In Cap-Ferrat on the Côte d’Azur, where houses are villas, owned by actors, artists and rock & roll stars, its sweet little town of Saint-Jean, with its one street lined with shops, galleries and restaurants, has an air of sophistication and exclusivity one expects of the French Riviera. No one says, “Keep out” or “Stay away,” but you know if you belong or not. Still, if you scratch the surface even a little, you find lovely, friendly locals who will be more than happy to give you the time of day.
It is in this setting of villas and private beaches and 5-star hotels that you will find the most perfect little jazz festival, Saint Jazz Cap Ferrat, which just held its 7th annual festival from August 8 to 11. The stage is set up in the tiny Jardin de la Paix, a little wedge of land perched high above the Plage des Fosses, with a commanding view of the deep blue sea, towering pines overhead, and the sound of waves lapping below when the music stops.
This year’s festival line-up by musical director Marc Peillon, also one of the players, was mostly straight-up jazz with a bit of blues, flamenco and African rhythms thrown in for good measure.
Polish/French, harmonica-blues artist, Greg Zlap, and his trio, were the opening act, with pianist Julien Brunetaud sounding very much like New Orleans legend Dr. John, and British guitarist and blues singer, Ian Siegal getting way down deep on his blues riffs. The second band that night featured music by Spanish pianist, Alfonso Aroca, from his recording “Orilla del Mundo,” an intense mix of jazz and flamenco, with a singer, dancer, two drummers/percussionists, and a bass player. Together, they lit up the stage, with the singer and dancer the real stars of the show.
The Saint Jazz Cap Ferrat Festival is a true collaboration of locals and French jazz lovers. The mayor of Saint-Jean, Jean-François Dieterich, was at the festival every night, introducing the first act alongside the musical director. They then mingled with the intimate crowd of about 350, the maximum capacity for the venue, which was full every night, if not sold out. Local volunteer Anne-Marie Fargues, who lives just across the street, and has been part of the festival since its inception, was also there each evening, as were many of the spectators, who paid 20-30 euros per night.
A small kiosk served wine, beer, sparkling wine and sandwiches before and between the two shows, and after four evenings, I was already feeling like a part of the community, ‘oh, there’s the mayor,’ and ‘hi, Anne,’ and bisous on my cheeks from the Communications/Social Media Director, Philippe Déjardin. It was so easy to just start chatting with anyone sitting or standing next to you, in line at the entrance, or while having a verre of rosé (with ice cubes). The spectators included Cap Ferrat citizens, but I also met many people from Nice, and other nearby cities– just a hop, skip and a jump away by car, bus, or train. If you ever wanted to find a way to mix with French people and practice your French, this would be it, and you would get a great jazz concert at the same time.
You may not be staying in Cap Ferrat– it’s a bit pricey– but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy all that the Cap has to offer, from this wonderful festival to the walk around the peninsula, or a tour of the Villa de Rothschild. You can have a 25 euro martini at the Grand-Hotel du Cap, or a seven euro grilled sandwich at the little café on the main street of Saint-Jean. Even the rich and famous enjoy a good, cheap pizza or a poulet-roti just off the spit (about 4 Euros).
I love Cap-Ferrat and Saint-Jean, and always include a visit, or two, each time I come to the French Riviera. After all, why should the millionaires have all the fun?
For more photos, videos and the full festival line-up, visit the Festival Facebook Page