Paris’ Swinging Gypsy Jazz Scene

Originating in the suburbs of Paris in the 1930s, this distinctively energetic style of jazz was created by the legendary Django Reinhardt, who played with fellow gypsy musicians in Parisian jazz haunts during the 1930s and 1940s. Reinhardt grew up in a caravan in the Parisian suburbs and famously lost the use of two of his left-hand fingers in a fire. Despite doctors saying he would never play guitar again, the paralysis of his two fingers instead led to his invention of Gypsy Jazz (or Jazz Manouche as it’s known in France), a new jazz style incorporating three-finger chord structures and smooth, rippling melodies. It was then handed down through the generations of Manouche gypsies via oral methods, as most of whom, Django included, could not read music.

Over 70 years since its emergence, Django Reinhardt’s unique style of hot gypsy swing is still thriving in today’s Parisian jazz scene. With echoes of Django’s frenetic rhythms still flowing from many of Paris’s modern-day jazz venues and cafés, his legacy is still alive and well in the French capital, which still produces some of the finest Gypsy Jazz musicians in the world. Although flexible in its instrumental composition, the most common Gypsy Jazz ensemble usually involves both rhythm and lead guitar, violin and double bass. It has a decidedly swinging, upbeat sound, and is often performed in casual jam sessions or small, intimate concerts. Below is a hand-picked selection of some of the best places to see free Gypsy Jazz concerts in Paris:

Les Petits Joueurs
Set in the Buttes Chaumont area, Les Petits Joueurs is a modern and bustling bistro-style restaurant that features weekly concerts on its in-house stage. Some of the biggest Jazz Manouche names in France are regular performers here, such as Romane, one of France’s most prominent Gypsy Jazz musicians, and Stephane Wrembel, who wrote the theme track for the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. With its open kitchen, the bistro has a lively and casual atmosphere, where you can easily find yourself chatting to the friendly staff or the musicians. Les Petits Joueurs serves traditional French cuisine, and Duvel beers are available for the special price of €3.50 on Gypsy Jazz nights. The concerts start at 9.00pm and finish around 11.30pm, by which time many local musicians have arrived, ready for the jam session that goes until late. Address: 59 Rue de la Mouzaïa, 75019 Metro: Pré-Saint-Gervais Tel: 0142 412 380

La Chope des Puces
By far the most renowned Gypsy Jazz venue in Paris is the self-proclaimed ‘Temple of Gypsy Jazz’, La Chope des Puces. Located a few steps from the bustling Sunday flea markets in the outskirts of Paris, Le Marché aux Puces, this small and intimate bar is also near the area where the father of gypsy swing lived and played. A large mural of Django sets the stage and the walls are decorated with the guitar cases and photos of gypsy-guitar masters of years gone by. La Chope hosts weekly Gypsy Jazz concerts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, where many maestros stop by regularly to play, such as Ninine Garcia, Tchavolo Schmitt and Patrick Saussois. The place comprises a concert room, a restaurant serving traditional French cuisine and a Gypsy Jazz music school, which is sponsored by Ninine Garcia. Concerts start from 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays and continue until around 7pm. Address: 122 Rue des Rosiers Saint-Ouen 93400 Metro: Porte de Clignancourt Tel: 0140 112 880

Le Styx
Located in the lively and popular Rue Oberkampf area, Le Styx attracts a trendier crowd comprised of hip students and twenty-something Parisians. It has a bar-like atmosphere with a retro decor and is perfect for a night out with friends. The venue’s small stage is host to a younger group of Gypsy Jazz virtuosos, making it a cool and buzzing place to hang out on a Monday night. Strumming at exceptional speeds to produce swinging Django-style tunes, these younger musicians seem to be as talented as any of the older, more traditional practitioners, and it’s one of the only places you’ll regularly see women performing the Manouche standards. The music starts out with the venue’s regular players, and as the night progresses a constant trail of violinists, guitarists and double bass players arrive, and the place is packed by 11.00pm. Le Styx offers brasserie-style cuisine, as well as a selection of reasonably priced wines and cocktails. The music starts at 8.30pm and continues until late. Address: 126 Rue Oberkampf 75011 Metro: Menilmontant Tel: 0148 059 288
The Bouquet du Nord
The Bouquet du Nord is an authentic Parisian brasserie around the corner from the Gare du Nord that attracts both young and aspiring Django devotees, as well as the traditional Manouche masters. One of Django’s musical partners lived opposite and frequented this brasserie, and with the purely acoustic sound, the intimate atmosphere and the lack of tourists, the Bouquet du Nord is reminiscent of old-time Parisian jazz venues. Regarded by locals as an authentic place to see top-class Gypsy Jazz in its classic form, the brasserie hosts weekly jam sessions, where you’re sure to hear many a Manouche classic, such as Nuages, Les Yeux Noirs and Django’s famous Minor Swing. While listening to the percussive rhythms and nimble solos of the gypsy repertoire, you can enjoy traditional French food, including what is arguably one of the best steaks in Paris. Jam sessions are every Friday from 7pm to midnight. Address: 85 Rue de Maubeuge 75010 Metro: Gare du Nord Tel: 0148 782 997

La Taverne de Cluny
In the heart of the Saint-Michel area, La Taverne de Cluny is a brasserie-style restaurant with a nostalgic old-Parisian charm. It holds Gypsy Jazz concerts on Monday nights, which are usually followed by jam sessions involving both amateur and professional Jazz Manouche players who turn up sporadically throughout the evening. It is a spacious and vibrant venue decorated with large mirrors and photos of renowned jazz musicians. If you arrive early enough you can get a table right next to the musicians, or on the outdoor terrace on warm summer nights. This is another place where some of the country’s best Gypsy Jazz musicians come to play, including Adrien Moignard who, at 26 years old, is one of the most prominent of the new generation of Jazz Manouche guitarists. La Taverne de Cluny offers a large choice of beers and beer cocktails, and the delicious Lindemans Biere á la Framboise (raspberry-flavoured beer) is a must to try. There is a also a menu of classic French dishes. Concerts start from 9pm on Monday nights. Address: 51 Rue de la Harpe 75005 Metro: Saint-Michel Tel: 0143 542 888