Nantes honours ‘first ever jazz concert’ 100 years on

Jazz concert
The orchestra of the 369th American Infantry regiment was credited as playing "one of the first jazz concerts in France"

The city of Nantes has held a concert in honour of one of the first ever jazz concerts in Europe, played by the 369th American Infantry regiment, exactly 100 years ago.

A “concert of the century” was held at the Théâtre Graslin in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire) this week (Monday February 12) to celebrate the centenary, following a ceremony in the event’s honour, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque.

Geneviève Darrieussecq, secretary of state to the minister for Armed Forces, attended the “100 Years of Jazz” event, along with three granddaughters of the leader of the regiment and the orchestra, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, explains newspaper Le Monde.

It is no coincidence that the history of jazz in France is so tied up in military orchestras; the music has strong links with the events of World War I and first arrived in the Hexagon in 1917, after the USA entered the war, and the first American expeditionary soldiers landed on French soil soon after, in the Saint-Nazaire port, bringing jazz with them.

When Lieutenant James Reese Europe arrived in Brest in January 1918, he was already known as the “King of Jazz”, and had been part of the military orchestra and jazz music for 14 years already.

The orchestra itself was reportedly home to “some of the best jazz musicians of the era”, according to Matthieu Jouan, general commissioner of the “100 Years of Jazz” celebrations.

Originally from Alabama, James Reese Europe was also known for having created the first syndicate of Afro-American musicians (named the Clef Club) in 1910, and his symphony orchestra would become the first ever black orchestra to play at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York, in 1912.

His regiment would also become one of only four US regiments affected by segregation, yet the soldiers later fought under French commandment during the war, and Reese Europe would become known as the first Afro-American officer to lead troops in a war assault.

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