By Mike Zwerin
19 June 2003There's a joke about a guy who explains what he
does in life by saying: "I'm a jazz musician but I'm only in it
for the money." Frank Tenot, on the other hand, is in the jazz
business to give at least some of his money back.
see the penthouses across the wide avenue through the window of his
office on the Champs Elysees, and Parisian rooftops rising towards
Montmartre above them. In addition to Jazz Magazine, he now
owns Jazzman and his new little media empire occupies an
entire floor. His fortune "owes its existence to jazz, and I want
to return at least some of what jazz permitted me to earn. And at my
age," says the 78-year old Tenot: "It gives me something to
Mind you, he'd prefer not to lose money. But if it
came right down to it, he would rather continue to broadcast Billie
Holiday and Ben Webster records than make a profit. He's "happy
to be in the position to do that."
With content from
Louis Armstrong to Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz and Steve Coleman, Tenot's
TSF-FM is the best unsubsidized 24/7 jazz radio station (89.9 in
Paris) in the known world. Nat Hentoff told Tenot he listens regularly
on the internet in New York. It is truly miraculous to hear Charlie
Parker at 11:10 AM in your corner [ital] bureau de tabac [ital], to
catch Philly Joe Jones's Dracula routine at midnight in a Parisian
taxicab, and to hear Lester Young, Lee Morgan, Chet Baker, Joe
Henderson, Stan Getz, Bill Evans, Leo Wright, Serge Chaloff and Dinah
Washington on the air-waves while writing this article. TSF trying to
be "commercial" means Diana Krall or Frank Sinatra.
currently has about 200,000 listeners in Paris and Nice. To assure
stylistic variety, programming is based on splitting content 1/3 each
between jazz recorded on 78 RPMs, LPs and CDs. Tenot and his partner
Jean-Francois Bizot (of the rock/world music-oriented Nova radio and
magazine) bought the station three years ago from a bankrupt arm of
the French Communist party - "Along with a debt of seventeen
million," says Tenot. They expect to break even this year. But it
remains a labor of love. Bizot and Tenot recently had a spirited
argument on the sidewalk of the Champs Elysees about how much Latin
jazz to broadcast.
Tenot knows his history. It was not, as
is generally believed, Charles de Gaulle who censored the Django
Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli swing version of "Le Marseillaise"
in 1946, but outraged Communist union workers refusing to press the
recording. He fondly recalls the first Parisian concert by Dizzy
Gillespie two years later, and the subsequent so-called "schism"
between the critics Hugues Panassie and Charles Delaunay that tore
apart the Hot Club Of France (of which Tenot was an early member) over
the issue of whether or not bebop was real jazz. "France was
really important in the history of jazz," he says: "Wasn't
is the type of person who looks at his watch to make sure it's 7 PM
before deciding to have a whiskey. Despite the substantial distance he
has always kept from the wild side of jazz, he remains enough of a
hipster to grin at the folklore about the old timer who many years ago
("thank goodness, the musicians are no longer like that")
stashed his heroin in the collar of his German Shepherd dog.
multinational conglomerate Tenot built with his now retired friend and
partner Daniel Filipacchi began with Jazz Magazine, given to
them in the 1950s by a record company mogul who could no longer be
bothered. It remains Tenot's rabbit's foot; it still carries his
monthly column. They started what became a successful rock magazine
with circulation of one million thanks largely to the popularity of
Johnny Hallyday. The resulting international print combine Hachette
Filipacchi Publications (Tenot was CEO) included Pariscope,
Hustler, Woman's Day, George, Paris Match (Tenot was editor in
chief) and the Spanish Teleprogroma magazines.
we sold our shares in Hachette," Tenot says: "I ended up
with some cash." He started the Frank Tenot Foundation,
subsidizing, for example, provincial organizations promoting jazz.
Earlier this year, he bought Jazzman magazine from a
subsidiary of the LVMH luxury conglomerate. "They considered it a
'non strategic asset'," he says with a smile.
is a down-market jazz magazine, if such a thing is possible, with
large type, color visuals, short features and a lower retail price and
roughly twice the circulation (25,000) than the intellectual Jazz
Magazine. Tenot's reason for buying Jazzman was "partly
vanity," but also "for the music. I was afraid that LVMH
might close it or that it would become a 'world jazz' or 'rap jazz' -
not real jazz - magazine."
Other than raising Jazzman's
cover price, he plans to keep both magazines going pretty much as
before - helped by added synergy in purchasing, promotion and
advertising. There are, however, no plans for future acquisitions. "The
only ennui of this story," Tenot explains, "is that
none of my children [he has three] are interested in jazz. I'm putting
my hopes in my grandchild. I taught him how to play 'Saint James
Infirmary' on his little flute. He's 12 years old and he loves jazz
Mike Zwerin has been jazz and
rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last twenty
years. He was also the European correspondent for The Village Voice.
Zwerin is currently writing a book called "Parisian Jazz Affair"
for Yale University Press and he is the jazz editor of