Paris 1936. Le Matelot, a small, smoke-filled cave buried deep inside the French capital. Early spring: the evening unseasonably warm. Conversation subsides. Four itinerant musicians begin playing to an amused clientele of writers, painters and other musicians. The music never stops, it fills the room, intrudes onto the street carries itself into the history of modern music.
The musicians hired that night by M. Faux, the enigmatic proprietor of La Matelot, were the first in an ever-changing troupe, each bringing a peculiar talent, a special interest. They came from around the world, from a wealth of disparate musical background, each new artist taking the place of another grown tired of Paris. In the course of the next three and a half decades, the house band at Le Matelot would provide a musical tradition that paralleled and often profoundly influenced the development of contemporary popular music. As one American critic recently pointed out, "... the Matelot... has been the scene of the most portentous events in the music of our century".
Indeed, the history of the cafe reads like a survey of contemporary popular art. During the late thirties, Panama Al Brown would stop by after the Cirque Mendrano to sing, dance or simply to play solid black jazz to Fitzgerald or Chagall, while, on another night, Josephine Baker would silence the boasting and singing, stunning not only the Matelot's normally blase patrons, but also members of the usually unshockable French press, one of whom wrote, "Miss Baker's superb brown thighs... seem without argument what Offenbach had in mind". Elsa Maxwell belted sounds at Janet Flanner, while Mimsy Turner spun her beaded skirts into the faces of Europe's avant-garde. And the coffee house that Hemingway had fondly called "that contagious box of music" began fostering its reputation as patron of new and aspiring musical talent.
Always maintaining its international flavour, the never-ending stream of Sailor musicians (the group adopted the fashionable English translation of its name in l939) came to include such legendary names as Michel Michaud, Wilbur 'Gazoots' Mahoney, Dickie Doringo and the Austrian Franz Weber.
For thirty five years Le Matelot survived Europe's most cataclysmic events. Even throughout the Second World War, the famous Cafe preserved whatever civiiisation existed in occupied Paris, not only serving as a meeting place for artists (it was during the forties that the famous magazine 'Le Matelot Flasque' appeared), but for influential members of the French underground as well.
But in 1971, disaster struck. Fire swept the Matelot, and, in one fiery evening, a musical and cultural landmark was obliterated. The unbroken thread of musical history wus snapped, and for two years the last members of Sailor, Le Matelot's famous band, kept themselves hidden from the public eye.
The second cycle of the Sailor legend began last summer, when Steve Light Quarter Review for CBS, the European offices of the company were flooded with calls and telegrams. "We felt like we were under siege", said Steve Morris the company's vice president, who was in London at the time. "For a week after the announcement in Hollywood, we couldn't get in or out of the front door. We had to use the service elevator, and climb through the garage roof".
The music of Sailor will astonish those not fortunate enough to have heard it before. For well-travelled Americans, as well as thousands of European music lovers, the revival of Sailor is miraculous news. That which
many feared had been drowned in fire in 1971 has been re-born, and is rising.
Morris, son of music mogul Edwin H. Morris discovered one of the last members of the group, Phil Pickett, jamming with a group of studio session-men, after a demo session. He told Steve an amazing story of wealth and ruin, hope and failure. Between them they managed to pick up all the threads that linked all the Sailor musicians back together again.
When the Hollywood music publishing firm. Edwin H. Morris, announced that Sailor would soon release a recorded version of the Red