by Melissa Jones
At the beginning of the Hot Club of France research essay, I assumed the only information available would be an unsatisfying encyclopedic account of its history or minimal data, recycled and/or unsubstantiated. I was proved wrong. Charles Delaunay’s autobiography became an essential primary source coupled with Anne Legrand’s excellent research derived from her position as archivist to the Charles Delaunay collection at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (1998-2008). Her experience, curating numerous Jazz exhibitions, including a special exhibition on the Vogue record label, affirms her credibility as a valued source and expert on Charles Delaunay. Arthur Briggs (Institute of Jazz Studies Oral Archive) and Bill Coleman’s autobiography, “Trumpet Story” contributed personal insight into Paris and its music throughout the decade from 1930-1940. I discovered, quickly, having too little information was not my problem. I had too much! Providing a concise history of the Hot Club of France, with an emphasis on the people who defined the organization, became the goal and enjoyable reading, the hope.
The Hot Club of France was founded in Paris (1932) by a small group of Jazz-loving enthusiasts. Teenage classmates, Jacques Auxenfans and Elwyn Dirats formed a Jazz club at their school for the purpose of scheduling school dances. They also dreamed of taking the idea one step further and their plan was nothing short of grandiose. They envisioned a network of Jazz clubs, not local, not national but worldwide. In an attempt to expand the concept, fellow classmate Pierre Gazères, suggested they contact “Jazz Tango” columnist Hugues Panassié, with hope of recruiting his help. Panassié agreed, with one stipulation, the club should be re-named the Hot Club of France. The hierarchy of the new organization would periodically change, but a core group consisting of Hugues Panassié, Jacques Bureau, Pierre Nourry and Charles Delaunay (joining in early 1933) was born. Their dedication would organize a network of Jazz listening clubs, sponsor Jazz concerts and festivals, launch the first niche Jazz record label, “Swing Records,” publish a Jazz periodical, “Jazz Hot” and maintain a presence within France, which would ultimately shape the musical direction of the nation.
By 1933, the Hot Club’s administrative team was complete and their existence announced in the periodical, “Jazz-Tango.” Aside from promoting Jazz listening groups, an insertion stated the club’s purpose: “Disseminate this genre, make it appreciated, defend it and win it the place it deserves among the expressions of art of our time.” In theory, the purpose of the Hot Cub of France was simple. Spread the Jazz gospel to as many as possible. In reality, the task was not so simple. Defining Jazz in France was not unlike the American dilemma of a decade earlier. Was Jazz the orchestral presentation of Paul Whiteman or the French influenced jazzy presentation of Ray Ventura? The answer was unclear. Hot Clubber Jacques Bureau recalls listening to the Paul Whiteman Orchestra via shortwave radio and hearing Bix for the first time. The realization of Bix’s Jazz supremacy left no question in Bureau’s mind…….Bix was Jazz!
Aside from listening groups, presenting live Jazz music was essential. Although the famed Quintette du Hot Club de France wouldn’t appear until 1934, the Hot Club Orchestra presented its first concert in October, 1933. Hot Club member, Jean-Louis Alvarez , through his father’s ownership of the eighty seat venue La Boîte à musique, secured the space for the event. American pianist, Freddy Johnson performed in the orchestra, along with pianist Garland Wilson accompanying “Blackbirds of 1929” singer Louis Cole. Spencer Williams, pianist and famed American composer (“Basin Street Blues”, “Royal Garden Blues”) was also present.
Throughout the early 1930’s, the Hot Club and their activities continued to suffer the growing pains of a fledgling organization. Concerts were sometimes successful, sometimes not, and the Hot Club roster struggled to reach a membership of one hundred. Walter Schaap, French scholar and Charles Delaunay colleague, had a similar recollection indicating the expansion didn’t occur until the mid-1930’s.
Walter Schaap’s story continues through his son, Jazz historian and educator, Phil Schaap. After graduating from Columbia University (1937), Walter pursued advanced studies in France, attending the prestigious Sorbonne, Paris. His knowledge of French history coupled with his fluency in the French language enabled a quick immersion into French life. Making ends meet was essential for young Schaap who quickly secured a teaching position at a nearby school as an English instructor. Curious about their American teacher, his students, learning of Walter’s interest in Jazz informed him of a Jazz listening club, where hot records were played and enjoyed within a relaxed, social setting. That sounded interesting and shortly thereafter, Walter was knocking on the door of Hot Club headquarters. The fortuitous event which followed would initiate a lifelong professional and personal friendship between Walter Schaap and Charles Delaunay. Young Schaap, greeted at the door by Charles Delaunay was escorted inside where he was introduced to Hugues Panassié. It seems Walter’s arrival had interrupted a conversation between Panassié and Delaunay. The two men were discussing an English edition of “Jazz Hot,” the Hot Club periodical and were in need of a translator with expertise in both French and English. Perfect timing!
According to Mr. Schaap, the Hot Club began daily listening sessions at 4:00 PM. A convivial atmosphere prevailed with records being supplied by collectors as well as enthusiasts. Walter became a regular, sharing his knowledge and Jazz savvy, contributing at an early session a recently acquired King Oliver recording. One frequent attendee was famed guitarist Django Reinhardt, who Mr. Schaap recalls, his punctuality at Hot Club meetings more consistent than at his own performances. At these gatherings, Mr. Schaap performed multiple tasks. He participated as a knowledgeable expert, shared his records for listening and taught Django Reinhardt English!
Unfortunately, Walter’s Parisian stay was abruptly interrupted by an urgent telegram from his sister. His father was gravely ill and returning home was imperative. He returned to the US aboard the USS Normandie along with musicians Benny Carter and Eddie South. Walter’s departure from France was abrupt. He had not had an opportunity to exchange his French francs for US dollars. He realized upon arrival, he had no US currency to get from the NYC dock to his family home in Brooklyn. Coming to his rescue was violinist Eddie South, lending young Schaap $5.00, the equivalent of over $90.00 in 2020 dollars! Walter’s stay in Paris lasted from 1937-1939, his return thwarted by a political climate which would impact millions of lives and threaten the civilized world.
The Munich Pact, an agreement signed by England, France, Italy and Germany was violated when the Germans annexed Czechoslovakia, followed by Poland. On September 3, 1939, England and France declared war on Germany and the war in Europe began.
At the onset of war, Charles Delaunay was in southern France. Quickly returning to Paris, he joined his regiment east of Paris. The French army found itself ineffective against the German artillery and the outcome would soon lead to the German Occupation of France. Here, I return to Walter Schaap, his narrative a powerful account reflecting the time and fear for a friend:
Vain hope of peace in contemporary Europe! A foretaste of things to come was given when the 1938 Discography was interrupted for several months as its author was mobilized those hectic days following the Munich pact. With the outbreak of war last September, Delaunay was assigned to an anti-aircraft north of Paris. Here, he took advantage of the eight-month’s stalemate on the Western front to prepare the corrections for the present volume.
But when I last heard from him, on June 6th, his outfit was being subjected to a merciless bombardment, both day and night. A week or so later the French army had crumpled and the Germans swept over Delaunay’s position and into Paris.
(Walter Schaap, “HOT DISCOGRAPHY” Preface)
Northern France and Paris were now controlled by the Nazis with Southern France, under the jurisdiction of the Vichy French government; a puppet government controlled by Adolph Hitler.
Strangely, the political upheaval surrounding the Paris Hot Club and its meetings produced an uptick in attendance. The club, which had struggled for years, was now seeing an exponential increase in attendance. Young people, collectors, Jazz enthusiasts, musicians and EVEN German soldiers, were attending in large numbers. Receiving word of increased attendance and citing administrative chaos, Delaunay was urged to return. Covertly, he returned to Paris from southern France, smuggling himself across the French/German border, resuming leadership duties at the Hot Club.
Although the border between the north and south of France was patrolled, it was possible, if “legitimate” business could be proved, to cross from one section to another. On a trip to southern France, Delaunay, was approached “by his old boss” where he was urged to participate in the covert activities of the French Resistance. There seems to have been no hesitancy. Delaunay accepted and the Hot Club of France became a central meeting location for Resistance activities. Delaunay’s secretary, Agnes Ripaud and long-time Hot Clubber, Jacques Bureau and his wife, Reine, also signed-on. The Jazz activity at the Hot Club was flourishing and with numbers increasing, concealing one’s identity was not unusual or difficult. British paratroopers, dropped into France to infiltrate German intelligence received bogus identities at Hot Club headquarters along with Resistance couriers exchanging information to be carried to additional outposts. Whether the Hot Club’s open-door policy was their downfall, or not, in 1943 Hot Club headquarters was raided by the police. Delaunay and Agnes Ripaud were arrested. Jacques Bureau and his wife, Reine, along with sisters Madeleine and Germaine Tambour, neighbors of the Bureaus, were arrested immediately following. Bureau was eventually interred at a forced labor camp where he bitterly recalls his cell was “no better than a hole in the ground” and his sanity maintained by returning to the music he loved, at night, “singing” memorized Bix solos. After his arrest, Delaunay spent one month at Fresnes Prison. He withstood lengthy questioning, at one point enduring five hours of continuous interrogation. Finally, he learned his Resistance contact had escaped from France. At that point, Delaunay knew no connection between the two could be discovered. Delaunay relays he began to “talk as he had never talked before,” fabricating a story reassuring the police they would immediately be contacted if any “suspicious” activity occurred! He eventually was released, fearful but alive, escaping to his parents’ home in the town of Gambais, located west of Paris. Following their arrest, Madeleine and Germaine Tambour were held at Fresnes. Following intense interrogation the sisters were transported to a concentration camp where both perished in the gas chamber.
