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Jazz Melts France’s Mediterranean Ice

At first glance it seems an unlikely match. Ultra-chic Juan-les-Pins, summer playground of Europe’s most glamorous, and the soulful melody of New Orleans jazz. But after a few days on this sandy stretch of the French Riviera it’s easy to understand how Juan-les-Pins and jazz intertwined their paths forever.

It all began in the “Roaring Twenties” with the arrival of the Americans. Bathing suits shrank, water-skiing was invented and sunbathing became the rage. A rich American couple, Gerald and Sara Murphy, arrived in Antibes in 1923 and persuaded the luxury resort, Hotel du Cap, to remain open during the summer. Later, the Murphy’s bought a villa at Cap d’Antibes where they threw lavish parties for friends like Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Cole Porter and Scott Fitzgerald. Murphy entertained his guests by playing the world’s largest collection of 78-rpm recordings of blues, ragtime, and jazz.

These parties and his own drunken behavior inspired Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous novel, Tender is the Night, while the Murphy’s life in Antibes served as a model for another masterpiece, Tales of the Jazz Age. Railway magnate Frank Jay Gould opened the first summer casino and overnight the unknown Juan-les-Pins became an international city of legends. A place of exuberance, nightclubs, whiskey, and the “accelerated insouciance” joy of living.

After World War II, Sidney Bechet appeared on the scene and fell in love with Antibes. In 1951, he married Elizabeth Ziegler in the town hall and led a wild New Orleans style parade through the streets, the likes of which the world had never seen. Until his death in 1959, Bechet returned to Antibes Juan-les-Pins every summer to play at Le Vieus Colombier.

In 1960, Antibes paid tribute to their adopted son, Bechet, by creating Jazz a’ Juan, the first European jazz festival and by erecting his bust in the square that now bears his name. Over 250 musicians from 15 countries took part and all the big names performed, Armstrong, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie. In 1961, a yet unknown Ray Charles took the stage in his European debut and won the hearts of the French.

This first jazz festival inspired the creation of many other festivals all over Europe. According to Claude Nobs, the creator of the great Montreux festival, “If I hadn’t been to Antibes, Montreux would never have existed.”

Today, the festival is held every July in the glorious setting of the one-hundred-year old Pinede Gould (pine grove), with the Mediterranean Sea serving as backdrop. Compared to La Scala in Milan, the Pinede Gould has showcased the best talent in jazz over the years. Stan Getz, Hancock, George Benson, Keith Jarrett and Al Jarreau have all played under the pines. Fans and performers alike come to pay respect to the greatest jazz artists, and to the celebration of living life to the fullest.

For more information contact:

Antibes Juan-les Pins Office of Tourism
11, Place of Gauile-LP 37
06601 Antibes Cedex-France
Telephone (33)04 92 90 53 00

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