The Best of Times: Paris, Stan and all that jazz: Chris Marshall talks to Danny Danziger

Danny Danziger
Sunday 29 May 1994 23:02

As a schoolboy I was very keen on jazz. American players in the Fifties were much better than English players, as modern jazz was still quite new and revolutionary here. But we had little opportunity to hear any of the Americans, because the Musicians' Union wouldn't let them perform in England.

One day, I read in Melody Maker that Stan Getz was coming to Paris - I was very excited as he was my hero, and I had the strongest urge to go and hear him play.

On Friday afternoons at Selhurst Grammar School in Croydon we had sports; I told the master in charge I had to go home early, and he said that was fine.

Instead, I went to the station with my satchel, having packed a shirt, a toothbrush and some schoolbooks for the homework I was supposed to do over the weekend, and took the train to Bexley, which was on the old Dover road.

I took off my cap and undid my tie, and started hitch-hiking. In retrospect, it must have looked obvious that I was a schoolboy, but I was extremely fortunate, because I got a lift almost right away with a couple who were going to Paris. They were really nice, they bought me fish and chips on the ferry, and when I divulged the purpose of my trip, they seemed very amused.

It was quite late when we got into the capital from Calais. Luckily, a schoolfriend who'd been to Paris had recommended a hotel, which was just off the rue de l'Universite. It was very cheap, but clean and homely, and they were nice and welcoming, even though it was past midnight.

The next morning I came across a little cafe on the corner, run by an Algerian woman. My first question was, did she speak English? 'Yes,' she replied, 'but why don't you speak French?'

So I had to order petit dejeuner in French, and after a while we were chattering away about all sorts of things. I couldn't believe my O-level French would allow me to talk for any length of time 5to a French person in French. After breakfast I decided to explore, and I went down by the Seine and over to the Pont Neuf. I saw Notre Dame and went up the Eiffel Tower. When I got back to the cafe, the Algerian lady gave me bacon and eggs, and she wouldn't charge me, for which I was extremely grateful.

I arrived at the jazz club about teatime: it was miles too early of course, nobody was there yet. I tried to look as nonchalant as I could in front of the waiters, ordered a beer and sat at a table right at the front. It was several hours before people drifted in. They seemed arty and exotic; this was a great deal more stylish than the Croydon Jazz Club.

A trio played first, and then around midnight, Stan Getz came on. He introduced each number he played, and spoke in French and English.

The music was fabulous, I was completely mesmerised - I couldn't believe I was there listening to him. I must have been really conspicuous sitting in the front on my own, and after his set, Stan Getz himself came over to my table.

'Say, sonny,' he said, 'where are you from?'

'Oh, I'm from England.'

'England . . . my God.' And he 5sat down and started talking to me. I explained how I'd read in Melody Maker that he was going to be in Paris, and that I had hitch-hiked to see him - he thought that was very funny. 'Hey, man, you must be my number one fan,' he laughed. 'Would you like another beer?' he said, 'Yes, please.' When the beer arrived, he asked, 'Are you hungry?' I said I was, so he ordered me an enormous steak sandwich. He was great, really fantastic, and we continued chatting for ages.

Eventually, he went back on stage and played a second set, which was absolutely magic. I left as the club was closing, and walked back to the hotel, as the Metro had closed hours ago.

I couldn't believe what I'd experienced, I was quite awestruck. I wanted to talk to somebody about it, but no one was around, which made me feel a bit lonely.

The next morning I got up early because I had to get back - I'd told my mother I was staying the weekend with a friend from school. It took me three lifts to get to Calais, and then I got a lift to a place close to our village, caught the bus and arrived home about eight that evening.

I tried to be as nonchalant as possible. My mother said, 'Hello. 'How are you?' She seemed very 5relaxed. I said, 'I'm a bit hungry actually, Mum.' So we went into the kitchen, and I sat down while she started to prepare something.

Suddenly, she turned around, standing above me, and holding my shoulder in a vice-like grip. She was very emotional now: 'Where on earth have you been?'

I said, lying through my teeth, and trying to look innocent, 'At Richard Woodham's'

'No you haven't'

There was no doubt in her tone 5 of voice: 'Oh dear,' I said. 'How did you know?' It turned out that my cousins Valerie and Brian from Dover had unexpectedly called in, and so she had rung the Woodhams to see if I would come home for lunch to see them. So ever since lunchtime on Sunday, there'd been no sign of me, and she had been terrified.

But she was astonished and amused at my story, and that took the sting out of the crime, because it seemed such an event. I showed 5her Stan Getz's autograph. He had written 'To Chris' on a menu at the club. I think she was quite proud of me in the end, and she actually cried - relief, I suppose, that I'd come back all right.

When I went back to school, they were all terribly impressed; it took a while to persuade everybody I wasn't making it up, but I was a little bit of a hero for a while.

Chris Marshall, property developer and golf champion, is still a jazz fan.

(Photograph omitted)

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