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Winter sounds warm up French jazz fans

As temperatures thaw across France, a music festival aims to warm up audiences before the onset of spring. Sons d’Hiver, or Winter Sounds, showcases Free Jazz and runs in Val-de-Marne until 20 February.

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The first event was at the Théâtre de Cachan, in Val-de-Marne, south of Paris, on Friday, with Hamid Drake and Bindu performing tracks from their new album Reggaeology.

But before the music began, Drake and percussionist Khalil El’Zabar were invited to deliver a seminar at the Paris Diderot university on Thursday to discuss the life and music of Don Cherry, the trumpeter who passed away in 1995, and who has become one of the fathers of world music.

Alongside a performance by Neneh Cherry, Don's daughter, Drake and El’Zabar contributed to a special tribute.

During the lecture, which was packed with music students and jazz fans alike, Drake retold stories about Cherry’s influence.

“Anyone who had the opportunity to come into his sphere, into his presence - you were going to be affected by him in some way,” he said. “And even if you didn’t like what he did musically, you would have strong feelings about that too.”

“He was a very unique human being. In a religious tradition they might say he was blessed by God,” he added, whilst clutching a bracelet of beads.

El’Zabar, originally from Chicago, also considers Cherry’s influence to be something special.

He said that Cherry was a “student of life, and super intelligent, without an ego”, before urging young musicians to be “real travellers of life and learning”.

However, both musicians remember Cherry’s sense of humour and during the lecture retold fond tales of his jokes.

“When I got married the first time, I was in Paris, at the New Morning,” recalls El’Zabar, referring to the well-known Paris jazz club. “So Don comes to the New Morning, and I have my little young pretty wife, and Don Cherry says ‘Wow, you have two wives’, so my little young wife was like, ‘he has two wives?’. He goes, ‘yeah - you baby, and his drum!’”

Drake considers how Cherry, who previously lived in Paris, suddenly invited him and his family to move to Sweden with him, though once they arrived in Malmo he realised that Cherry’s residency card had expired and they weren’t going to let them in.

“Like I said, he was somewhat of a magician, so he worked some kind of magic. Whatever he did, they let us come in!”

Sons d’hiver continues with many more fantastic musicians, including French pianist Bettina Kee, the Fantastic Merlins, who mix jazz and chamber music, and the World Saxophone Quartet, a crazy woodwind ensemble influenced by blues and funk.

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