Jazz first came to Paris in the 1920’s, revitalizing a city still struggling in the devastating wake of World War I. Black jazz musicians, who either stayed in France after the war or came seeking a respite from the brutal discrimination they faced at home, installed themselves in Montmartre’s notorious cabarets. Parisians quickly issued their verdict: jazz fever was contagious, and musicians such Sidney Bechet and Josephine Baker became regular fixtures in the city’s music scene. Django Reinhardt, a French guitarist of Romani descent and creator of the hot jazz guitar style (also known as Gypsy jazz) gave France its own claim to what had previously been thought of only as an American import. His quintet played the “Hot Club du France” to great success, becoming particularly prominent during the German Occupation, when the Parisian jazz scene had to rely on French musicians for its survival.

After World War II, jazz in Paris was as hot as ever. Bebop and the increasingly abstract cutting edge of jazz suited the intellectualism of the St. Germain de Pres philosophers, and they enthusiastically received everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis in the smoky, underground jazz clubs of the Left Bank. As students in the Latin Quarter made their stand in the famous ’68 protests and art became more politicized, it was free jazz, influenced by the spiritualism of Alice Coltrane and Albert Ayler, which took center stage. French musicians of the avant-garde, impacted by intellectual movements such as Negritude and postmodernism, found their voices in the eerie, wide-open territory of Paris free jazz.