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 ...
World Music/Contemporary | World Music/Traditional | Jazz
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.