Grenoble, Where les Saintes Come Stomping In

On a warm summer evening, a middle-aged man is dancing with his young daughter in the courtyard. Improvised clarinet and trumpet solos shine out from old jazz standards as the groups swell in from the street. New Orleans you think? Nope. How about Grenoble, France? Famous men named Louis aren’t the only things that France and New Orleans have in common. Like in the Big Easy, jazz gets feet stompin’ and hands a-clappin’ in the heart of the French Alps. Here, any nostalgic New Orleanian can sit back and enjoy innovations on old standards, sing along or even teach a new partner how to second-line as Grenoble plays host to numerous jazz events throughout the year. They can’t easily translate it, but the French understand that it really don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. And Grenoble knows how to swing.

A longstanding tradition, the Grenoble Jazz Festival has been showcasing big names as well as small guys and gals since 1973. Not part of the traditional summer plethora of festivals, the celebration heats up the chilly month of March with a mix of local and international artists staged in concert halls throughout the city. The well-balanced program gives listeners the opportunity to discover some of the high and low notes of today’s jazz scene. After a day on the slopes, kick back to groups like the John Scofield Trio or Pittsburgh’s Ahmad Jamal at the MC2, one of France’s foremost cultural centers. With a population from around the globe, Grenoble’s artistic offerings vary as much as the surrounding mountainscapes. But if snow boots and heavy coats get you down, wait until summer, when Grenoble goes into full swing. 

“We decided to create a jazz band to have fun. Dixieland jazz sounded like a style that we could play around with, so we started with that. Our repertoire has been growing ever since.” Claude, the red-faced trumpet player from Charley Stomp explains how their five-man band got started 36 years ago. From the courtyard of the Old Bishop’s Palace, the group draws music fans and curious passersby who catfoot in and start tapping their feet before they know it. Jean-Pierre, the clarinetist and vocalist of the group scats an impressive “Puttin’ on the Ritz” without ever punching out a word of English. “None of us have ever been to New Orleans but I sure would like to go one day, maybe play a gig even,” Jean-Pierre muses. Charley Stomp may not have ever cruised the Mississippi but their music takes the entire audience right to the heart of the French Quarter.

As the days grow warmer, the desire to bask in the warm mountain sun gives reason enough to venture into the streets of Grenoble’s old town center. At the end of July, Cabaret Frappé takes over the City Gardens with music and artists “from here and everywhere.” Beneath a canopy of noble plane trees, music fans can take a break from the sun’s rays and enjoy a whirlwind sampling of artists and musical styles. Anything goes at Cabaret Frappé, from urban soul to acoustic trip hop, ethnic electro to folk blues. With no admission fee to get into the park, many of the concerts can be attended without spending a single euro. “We offer accessible concerts characterized by strong artistic currents. We also make sure to promote a certain number of local groups, who in a certain way, are already recognized as regional talents and potential stars,” points out Loran Stahl, head of programming for the festival. As a gentle breeze rustles the overhead leaves, listeners are transported from France to Brazil, Spain, Ethiopia and back through rhythms that beg for dancing feet.

Back in the courtyard, Charley Stomp’s crowd spills out of the imposing wooden gates and onto the neighboring street. Energy pulses and the audience helps keep the beat, clapping to Soleil Ciel Bleu and Royal Garden Blues. True to form, each member takes a solo. Marcel drums out a machine gun morsel that spellbinds the audience, the ratata rata rata of the snare layered over a bass thomp thothomp that echoes your own heartbeat. The whole group rolls into the finale, New Orleans’ own “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” Jean-Pierre sings out in call and response with the audience, who respond as best they can, “Oh when zee saints go marcheen een!” The Old Bishop’s Palace museum has been putting on concerts for a summer’s worth of Fridays for three years now. Local artists with worldly inspiration hold main stage here. Along with Charley Stomp’s vibrant Dixieland, visitors can hear Balkan fanfares, nostalgic Irish reels, West African rhythms and gypsy rock ‘n’ roll. No need to reserve, no need to pay, just show up and find a place to soak up the sounds.

When to Visit
Summer, generally warm and dry, is probably the best season to visit Grenoble if you want to take advantage of the numerous festivals and outdoor activities going on. Festivals and concerts usually go into full swing in June and July. In August, many places shut down completely as the French collectively head to the Mediterranean coast for a few weeks of vacation.

Getting to There
Several U.S. Air carriers, including United, Delta and Northwest (the latter two may be merging) offer flights from New Orleans to Lyon or Geneva. For more information, you can visit their Web sites: www.delta.com; www.united.com; www.nwa.com. Or visit www.flymsy.com for a complete list of airlines that fly out of Louis Armstrong International Airport.
The closest major airport is Lyon-St. Exupery that has a bus to take visitors from the airport to Grenoble. Seventeen buses run per day. A round trip ticket costs 30 Euros. For more information visit their Web sites (in French and English) www.satobus-grenoble.fr and www.lyon.aeroport.fr for airport information.

The Geneva airport offers another option, with three shuttle buses per day. A round trip ticket costs 69 Euros. Reservations can be made through the Web site, www.vfd.fr (in French), or by calling 011-33-4-7968-3296. Reservations are not obligatory but advised if you want to be sure to have a seat.

