The first few decades of the twentieth century in Paris were filled with a spirit many call joie de vivre, which greatly influenced the music of the time. Paris was alive with music and art. In the City of Light—la ville lumière—cafés were filled until dawn with people drinking and singing the night away.
“Café concert” music, comprising primarily chansons, directly reflects the infectious spirit of the time. Based on folk tunes, these melodies could be heard in cafés and dance halls in every corner of Paris. Artists frequented these cafés and became intimately familiar with the local tunes. The music, so distinctly French in sound, attracted listeners from every corner of Europe and America. George Gershwin once said, “True music must represent the thought and aspirations of the people and the time.” Café concert music surely accomplished this.
There were many prominent café concert performers at this time. Perhaps the most well-known and remembered name is Edith Piaf. Her stylish musical delivery and vulnerable yet moving voice set a tone that many imitated. Other prominent performers included Maurice Chevalier and the American-born Josephine Baker. Chevalier, a café owner himself, is remembered for his light, often risqué style of singing. Baker is known for her lilting tones as well as for being one of the most dynamic and well-established revue artists of the day. A tireless entertainer who epitomized the musical vitality and spirit of Paris, she remarked, “I improvised, crazed by the music . . . . Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone.”
George Gershwin’s An American in Paris seems the perfect ending to this compilation. Inspired by a trip to Paris in 1923, Gershwin’s melodic and vibrant piece beautifully captures an American visitor’s impressions of the Parisian way of life. Gershwin even purchased four French taxicab horns for use in the composition.
The selections on this compilation reveal the City of Light in all its splendor. The music, though distinctly Parisian from a bygone era, maintains its Continental appeal nearly a hundred years later.
15 Tracks. Approximately 60 minutes.