To tell the story of the Avalon Jazz Band properly, you have to slip back 82 years in time. The year is 1934 and the place is Paris. Guitarist Django Reinhardt meets violinist Stéphane Grapelli. Together they form the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the most original, inventive bands ever to exist, the ensemble that gave the world the fluid virtuosity of Gypsy Jazz.
That joyous, elegant music became the inspiration for singer Tatiana Eva-Marie and violinist Adrien Chevalier in founding and perfecting the Avalon Jazz band. It has quite literally been a long journey across continents for them, from Old World to New, and the remarkable results sparkle on their debut CD, Je Suis Swing.
“Adrien and I met in France,” Eva-Marie recalls. “We both loved Gypsy jazz, we had for years. Five years ago we decided to move to New York and play the music here.”
It took a long time to bring together the musicians who could do complete justice to their vision.
“This is a very specific style,” Chevalier explains. “It’s close to the old hot jazz and swing, but with a very European twist. Eventually we found some wonderful musicians who understood it. Our clarinetist and bass player are from Canada, and both the guitarists have been obsessed with Django since they were teenagers.”
Je Suis Swing arrives at exactly the right time. Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris used Gypsy Swing on the soundtrack and the style is there in so many television ads. It’s become part of the musical landscape. But the Avalon Jazz Band breathe true Gallic authenticity.
The album is a mix of older French material like “C’est Si Bon” sprinkled with their take on American jazz standards, such as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” The Old World coming gloriously alive in the New.
Along with world-class instrumentalists, in Eva-Marie the band has a truly gifted singer, lauded by both the Wall Street Journal (“one of the best young singers around”) and Vanity Fair (“a rising jazz vocalist”). She brings a distinctive, feminine touch to the music.
“A lot of these songs are men’s songs; they were the ones who sang them,” she observes. “My approach means I can make them my own and add my own dimension. It’s the same with the music. We bring ourselves and our personalities to it. The compositions may be older, but after playing them for so long we don’t know they’re not ours.”
With its daring, thrilling blend of American jazz with the Gypsy music of Reinhardt’s roots, Gypsy Jazz was one of the first East-West musical crossovers, and it set Europe dancing in the 1930s. For Eva-Marie, with a Francophone father and an Eastern European mother, it’s the music of her blood, as natural as breathing. But Je Suis Swing is also Eva-Marie’s and Chevalier’s homage to the zazous, the French youth who dared to oppose the Nazis with fashion and outrage.
“I’m fascinated by them,” Eva-Marie says. “They were young people who protested the war and the occupation through insolent joy. They used music and fashion as their weapons and they’d do ridiculous things like carry an umbrella even when it wasn’t raining. Fabric was rationed, but the men would wear big, massive suits. It was their way of fighting back, of saying they were young and alive.
I feel we’re in a similar era now with so many horrible things happening. Maybe that’s why people love this music with its innocent decadence. And the lyrics are very accessible and poetic in a popular way, but they also have depth.”
For the virtuoso Chevalier – the third generation to play violin in his family – the Gypsy Jazz that the Avalon Jazz Band plays offers something he never found in all his years of classical training.
“I heard the Hot Club and Grapelli and it sounded like freedom to me,” he says. “I knew right then that I wanted to do that.”
This debut CD has been a long time coming. Even after they had the right musicians to create the sound in their hearts, they spent a long time touring and honing their arrangements across America and Europe, even in the Caribbean.
“We play in a lot of schools there,” Eva-Marie says. “Often, all they hear is reggaeton or pop, and this music is so different. They loved it. For some, it’s the first time they’ve seen a double bass.”
Their YouTube channel draws plenty of visitors from South America and Japan, places they haven’t visited.
“They kept asking us to put out a CD,” Eva-Marie recounts. “Finally it seemed like the right moment, so we narrowed the songs from our repertoire and recorded Je Suis Swing.”
The album’s release will be celebrated with a party at Iridium in New York, a venue the band plays regularly, on September 6.
“The music we play,” Eva-Marie says, “is like a conversation between seven friends on the stage. It’s very much alive. We have spaces in our arrangements for solos, and we try to make each other laugh and feel something. It’s a conversation the audience can eavesdrop on. And dance, of course.”
The Avalon Jazz Band. They are swing.
