Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jazz in Paris - University of California San Diego Students Study Abroad

For the fourth year in a row, Professor Emeritus Cecil Lytle of the University of California San Diego (UCSD) is leading the UC Global Seminar: Jazz in Paris. On June 29, 2015, Lytle and his students arrived in the French capital to explore this quintessentially American musical genre.

Part of the course description reads as follows:

We spend the summer following in their footsteps to understand how Jazz developed and why it was so enthusiastically received by the Parisians in the 1920s. In addition to historical lectures, films, and live music in class, we will capture the flavor of the period with excursions to the nightclubs, restaurants, concert venues, and cafes owned and frequented by these African American pioneers abroad.

The ability to speak French or read music is not necessary—a passion to learn about American jazz in Paris is required!

Jazz in Paris is open to all UC students and anyone taking summer courses at the University of California. At a time when jazz has fallen sharply out of favor with American listeners, Professor Lytle believes that
…it is imperative that young Americans are taught and reminded of the great gift jazz has given the world. Much of the popular idioms in music, dress, language, and letters today derive their origins in the language and improvisation of jazz that continues to evolve.

This year, 28 students - the maximum number allowed by UC - enrolled in the course. For the first time, the class was evenly balanced with male and female students, which Lytle says is atypical:

Most years, the class is overwhelming populated by female students, who seem much more brave and adventurous than the guys!

Jazz in Paris 2015 - Students at a reception
Image courtesy of Professor Cecil Lytle

Students have reading and listening assignments that compliment the lectures presented Tuesday-Friday at the CEA Centre, 6 rue de Braque in Paris' 3rd arrondissement. Jazz artists visit the class to discuss their lives and music and students usually visit 3-4 jazz nightclubs in Paris during the 5-week summer session. Additionally, students taking the class for UC credit have three quizzes and are required to produce a final paper of 10-12 pages in length.

Among the visitors to Lytle’s class this year was trumpeter/composer Eddie Henderson, whose all-star band, "The Cookers," performed at the jazz venue Sunside in Paris. The highlight of the course was the students' opportunity to meet and interact with saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Marsalis was the guest of honor at an informal session where students listened to him tell his story and asked questions of him. One of the young men in the class, saxophonist Daniel McFarland, had the privilege of greeting Marsalis that morning and escorting him to the class.

From left to right - Daniel McFarland (student), Branford Marsalis, and Cecil Lytle
Image courtesy of Professor Cecil Lytle

Marsalis spoke of the influence of his home town, New Orleans, on his upbringing and its contribution to the evolution of jazz. Toward the end of the session, Lytle (who is a concert pianist) invited Marsalis to perform with him. They performed Duke Ellington's Come Sunday and jammed on a blues number.

That evening, the students saw Marsalis take the stage at New Morning, one of Paris' most famous nightclubs, where he, Joey Calderazzo (piano), Eric Revis (bass), and Justin Faulkner (drums) performed as the Branford Marsalis Quartet.

Branford Marsalis at New Morning
Image courtesy of Professor Cecil Lytle

The following day, Professor Lytle arranged a discussion with three non-musicians so that the students would have the opportunity to hear other points of view about being an American expatriate in France. The venue was the Théâtre des Ateliers du Chaudron, a community theater in the 11th arrondissement that is frequently used for jazz concerts.

Courtyard outside the Théâtre des Ateliers du Chaudron
© Discover Paris!

The panelists (all writers) were Thomas Chatterton Williams, Jake Lamar, and me.

From left to right - Jake Lamar, Monique Y. Wells, Thomas Chatterton Williams
© Discover Paris!

Lamar, who has participated in previous editions of Jazz in Paris and who sat in on the classroom session with Marsalis the previous day, moderated the panel. To open the minds of the students and stimulate them to ask their own questions, he began the discussion by asking Williams and me to talk about the differences between our lives in France and the U. S. and what we like and don't like about life on both sides of the Atlantic. He asked Williams to talk about his New York Times article entitled The Next Great Migration and he asked me to talk about the work that I have undertaken as president of the French non-profit organization Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. He asked follow-up questions, to which we responded. Then Professor Lytle encouraged the students to ask their own questions.

Discussion was lively and touched on topics as varied as gun control in France, conditions for African Americans in Paris, French immigration controversies, expat life in France, the gourmet tours and activities provided by Discover Paris!, and how the French make friends and socialize. It continued well after we took a group photo and the official session broke up.

Group photo at the Théâtre des Ateliers du Chaudron
© Discover Paris!

Hye Soo Kim (student) chats with Jake Lamar
© Discover Paris!

Thomas Chatterton Williams talks with students in the entrance to the courtyard
© Discover Paris!

With only a couple of days left in this year's edition of the course, Professor Lytle has this to say about it:

The students are different each summer. Many are infatuated by Paris as well as by jazz. In addition to the readings, lectures, and listening assignments, I will certainly continue the activity of inviting musicians and artists to the class to help present a rounded experience of jazz life and the lives of American expats in Paris. A new feature I hope to develop is a tour to visit Josephine Baker's chateau, Les Milandes, in the Dordogne.

For information about the University of California San Diego Jazz in Paris course, click HERE.


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