Program : 
Paris in the Thirties: Bill Coleman & Django Reinhardt
Django and Bill Coleman

Django Reinhardt and Bill Coleman

Bill Coleman was born in Paris, Kentucky but spent most of his life in Paris, France. Coleman came from the same generation of jazz trumpeters as Louis Armstrong and, like Armstrong, Coleman was part of the New York jazz scene in the late 20s.


Bill Coleman left the U.S. for a European tour in 1933 and fell in love with the Paris jazz scene. At that time the "City of Light" was populated by expatriate African American musicians including reedmen Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, and jazz singers Josephine Baker and Ada 'Bricktop' Smith. Coleman was one of many African American musicians who found they could pursue their lives and art in the relatively free context of bohemian Europe without the shadow of racism they experienced in the States.


One night while roaming the jazz clubs of Paris, Bill Coleman heard jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his partner, jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, for the first time. They met and together Reinhardt and Coleman made a series of important recordings documenting the Parisian jazz scene in the 30s, including a stunning duet on Coleman’s original composition “Bill Coleman Blues.”


The renowned Paris nightclub, La Coupole, during the 1920s. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

When not performing and recording in Europe, Bill Coleman traveled the world, touring in Japan, India and Egypt. Occasionally Coleman would return to the States where he worked with the Benny Carter Orchestra, made recordings with Fats Waller, and played in Teddy Wilson's band. But most of his work was in and around Paris. Bill Coleman continued playing there until a short time before his death. He died in Toulouse, France in 1981 at age 77.


Paul Mehling

Paul Mehling. Courtesy the artist.

This week Riverwalk Jazz is devoted to the rich musical scene of Paris in the 30s, with a special focus on trumpeter Bill Coleman and jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Special guest San Francisco guitarist and bandleader Paul Mehling joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band on stage at Stanford University. Mehling is the leader of The Hot Club of San Francisco and has numerous albums to his credit.


Photo credit for Home Page: Django Reinhardt and Bill Coleman..