Avalon Jazz Band is the ambassador of vocal French Swing in the United States and the world. Created in New York in 2012, the band has performed at the most renowned venues in the city (Lincoln Center, The Iridium, Joe’s Pub, The Carlyle, The Rainbow Room…), sharing the stage with the likes of Norah Jones, Harry Connick Jr. and Stéphane Wrembel, and touring internationally (United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, Porto Rico, Fiji…)
Tatiana Eva-Marie was born into a family of professional musicians and quickly became obsessed with her father’s extensive jazz record collection, while also fascinated with the musical world of her Romanian mother. Tatiana started her career as a singer at age 4 when she recorded an album of duets with famous children’s performer Henri Dès. Two years later, she recorded her first solo album and performed in her first professional theatre play. She fell in love with the stage and has been performing ever since.
During her childhood, she performed regularly in various stage productions including guest star appearances in her father’s band The Cotton Club Jazz Orchestra. At age 11, she started her professional training at the Theatre Populaire Romand acting school in Switzerland, and then a few years later, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. At 16 years old, she moved to Paris, where she studied medieval poetry at the Sorbonne University during the day, and performed as an actress and Gypsy singer in some of the most renowned cabarets and theaters in France, including the Comedie Francaise.
In 2011, Tatiana moved to New York City, where she founded the Avalon Jazz Band and quickly set her American career in motion. She was recently acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal as “one of the best young singers around” and included in Vanity Fair’s list of rising jazz stars, alongside Cyrille Aimée, Jon Batiste and Cécile McLorin Salvant.
Tatiana’s style is a direct tribute to her musical childhood, a mixture of her father’s Francophile jazzy influence and her mother’s Balkan heritage, through which she expresses her passion for poetry, rhythm, swing and the bohemian lifestyle.
Adrien Chevalier: Born in Provence, South of France, into a family of violinists, Adrien Chevalier began his musical education at the Avignon Classical Conservatory, where he studied for 12 years before moving to Paris: there he developed his passion for Gypsy jazz and Eastern European music. He created Pad Brapad, a musical ensemble specializing in Balkan folklore, with whom he performed all over Europe, participating in the most renowned Word Music festivals. Adrien Chevalier then settled down in the French capital and joined the Grüss Circus orchestra, while also studying at the CMDL jazz school with master violinist Didier Lockwood.
Hiss artistic collaboration with Tatiana Eva-Marie inspired him to move to New York City where he co-founded the Avalon Jazz Band with her. Adrien Chevalier continued his work as a film composer (Canal +, France 3…) and founded the Hot Club of New York with whom he performed at the New York Hot Jazz Festival in 2014. Adrien Chevalier often collaborates with renowned Gypsy jazz artists such as Stéphane Wrembel and Olli Soikkeli.
In 2015, he created Aramis Entertainment, an agency specializing in authentic, acoustic music for private events, contributing to the New York trad and swing scene’s growth in prosperity. Adrien is currently preparing his first solo album with compositions inspired by Gypsy Jazz, Tango and Eastern European folklore.
The musical style presented by Avalon Jazz Band is inspired by the sort of jazz played in Paris in the 1930s and 40s, especially by the Hot Club de France, founded by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, whose repertoire consisted of original music and jazz standards. This style of hot jazz then became what we now know as « Gypsy jazz » or « Jazz Manouche », with its technical bravadoes and virtuoso skills, embodied by the quick fingers of Adrien Chevalier.
The delicate voice and swing phrasing of Tatiana Eva-Marie brings the zazou element to the mix: an ingenuous and mischievous joie-de-vivre, which she incarnates to perfection. The zazous were young Parisians obsessed with American swing: their way of rebelling against the war was through dance and jazz (a forbidden music during the German occupation), displaying a very insolent kind of joy, which caused them to be marginalized and persecuted.
The influence of the Russian aristocracy’s diaspora to France after the Russian Revolution and of the Jews fleeing Eastern Europe right before WWII, can be felt in the French compositions of time. This element is also present in the music of Avalon Jazz Band, with a sound palette of Gypsy, Klezmer and Balkan inspiration.
The vocal repertoire of Avalon Jazz Band comprises jazz standards and French songs made popular by Yves Montand, Jean Sablon, Juliette Gréco and Charles Trenet, among others. The instrumental repertoire comprises original compositions and music by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.