If the United States became a world power during its conflict with Spain in 1898, it became a world citizen at the Peace Conference at Versailles twenty years later. We came to The Great War late in its course, slowed by our distance from the action and by our long-felt desire to remain isolated from world affairs; and though our young men suffered greatly in the conflict’s last year, both they and their country were spared the bulk of its savageries. The cultural effect of this was fundamental. In the years that immediately followed, Europe–and especially the Allied nations–would look to their rich, unscathed ally across the Atlantic to rebuild itself, and would welcome America’s relatively-wealthy citizens with open arms. Those citizens, their imaginations afire with the tales of their doughboys back from the Old World, readily responded. “How can you keep him down on the farm,” a popular war song of the time asked, “once he has seen Gay Paree?”
As America achieved its eventual preeminence in 20th century world affairs, Americans came to Europe in droves, bringing with them their money…and their culture. For a complex of reasons, not the least of which was their nation’s wartime alliances, the country they gravitated to was no longer Germany, but France, and the city Paris. Always a center of world affairs and culture, post-war Paris had emerged as an extraordinarily rich hotbed of artistic energy, pushed on by a unique spirit of eclecticism, interdisciplinary synergy, experimentation, modernism, and internationalism. Here Americans, with people throughout the world, found a new cultural mecca, so much so and in such numbers that in 1924 the American Review declared, in jest, that Paris had become “The Capital of America.” But in the jest is much truth. If the 20th century has often been styled as “The American Century”, it was also a decidedly international one, and Paris was its indisputable cultural center.
At OFAM 2000, “Le Jazz Hot”, we will explore and celebrate the rich, eclectic musical and cultural world of Americans in Paris between and just after the two great wars. While we make no pretensions at completeness (the period is far too rich for that!), it will still be an exciting journey filled with jazz and classical masterpieces, old favorites and even a world premier! Please join us! – Jim Ralph, Executive Director