The annual Jazz Sous Les Pommiers (‘Jazz Under The Apple Trees’) Normandy Jazz Festival draws top stars and huge crowds…
An ancient barn in the yard of the historic Manoir de Coutainville, an oyster farm on the unspoilt coast at Blainville – each echo in turn to an eclectic mix of jazz, a multi-faceted music form that’s long enjoyed massive popularity among the French.
The annual Normandy Jazz Festival takes place in May and June and is a riot of good times and great music. Yes, there will be seasoned jazz buffs aplenty thronging the little mediaeval market town of Coutances and its rural surroundings for the festival but this is a celebration aimed just as much at the mass public, for whom the overall ‘let the good times roll’ ambience of a fun family day out matters far more than the proficiency or otherwise of the performers – who range from local amateur players to seasoned international stars. And the French certainly know how to throw a party!
Kaleidoscope of styles at the Normandy Jazz Festival
Punching way above its weight, the eight-day festival spills out of marquees, social halls, bars and church buildings on to streets thronged with more than 50,000 ticket holders for the programme of 50 plus concerts, presenting a kaleidoscope of jazz styles, from Dixieland and boogie-woogie to avant-garde.
Normandy, with its ‘1066 And All That’ connections, figures strongly on the radar for ex-pats and visiting British tourists alike and a warm welcome awaits them at this fun-packed event. On arrival, we were met by Gérard Collet, a volunteer at the festival since the very first edition, three decades ago. Despite its high levels of professionalism, the event relies extensively on community effort and goodwill. It’s an organisational tour de force.
Normandy Jazz Festival Massive street party
“The whole town embraces the event,” enthused Gérard, “This is normally a quiet little place but each June it becomes not just a major cultural and gastronomic event but a massive street party.”
Listening to jazz being played in the sun while you quaffe Champagne and slurp fresh, plump local molluscs at a seaside oyster farm is one of life’s most wonderful pleasures. Afterwards we pedalled off into the evening as part of an organised fun bike ride that saw 50 or 60 of us cycle leisurely past the apple orchards from venue to venue.
Other highlights include a free tasting of local cheeses and feasts on seafood, sausages, crépes, cider, Calvados and other local specialities, for this is a gastronomic as well as musical celebration.
Then there was the colourful spectacle of 10 perfectly honed marching bands from as far afield as Brazil, Macedonia and Finland, parading carnival style in a noisy street procession through the town’s squares and along its crowd-thronged boulevards.
Averting the danger of overdosing on all that music, we took time out to explore some local attractions. Set on the sweeping Bay of Mont Saint-Michel, the lively seaside resort and fishing port of Granville is a fortified town whose massive granite walls pay testament to its strategic importance during the Hundred Years War and its role as a base for fearsome corsairs making raids across the Channel.
Amid a beautiful cliff top garden in the town’s gracious suburbs stands Christian Dior’s childhood home, which now serves as a fascinating museum, dedicated to the designer and his iconic fashion house. Villa Les Rhumbs is today a treasure trove of memories, restored to its original 1920’s style and full of artefacts of the great couturier.
Formerly capital of the Cotentin Peninsula, Coutances itself has historic attractions, including a cathedral with 8th Century origins.
Our accommodation was at the comfortable Hotel Cositel, set in a peaceful location on the outskirts of town – a haven that also hosted many of the artists.
If you love music, great food and like to enjoy yourself – then you’ll love the Normandy Jazz Festival!
Roger St. Pierre is proudly British and passionately Francophile and has been to every one of France’s 94 metropolitan departments.