Jazz à La Villette 2019
Jazz à la Villette has offered a brilliant and varied musical array each September, prolonging summer with a celebration of the genre’s many nuances. Whatever the weather, the festival co-produced by La Villette and the Philharmonie de Paris is a radiant Indian summer of jazz.
Jazz à la Villette has existed in its current form since 2002, but the festival’s origins trace back to 1986, the first year of its predecessor, Halle That Jazz. The first editions of Halle That Jazz festival, produced by La Grande Halle Villette, lasted just a few days and already drew some of the biggest names in jazz. The festival quickly established a solid reputation in the French jazz world, particularly after 1991—the extraordinary and well-remembered edition headlined by Miles Davis.
In 1994, the Grande Halle merged with Parc de la Villette, and the Cité de la musique opened its doors in 1995. The idea took root for a festival matching the scale of the site, giving rise to the first edition of La Villette Jazz Festival in 1996. In addition to using the Cité de la musique and the Grande Halle, this new version of the event incorporated outdoor space, Le Trabendo (then, Hot Brass), the Théâtre Paris Villette, etc., offering a combination of free and paid concerts, and masterclasses for amateur musicians and young professionals.
Drawing a far larger audience, La Villette Jazz Festival Paris grew quickly, forging its place as a major European festival.
However, it soon found itself increasingly overshadowed by another rising festival, created as À Fleur de Jazz in 1994 and baptised the Paris Jazz Festival in 1998. With its big names and free concerts, the Paris Jazz Festival was hard for La Villette Jazz Festival to compete with, especially since the two events took place at the exact same dates. In 2001, the floundering La Villette Jazz Festival was at risk of folding. Major efforts were undertaken by players in the jazz world and then public authorities to save the festival from its announced ending.
Jazz à la Villette was born from the ashes of La Villette Jazz Festival in 2002. The event was given a whole new concept: it was moved to early September and made smaller in scope, offering fewer concerts with a focus on better listening conditions compared to the previous format. The festival also took a more educational approach, and the positive response from the audience seemed to show this had been the right decision.
In 2005, the festival took a new tack in its programming, in accordance with jazz composer and violinist André Hodeir’s belief that “To stay within jazz, we have to broaden it.” The emphasis was placed on hybridization, and the Jazz à la Villette programme expanded year by year. In 2005, the festival incorporated forums, discussions, and interviews in public.
In 2007, it found its motto, borrowed from Frank Zappa: “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny”.
In 2009, the festival branched into programming for younger audiences with Jazz à la Villette for kids, offering musical and creative adventures children and adults.
Three years later, the festival introduced intimate concerts with acoustic evening concerts at Jazz à la Villette Unplugged. This concept was replaced by Under the Radar in 2014 – a new highlight of the festival that bring the audience into contact with artist-explorers, showcasing favourite discoveries and label-defying projects.
In addition to original concepts, Jazz à la Villette offers its audience original creations, special jazz film programming, and tribute concerts honouring the genre’s greatest figures: William Oneyeabor – Nina Simone – Neil Young – John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix – Curtis Mayfield – Charlie Parker – Fela Kuti. Et bien sûr de nombreuses têtes d’affiche: Herbie Hancock – Miles Davis – Maceo Parker – Charles Barldey – Bryan Ferry, David Murray – Archie Shepp – Gil Scott-Heron – Hank Jones – Ron Carter, Alice Coltrane – Avishaï Cohen – Guru – De La Soul – Nas – John Zorn – Tony Allen.
It all takes place in the verdant Parc de la Villette and its surroundings: from the intimate Atelier du Plateau to the Nef Nord of the Grande Halle, the Symphonic Hall (Grande sale Pierre Boulez) of the Philharmonie de Paris, the Espace Charlie Parker, and the Cabaret Sauvage, etc. there are venues for every type of artist and audience.