Festivals and Clubs
Grenoble Jazz Festival. The next edition of this annual event will take place March 10-29, 2009. The festival showcases concerts in and around Grenoble to introduce the innovative forms of modern jazz to the public with a program of international artists. Musicians such as DeeDee Bridgewater, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, Branford Marsalis Quartet and Art Ensemble of Chicago have all participated in this festival.
For more information, you can visit their Web site (in French) www.jazzgrenoble.com or call 011-33-4-7651-6532.

Cabaret Frappé. A 10-day festival held in the City Gardens (Jardin de Ville) from mid to end of July with free concerts every night at 7 p.m. and admission-charged concerts at 9 p.m. Tickets cost 15 Euros and can be bought at a kiosk set up in the Gardens. This festival gives local and international groups the chance to shine. For more information, visit their Web site (in French) www.cabaret-frappe.com.

The Jazz Club de Grenoble organizes concerts every Thurs. at 9 p.m. at the MJC Allobroges, 5 rue Hauquelin across from the modern art museum. The building can easily be reached by taking tram B to the Notre Dame Musée stop. Program updates are available on their Web site (in French), jazzclubdegrenoble.free.fr, by clicking on “programme.”

Restaurants
La Soupe aux Choux. All jazz styles are represented in this club, which also acts as a restaurant, located at 7 route de Lyon. From September to June, concerts play nightly from Tues. to Sat.. from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. The July schedule is light. From mid-July to the beginning of September the club closes completely.

Entrance plus a meal costs 28 Euros and includes a main dish and dessert. Meals are served before the 9 p.m. concert. If you don’t want to eat, cover plus the first drink costs 13.50 Euros. Drinks start at 3.50 Euros. Call ahead to reserve if you wish to eat. For more information, visit their Web site (in French), www.jazzalasoupe.free.fr, or by calling 011-33-4-7687-0567.

Café de la Table Ronde. Established in 1739, located at 7 Place St. André, this café restaurant serves typical regional dishes and daily specials at reasonable prices. Open everyday from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., you can also come just to have a drink. Prices range from 9 to 33 Euros. In summer, the terrace is one of the best places to people watch and lavish in the beautiful architectural surroundings. For more information, call 011-33-4-7644-5141.

Not to be missed
The Bastille. The imposing 19th century fortress that watches over the city. You can walk to the top, following the sign-posted trail or take the bubble – these funny shaped cable cars were built for the 1968 winter Olympics and have become the symbol of Grenoble. A round trip costs 5.80 Euros and a one-way ticket costs 3.95 Euros. Children under 5 ride free. The operating hours depend on the month and the day of the week. In June, operating days and times are Mon. 11 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.; Tues.-Sat. 9:15 a.m. to 11:45 p.m.; Sun. 9:15 a.m. to 7:25 p.m. For July and Aug.: Mon. 11 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.; Tues.-Sun. 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.

The Old Bishop’s Palace (Musée de l’Ancien Evêché). Open Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tues. 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This museum, located at 2 rue Très Cloîtres, presents the history of Grenoble and the surrounding region. A 4th-century baptismal font and chamber below the museum are the highlight of this visit. Admission is free. Audio guides in English are available at no charge; just ask at the front desk. A guided tour in English can be arranged with a week’s notice by emailing Delphine Miege at d.miege@cg-38.fr, or by calling the museum at 011-33-4-7603-1525. The museum also hosts free concerts at 8 p.m. every Friday evening in July and August. For more information, visit their Web site (in French) www.ancien-eveche-isere.fr.

Grenoble Tourist Information Center. The city also hosts irregular concerts and it’s best to ask for upcoming events at the Tourism Office, as many flyers and brochures are in French. Agents speak English and will be happy to help. The Grenoble Maison du Tourisme is located at 14 Rue de la République. Open year-round, seven days a week *except Jan. 1, May 1 and Dec.. 25), Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Sundays and bank holidays: May to Sept. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and October to April 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Or visit their Web site (in French and English), www.grenoble-isere.info.
For 7 Euros, the tourism offers rents MP3 players that lead the visitor through the historic center of Grenoble. The hour long visit (in English) gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the people and places that have shaped Grenoble’s history.

For a complete lists of the week’s concerts and other events, Grenoble puts out a free newspaper, Le Petit Bulletin, available at the Tourism Office. In the “Musique” section, concerts are listed according to style, with the address, price and phone number for reservations or information. To understand the concert dates, it is helpful to know the days of the week in French.

Hotels
The Grenoble Tourist Office has a comprehensive online reservation system at their Web site, www.grenoble-resatourisme.com. This allows visitors to find real time information about accommodation availability and book directly online. The site also presents special offers.

Getting around Grenoble
Grenoble has a highly developed public transport system. There are four tramlines and 25 bus lines. A map is available at the tourism office. One-way tickets cost 1.30 Euros but day, week and 10-way passes are available at better rates. Their Web site (www.semitag.fr) is in French but the main ticket office is located in the same building as the Tourism Office, where someone always speaks English.

Bicycles can also be rented for half a day up to a year with prices starting as low as 3 Euros. Their Web site in, French and English, provides some practical information about renting, returning and paying a deposit for rental. Visit www.metrovelo.fr, and then click “Metrovelo in English.” 

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