John Lewis Sacha Distel “Afternoon in Paris” (1956) Atlantic


Track Selection 1: Bags Groove

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Track Selection 2: Afternoon in Paris

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Barney Wilen, tenor sax; John Lewis, piano; Sacha Distel, guitar; Percy Heath , bass;  Kenny Clarke, drums; recorded in Paris, France, December 4 and 7, 1956


Yes that Sacha Distel – look of horror – the French heart-throb? Yes. A couple of years after this recording the fearsomely handsome and charming Distel was in a relationship with Brigitte Bardot – France’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Seems France always has to have an answer to anything succesful that’s American. Twenty two year-old Sacha sings not a word here, but plays good jazz guitar in the manner of Charlie Christian and Jimmy Raney. On tenor is the wonderfully melodic  young  Barney Wilen, at the age of only nineteen, soon to join Art Blakey on his European tour, and the real reason I wanted this record, as a big Wilen fan. The rest of the group are the cream of Paris jazz musicians, and the American side are MJQ (sans vibraphone) who had been playing in Paris in the preceding month.

Listen up, time to practice your French. (Any Canadians here may want to help their American friends out. What? Canadians don’t have any friends?)

Du 26 novembre au 9 décembre 1956, le Modern Jazz Quartet joue tous les soirs au Club Saint-Germain. John Lewis connaît bien Paris. Lors d’un précédent séjour il s’est lié d’amitié avec Sacha Distel, un excellent guitariste inspiré comme tant d’autres par Jimmy Raney. L’oncle de Sacha, le chef d’orchestre Ray Ventura, possède les disques Versailles, d’où l’idée d’un album réunissant le MJQ et Sacha Distel. Un projet abandonné sous cette forme pour des raisons contractuelles.

Cet album fera découvrir ou redécouvrir le son du Paris jazzo-existentialiste des années 1950, au temps où Sacha Distel faisait figure de musicien avant-gardiste.

There, that wasn’t so hard – rediscover the sound of existential jazz of Paris in the 1950’s, with Sasha Distel featured as an avant guarde musician. Zoot alors!

A couple of years later, having dumped Brigitte Bardot, Sacha was topping the French charts with “Scoubidou” and he went on to a long career recording with songs like “Love is like a violin” (I think I see a connection, but not for polite company, vibrato) and the French cover version of  Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops keep falling on my head”  That’s the direction rain usually falls. People get rich writing this stuff.

Vinyl: Atlantic 1267 black label, mono released 1957

Original recording for Versailles Records, Paris 1956 (impossibly rare). A little crackly from time to time, as 1957 was not a good time to be a record.The original is considered ” a mythic LP and one of the best recorded in France”.  The Atlantic release a year later  is graced with colours of the French flag, in case you were having difficulty placing the Eiffel Tower in the background. “Is that Paris Texas, honey, or Paris Frants?” “It’s rainin’, I think its Frants

The Matrix

The simple world of serial numbers in the pressing plant.

Collectors corner

Source: Ebay  Location: France

Sellers Description: Original mono pressing ,deep groove, Jacket VG+, Record VG+ ,great copy

Here a copy of the original Versailles pressing under the hammer earlier this year:

I think we can pass on the idea of the original French pressing, at $630.  The Atlantic was small change in comparison. Jazz is of course an international language, translation not required.

15 thoughts on “John Lewis Sacha Distel “Afternoon in Paris” (1956) Atlantic

  1. Kind of reminds me of Gary Burton’s first album with Hank Garland. Wilen at 19. Precocious! I’m a student of Stephane Grappelli and I hear something in this music, an influence I haven’t been able to trace, that helps me to understand the shift in style that Stephane made in the 50’s. I knew he had assimilated Bud Powell’s playing( and BeBop as well) on the piano, and his playing with Alan Clare really developed his sense of Swing, but I never really understood how he made the transition to Post Bop. It’s all here! Well, this and the page with the Django pieces. I’m indebted to you man! Thanks, Immensely.

  2. So I’ve just been through my third EX or better copy of this record (Atlantic black and silver), and each one has been crackly. Yours sounds a bit crackly too. Am I to gather that I’m never getting a clean-sounding copy of this LP?

    • I have my suspicions Joe that the problem with some records exists in the master. I can’t say for this one as I have just one copy, but I have several different issues of Bill Evans/Jim Hall Undercurrent, US, Britsh, UA, forget who else, and they all have a crackle at exactly the same points, despite the vinyl looking near pristine.

      If the original acetate had some minor faults (I read somewhere the suppliers of blank wax sold less than perfect blanks as seconds) it will appear downstream in everything derived from that master. Its hard to explain any other way.

      Among my US originals records that have surface noise but look “perfect” I count ’60s United Artists and Riverside.

      • Curses! I expect you are right. This appears to be one of those instances where I would prefer a later but good white or black fan pressing (like a nice Prestige blue trident of a noisy purple New Jazz LP).

  3. Hi, I’m a fan of Barney Wilen. I just release his first record as leader (available on vinyl only): Barney Wilen Quintet on Guilde du Jazz – recorded in Paris in 1957. I created ‘Sam Records’ a label specialised in Jazz records reissues (more infos here: ttp:// Best regards, Fred

    • Hi Fred, I don’t normally allow sales promotion on LJC, but because I am a big fan of Barney Willen, I will make an exception. The Guilde du Jazz original is so horribly expensive, its great that someone is able to bring it back on vinyl.

      • I am listening to a bootleg entitled: “Miles in Amsterdam”. Miles was touring the continent in December 1957 as a soloist in a package with Pres and the MJQ. After landing in Paris he recorded on 4-5/Dec “l’Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud with BARNEY WILEN, René Urtreger, Pierre Michelot and Klook He made the concert tour with the same group. The concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam (8/Dec) was recorded in secret by some shrewd engineer and fortunately in a very professional way, excellent sound! The session was only issued in 1984 on the Jazz O.P. label, catalogue # OMS 7003. Another Italian issue exists as a two-fer on the Celluloid label. There was 55 minutes of music.and OMS 7003 has it all on one disc. An absolute must and cheap, both the Jazz O.P and the Celluloid.

  4. What I like best about the front cover of the original Versailles pressing is the photo without those good-for-nothing blue and red bars pasted all over it. That photo really captures a ‘time-frame’. I happen to remember that somewhere here on LJC we have discussed this feature before, but I may be mistaking.

    Still the Atlantic you have is a fantastic addition to your collection. Now let’s see how fast you can find a Versailles copy in a 1 Euro bargain bin in France! 😉

  5. Love it! One of my all-time favorite jazz records. I had the incredible luck of finding an original French pressing at a bargain price two years ago. The entire album is great throughout, and Barney Wilen plays so good that it’s hard to believe he was so young at the time of recording.

    • You have a copy of the Versailles original? That was a lucky find indeed. I rejoice in your good fortune (spit). Wilen has a cult following in France, and relatively unknown to the outside world. Let’s keep this our secret.

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