February 12, 2009 / 2:09 PM / 11 years ago

"Jazz Century" comes to Paris museum

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - A major exhibition opens in Paris next month examining “The Jazz Century” and its influence through artists ranging from the “Black Venus” Josephine Baker to the austere Dutch modernist Piet Mondriaan.

The exhibition, in the Quai Branly museum, which is normally devoted to so-called “primary” or indigenous arts from Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas, will cover the 100-year history of jazz but aims to look beyond the music itself.

“You won’t see Louis Armstrong’s trumpet or Django Rheinhardt’s guitar,” said curator Daniel Soutif, referring to two of the musicians who helped shape what the organizers called “one of the major artistic developments of the 20th century.”

The exhibition, which has already been seen at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto in Italy includes around 1,000 objects and documents ranging from film clips to paintings, posters, comic strips and record covers.

Born in the southern United States at the start of the 20th century out of a mixture of African and European musical traditions, jazz music underwent an explosion in popularity after World War One, quickly spreading outside America.

France quickly won a special place in its development, offering a home to performers such as the American dancer Josephine Baker, whose distinctive blend of cavorting eroticism made her a defining figure of the 1920s “Jazz Age.”

“In Europe, it was the arrival of Josephine Baker that really set things going,” Soutif said.

In America, jazz musicians such as the bandleader Duke Ellington or trumpeter Louis Armstrong helped foster the so-called “Harlem Renaissance” that marked a significant step in the recognition of African American artists and musicians.

But Baker, and others such as the clarinetist Sidney Bechet found a welcome in France that they were often denied at home and their presence helped spark a love affair that has continued long after World War Two.

“It’s true, there is something particular about the relationship between jazz and France,” Soutif said, pointing to musicians like the guitarist Django Rheinhardt and the renowned “Quintet of the Hot Club of France” he created with the violinist Stephane Grapelli.

Beyond the musicians, “The Jazz Century” covers artists from Mondriaan, whose “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” reflects his discovery of jazz after his arrival in New York to the abstract modernist Jackson Pollock or the graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

It also covers filmmakers including Louis Malle, for whom Miles Davis provided the famous soundtrack to the 1958 thriller “Lift to the scaffold.”

“It is not an exhibition about music, it is an exhibition about civilization,” said museum director Stephane Martin.

“The Jazz Century” opens at the Quai Branly museum on march 17 and runs to June 28 before moving on to Barcelona.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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