The first landmark one notices on the way to the center of Marseille coming from the airport is the glistening aqueduct – the stone engulfed in the Provence sun is the most beautiful garnish of the long channel that has been providing drinking water for Marseille since the 19th Century. Later in the same epoch, In the heart of the oldest city of France and in the honor of the channel building, another monument has been structured – the ‘‘Palace Long Field’’, that is Palais Longchamp. It seems like French people are very concrete when it comes to naming things – for example, if an island is beautiful, they will simply call it Beautiful island in the sea, and in this language even common words like Belle Ille еn Mer sound poetic. In the same way the Long Field became ‘’long’’ because the crossing of five boulevards surrounds it
In the park of the said Palais Longchamp Marseille jazz Festival from the Five Continents was held for the first time at the end of the last millennium. Beside the fact that the name of the festival fits well into the surroundings of the Five Avenues quarter, it also consolidates all the things Marseille has always been unique for and is still proud of – being a multinational and multicultural city.
Besides a few main recommended sites (Notre-dame de la Guarde, the oldest part of the city Le Panier, Chateau d’If where Duma’s count Monte Cristo was imprisoned…) I don’t know much about Marseille at the moment of my arrival. The secret capital of France, as is it sometimes called, Marseille has always been an attractive place for settlers and its Old port an open gate for transitioning into a better life. Former Greek polis b. c., the center of Christianity during the Roman empire, the key point of the French Revolution, this coastal city today is the place where the Muslims, Christians, Jews and Buddhists live in harmony. Additionally, most of the residents of Marseille will point out that they are Marshes, putting aside France or their homeland, thankful for being a part of the unique ‘’Mars’’ on the Earth.
In the context of connecting people through the music from all over the world in this multiethnic city, Jazz Festival from Five Continents was held for the 18th time this year. A kind of a leitmotif for the festival was the song Silver lining – it is sang by Imany, a French singer of African descent, the striking vocal and the voice of the young generation. Whether she’s addressing to the audience with a microphone or a megaphone, her universal messages – there is no black and white, there is only right and wrong – bring a special strength to this environment.
With those (and similar) words coming through my head, I watch the people around me and the park – wonderful, but not too big. Just the right size for taking the three types of audience that don’t have anything to do with the color of their skin – first are the ones that just lay down on their blankets, chitchatting, drinking the local pastis, chilling, smoking cigars or marijuana joints. The second type is a special category: parents who are not willing to renounce their night out even for their kids, so they are putting them to sleep to the lavish noise coming from the stage. And the third group are the music devotees in the front lines, dancing and listening carefully, trying not to miss anything.
After a while, George Benson showed up and as soon as he arrived he brought smiles to people’s faces with his cult Afirmation. With the still powerful voice and the perfect improvisations sliding down on his famous ibanez, he captivated Marseille. Of course, numbers like Serbian blues or Last train to Čačak (in the world known better by the name Last train to Clarksville) were not on the repertoire, but Benson – still a force to be reckoned with on the scene – did not miss the opportunity to repeat the prescription of the old recipe for love by singing Nature boy (… to love and be loved in return). Somewhere in the middle of the gig, just at the right moment to accompany the summer breeze, the Breezin’ went on. The last thing played as an encore – On Broadway – kept on resonating for some time all along the Five avenues thanks to the whistles of the listeners who slowly returned to their houses through the night.
Tomorrow evening, I am expecting the former Miles’s apprentice, now the jazz veteran, Herbie Hancock. Back in the 60’s when he was at his 20’s and his career was just starting, he was, according to the estimation of the seasoned trumpet player, one of the most promising young talents. In 2017, after many years on stage and transformations of musical styles, Arbie Ancock as the French people pronounce it, shook the Côte d’Azur! Canteloupe island was welcomed for who knows what time in his career with the great excitement, and the same goes for the melody that depicts salesman of watermelons – the vastly performed jazz standard that kept the image of carriages on Chicago streets and women calling: hey, watermelon man! At the very end – the master ’duel’ between electric guitar and keytar provoked an exalted applause from the audience.
I’m leaving the Palais Longchamp one hour after midnight. I turn around and take a last glance at the beautiful fountain. ‘’What would have David Miles said?’’ I hear a question from a famous rock musician from Zemun in my head, and instead of the answer I smile because of Miles’s good judgement.
Published in „Vreme“