Throughout the latter half of the 1930’s the Hot Club continued its efforts to increase Jazz participation and enthusiasm while the club’s promotional efforts expanded their international presence. Two undertakings, the Hot Club periodical, “Jazz Hot” and the formation of the recording company “Swing Records,” catapulted the Hot Club onto the world stage. “Jazz Hot’s” translated editions increased readership worldwide, allowing for an international exchange among major Jazz writers and critics. John Hammond, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley and Joost Van Praag were regular contributors, submitting Jazz articles which remain a window on the time and valuable Jazz resource. African American musicians, hired as feature columnists, included trombonist Preston Jackson’s regular reporting on Jazz activities from Chicago, Kaiser Marshall’s article profiling Jimmy Harrison (August/September, 1938 #26) and the legendary Joe “King” Oliver obituary written by none other than Louis Armstrong! (April/May, 1938 #24)
For Pierre Nourry, however, one aspect of the Hot Club vision remained incomplete…..the formation of a Hot Club recording label solely dedicated to hot Jazz and under the supervision and creative control of Hot Club cognoscenti. Nourry had previously been responsible for an early recording session of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France which was released through Ultraphone Records. Although the records were issued, a continued partnership between Nourry and Ultraphone became impossible, the company being dissolved in early 1936. Remaining determined, Nourry, along with Charles Delaunay, contacted Jean Bérard , newly designated head of Musical and Electric Industries Pathé Marconi, a group newly formed through a merger of Columbia and Pathé (fall, 1936). Bérard was immediately enthusiastic and by the spring of 1937, “Swing Records” had produced their first record, performed by Coleman Hawkins and his All Star Jam Band. Dedicated to recording only French and American artists, “Swing” would eventually catapult the Hot Club’s ensemble group, the Quintet of the Hot Club of France onto the international stage. “Swing Records” would release approximately two hundred twenty five 78 rpm recordings. Their legacy can be discovered through their audio archive, where listening becomes the lesson and the joy.
Unfortunately, the Hot Club was doomed to follow the same path as Jazz. As Jazz declined, so did the Hot Club. Lack of interest led to the club disbanding and eventual disappearance. Jacques Bureau would survive prison and return to civilian life becoming a specialist in the design of hospitals for the Ministry of Health. Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié would part company, not under the best of circumstances, both continuing to participate in Jazz activities throughout their lives. Panassié would continue as a writer, author and critic and Delaunay would publish several books, becoming founder of Vogue Records, a highly successful French record label. Walter Schaap would join the business community, but continue his involvement within the Jazz circles. His professional association with Charles Delaunay would continue, translating and editing numerous professional papers, including the editing of Delaunay’s 1948 edition of “Hot Discography.” It should be noted, Mr. Schaap’s translations are a pleasure to read and a lesson in bilingual scholarship, extending beyond the merely adequate and into the realm of art.
The impact of The Hot Club of France cannot be overestimated. They were active participants in undermining the barbarism of the Third Reich. Their commitment to presenting Hot Jazz via record listening clubs became a means of educating the public’s discovery of Jazz music. The sponsorship of live performances not only provided a format for visiting American musicians but an opportunity for French Jazz musicians to present their interpretation of American Hot Jazz. Their international bilingual magazine “Jazz Hot” and “Swing” recordings document their work, but their early recognition of Jazz as an art form remains their most profound and lasting legacy.
Today, the Neo Hot Club Movement strives to cultivate an interest and enthusiasm for Classic Jazz. The hurdles are immense and apathy prevails, but the Hot Club of France proves the dedication of a few can change musical preferences of many. We follow in huge footsteps and are hopeful the Neo Hot Clubs can provide the next chapter for Classic Jazz listening.
Finally, special people deserve special thanks: Phil Schaap, who provided the information on Walter Schaap’s association with the Hot Club AND who spent two hours in his basement over Labor Day weekend, searching for Charles Delaunay’s autobiography “Delaunay’s Dilemma,” an expensive book and only printed in French and a SUPER thank you to Charles Iselin who did my homework, reading Delaunay’s book, en français, then providing a summary of its contents. Merci beaucoup à Phil et Charles!