of small music shops in the area, which is a student quarter near the Sorbonne, particularly along the main streets of the 5th and 6th Arrondissements such as Boulevard St-Michel, Boulevard St-Germain, and Rue des Écoles (where the sister shop Crocodisc, with other types of music, is located at 42 Rue des Écoles). But we who gather this lively Saturday afternoon to listen to music and share tales of great jazz and blues moments in our lives happen to be the age of the students' parents. I walk out with more than a half dozen CDs -- including bluesmen Jimmy Reed and Elmore James, jazz pianist Bill Evans in 1956, trumpeters Lou Blackburn and Freddie Hill (recorded in Hollywood in 1963), trumpeter Chet Baker at the beginning of his career, and Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown in New York City in 1954. Before the end of my trip, I'll be back for more, bien sûr. Like some Django music from his Quintet of "Le Hot Club" of France.