Paris Combo: ‘L’ Australie, c’est loin!’

Paris Combo is a delight of a band, blending the best of theFrenchchanson tradition with a bubbly version of swing in an uplifting, joyous, jazzy way. Led by the Australian trumpeter and pianist David Lewis and the perky singer and accordeonist Belle DuBerry, the quintet features the fiery guitarist Potzi, drummer Francois Jeannin and bassist Emmanuel Chabbey. Currently on an Australian tour, Paris Combo were game for a little Q&A session.

AustralianJazz.Net: You are a sort of unofficial ambassadors of French Culture. If you were official ambassadors, what would you do?

Paris Combo: Continue to do our own thing! But, for better or worse I don’t think we will ever be ‘official’, which gives us the freedom to do whatever we like, and to absorb influences from wherever, not only from France.

AJN: Your music is an eclectic mix of influences from jazz and swing to the best tradition of french song. Is there an element that you want to add to the mix, but have hesitated so far?

PC: New Influences come with hearing new music and above all from meeting new musicians. I guess we’ve always described ourselves as ‘acoustic’ but recently we’ve worked with some talented remixers like Patchworks, so maybe that’s something to be explored there. It would also be interesting to work with musicians from Turkey for instance, as there is apparently quite a lot of interest there.

AJN: You have performed in a variety of countries. Which audience has been the most surprising in its reception of your music? How does the Australian audience compare to others?

PC: When we played in Indonesia, people were particularly touched by some of Potzi’s ‘hispanic’ guitar phrases, responding vocally even though it seemed to our ears a long way from Indonesian music. So there are many surprising reactions, but all in all most audiences get into the spirit of what we do, despite any language barriers. Australian audiences are similar to US audiences but even more Francophile it seems.

AJN: David, as an Australian in Paris, what was the thing that you had to overcome? What australian trait you think survives in the Paris Combo music?

PC: I don’t think there are difficulties inherent to being Australian, unless of course you get fed up with hearing the word ‘Kangourou’ or the phrase “L’ Australie, c’est loin!” Australians are regarded as somewhat of a mysterious novelty compared to the British and Americans, so that’s already an advantage in some ways. I grew up in Hamilton, Victoria being exposed to all types of music, popular and ‘classical’ and it seemed that there were no real barriers between different styles – maybe that openness is an Australian trait. Australia and France are constantly absorbing influences coming from beyond their borders.

AJN: Belle, which of your songs best describes your current state of mind?

PC: ‘Mediumisons’ – The title of the song is an invented word meaning a projection into the future like a Medium does. I like to look ahead in a positive way rather than just dwelling on the present.

AJN: Django Reinhardt’s guitar-driven jazz manouche has proven to be quite enduring, in fact becoming all the more popular during the past 15 years. How do you explain that? What is the appeal of french swing?

PC: There is still an enduring core tradition being handed down from generation to generation with Django as emblematic as Charlie Parker was for Be-bop – according to Potzi, our guitarist, people didn’t even use the term ‘Jazz Manouche’ before the late-nineties. Whereas Le Chope des Puces at the flea market was one of the only places you could regularly hear gypsy swing, there are now young musicians playing in cafes all over Paris, wanting to embrace the style. It has a strong danceable pulse and creates a ‘night-life’ feeling, just as it did in the ’30s and ’40s, hence it’s appeal to the general public. The sonic palette of French popular music has also really expanded over the past twenty years and quite a few artist like Thomas Dutronc, Sanseverino, or ourselves have incorporated aspects of swing manouche.

AJN: Who are your heroes?

PC: One hero allowed for each group-member! Arletty, actrice-chanteuse from the 40’s (Belle), Lester Bowie (David), Django Reinhardt (Potzi), Bernard Purdie (Francois)

AJN: If you could choose any artist – living or else – to be a member of the band, who would that be?

PC: We’d have John Goodman as road-manager!

AJN: To which movie would you like to write an alternative soundtrack?

PC: Anything by Jacques Tati or the Cohen Brothers.

Next Stops on the Paris Combo Australian Tour: