Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

Our Man in Paris

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

Our Man in Paris - Sonny at the Zango

Paris, Thursday, November 2 - Uncle Den-Den claims that he's been feeding some musicians that he booked into the Hotel Savoy, a hotel on a street so small and insignificant that there's no room for a doorman to park a Roller. It's just as well because there is no doorman, no stars, and all rooms have no view but are 45 euros a night with cable TV.

The hotel has its charms. One is the sounds of jazz legend Sonny Simmons practicing on his horns, either an alto saxophone or an English Horn. So you don't have to, I looked it up. An English horn is a double-reed woodwind instrument in the oboe family. To me it looked like a jumbo clarinet.

Nigel is in town, on his annual strange visit from Washington. He went into the Savoy too and they gave him a shower. So he listened to Sonny through the walls before he moved out to Line's apartment for a couple of days. Checking out of the Savoy is as informal as checking in, especially as there is no doorman to tip. Just go in and ask for Farid, say I sent you, and tell them I'm a friend of the guy whose girlfriend who went to Switzerland.

Then on Wednesday Uncle Den-Den called and asked me to print out a glowing account of Sonny's band, the Cosmosamatics - they played at the Alchemia in Krakow, on October 3rd. Den-Den bought a new printer to do this but it ate his portable and he said he was throwing it out the window, right where he threw the other two portables. There are some people who shouldn't own PCs.

My printer isn't hooked up to my portable. It is hooked up to an old desktop box I'm keeping as a paperweight. But it works so the uncle got his copy. I guess then he got it photocopied, and handed it out to everybody on Daguerre. Somehow Sonny got booked to play at the Zango, which is a sleazy drinking hole pretending to be a juice bar. Outside it looks harmless. Inside it is kind of grotty, kind of what we really like.

The gig was on Thursday, kicking off at 10 pm. I went down there and just got in the door. All the Daguerreotypes were standing around the bandstand, which was a miniscule area near the door in a corner, filled with a guitarist, a bassist and Sonny, with his two horns. It looked like a fight scene, all these dudes standing around, cutting off the view of the poor folks sitting down like decent citizens.

Somehow Sonny got booked to play at the Zango, which is a sleazy drinking hole pretending to be a juice bar. Outside it looks harmless. Inside it is kind of grotty, kind of what we really like.

The bar, two meters away, was hung with the rest of the Daguerreotypes. It's pretty rare to see them all in one place at the same time, fortunately. I never knew they were jazz fans. But for all I know they used to go to the Bélière in the old days when it was a dump with a burnt piano and a busy toilet. These days, the days of the new, better, trendy, slick, curtained, sofaed, candlesticked, Bélière, I bet they all went there for the premiere night free booze last week, and that's the end of that.

I introduced myself to Sonny as Uncle Den-Den's nephew and the friend of the guy whose girlfriend went to Switzerland and asked if he minded if I pointed the camera at him. "How much you paying?" he wanted to know. I told him I already put money in the hat that Uncle Den-Den was passing around. It's true, I swear! He eyed me over a hoisted Pelforth and nodded okay.

Jeez the place was dark, just little peeplights. The streetlights outside were brighter. But I had the right lens for the job, an ultra-wide 22 mm. Through the viewfinder I saw nothing. Shoot. It's free. No film anymore. Only one shot had to be good enough. This isn't the Natural Geographic. It's freaking Daguerre in a Zango, of a guy plays what the hell? English horn? So he played with Eric Dolphy, so he wishes John Coltrane was still around, so he's been up and down, disappeared, and now tours northern Europe - Cosmosamatics! - almost continuously, stays at the Savoy. You think they would stand for all that English horn stuff at the Ritz at 2 am?

Sonny Simmons  - Cosmosamatics - performing in Paris

Man, but the Zango is cool. All these dudes were leaning in, Sonny Simmons was leaning out, only 50 centimeters of smoke-filled space free. Full of smoke and bebop. A chick under my elbow was trying to catch it on minivideo. Folks in the back were looking glum. Hey, they ain't deaf. And it sounded like, the guitarist failing, the bassist his eyes rolled back into his cranium, Sonny leaning slightly forward making hard bop look almost easy, sound cool. It's what real cool sounded - ah, sounds like!

The last time I heard anything like this was... two nights ago in the Bistro 48 on Daguerre. It is the hotel's bar, right next door, out of the lobby and fifteen paces on the sidewalk. Milly was playing one of Sonny's CDs, said she could hear him practicing through the wall too. And then, after I left, the poet came in there and Uncle Den-Den came back and then some mean drunk objected to all the foreigners and when Milly tossed him out a window got broken.

Breaking windows on Daguerre isn't all that rare. The last one might have been when bebop was last played live at the Bélière, maybe around 1960, when Sartre lived around the corner in the Mistral and Calder had an atelier in the Rue Cels. These days broken glass rates low.

I mean, I have to hand it to Uncle Den-Den to arrange for us to have our own jazz musicians, put on a cool session in the jungle of the no-cover Zango. Well, they did have a sign saying a euro was to be added to drinks, but I never got anywhere near the bar.

Before you go, check out my friend Sonny Simmon's website. It has both a short bio and a long one, plus the gig schedules. It also has his CDs and you can buy them, so buy some so Sonny can stay in Europe and keep those horns of his doing the bebop business.

- ric

Jazz legend Sonny Simmons

Text and Photos, Copyright © 2006 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

[Our Man in Paris]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik