Is New York becoming the new Paris for up-and-coming artists?

For much of the twentieth century Paris was the go-to place for American artists looking to hone their craft, but now it seems that trend has been reversed.

Is New York becoming the new Paris for up-and-coming artists?
Paris was a hotspot for US musicians in the twentieth century. Photo: AFP

From Hemmingway to Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker to Miles Davis, the list of American artists who came to Paris to live, learn and perform is long and illustrious.

But now it seems that the transatlantic traffic is going the other way, with many young French musicians opting to move to New York to develop their careers.

Despite booming rents that have left few affordable bases for struggling artists of all stripes, jazz musicians tend to consider the American cultural metropolis the premier petri dish for cultivating their craft.


Josephine Baker loved Paris so much that she eventually took French citizenship, bu these days the traffic seems to be in the other direction. Photo: AFP

“There's a long history,” said Clovis Nicolas, a bassist who grew up near Marseille and has called New York home for 16 years.

After a few visits in his late 20s he decided to move there from Paris.

“I was getting so much information and inspiration from the music scene that it would make me play better,” he recalled.

“The standards are pretty high. It's a place where all the best musicians from the US and the world come to meet,” the 46-year-old told AFP at a diner a few neighborhoods south of his home in Harlem.

Jazz pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, like Nicolas, took part in the recent France Rocks concert series highlighting the strong presence of French musicians stateside.

The sheer number of hopefuls vying to be the next Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie or Billie Holiday have helped maintain the city's status as a jazz capital, he says.

“There is a mythology to New York,” he said, adding that shortly after he arrived in 1994 “all of the French musicians were coming here… it became a little bit of a gimmick.”

Pilc lived in New York nearly two decades, becoming an American citizen before moving to Montreal in 2015 to teach his craft at McGill University.

“I think musicians need energy, and there is a particular type of energy in this place,” Pilc, who recently played at New York's historic Blue Note club in Greenwich Village, said of his old stomping ground. 

“You step in a club in New York and you'll hear people playing bass and drums in such a way – there is something sweet, idiomatic about it, that sometimes is more difficult to find in Europe,” he said. 

“That sense of time, that sense of sound: there's a tradition here, like it or not.”

So how does a city that is increasingly prohibitive for the young and aspirational – New York is consistently in the top 10 of the world's most expensive municipalities – remain a centre of musical iconoclasm?

Monthly rent for an average two-bedroom apartment in New York increased from $1,938 in January 2011 to $2,831 eight years later, according to industry data analysis from Rainmaker Insights.

“It's a rough situation,” said Nicolas. “Some musicians manage to do Broadway shows, some maybe have money in the family, some teach, some do a lot of gigs. My choice was to do everything I could to do a lot of performances.”

The financial stress is exacerbated by the fact that the United States offers very little aid to artists in contrast with France, where comparatively generous government financial assistance includes payments and benefits during periods of unemployment.

Paris-based jazz musician Vincent Peirani. Photo AFP

Vincent Peirani, a Paris-based jazz accordionist who often tours in New York and also participated in the France Rocks festival, said the notion of starting over stateside is daunting, especially considering the financial hit.

“We have a lot of support in France… even if you play the accordion,” the 39-year-old laughed.

Peirani noted that the internet has opened avenues for discovering new music and inspiration, a sort of digital scene that can connect musicians from all over the world.

“You start out with one guy, and if you like this one, you can try this one or that one,” he said. “You can spend all night and discover many new things. It's just amazing.”

But despite financial barriers New York still boasts more artists than ever, topping 55,000, according to a 2017 study from the New York-based Center for an Urban Future.

And more work is available thanks to a large network of musicians in New York, Nicolas said, with veteran performers willing to lend a hand to struggling up-and-comers and make the hustle possible.

“This city is a lot about survival and about business and being professional. In France, it can be seen as a bad thing,” he said. 

“But here, we all need to work. We don't have help from the government. When you really have a passion, you'll figure it out.”

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Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE