“I usually wake up at 4 a.m. from the excitement and I can’t fall back asleep,” said Kantor from her Los Angeles home. “It’s a real high. There’s an amazing thing that happens with the audience where they’re singing and clapping along. It’s very palpable, the energy in the room.”
Kantor is the lead singer and producer of the Paris Chansons, an eight-person French jazz band that will make their first Minneapolis appearance at the Dakota on March 23. But don’t pigeon-hole them as just a French band; the Russian and Jewish roots are very easy to pick out in their music.
“We’re doing French music with a Jewish twist,” Kantor said. “[My husband and I] are Russian Jews. We have a Moroccan-Israeli singer. It’s very eclectic.”
Both Julia Kantor and her husband, Jacob, have careers outside Paris Chansons; she is a psychotherapist and Jacob is trained as a court reporter who now does closed-captioning for television shows. But their passion for music has turned into a career they each take as seriously as what they are trained in.
The band formed through the Kantor’s synagogue. Jacob Kantor is the lay-cantor at Ohr Hatorah, where he’s served in that role for the last four years. The synagogue had opened a café and Julia Kantor said they helped pull together musicians in congregation to create a night of French music. The musicians included Max Cohen, the Moroccan-Israeli singer, pianist Jeff Lams and violinist Endre Balogh – all of whom are members of Paris Chansons.
“We had 150 people from the community who showed up – not just synagogue members,” Julia Kantor said. “I had to idea that we struck this chord. By the fourth time we did it, we realized we were on to something.”
Since the band formed, they have regularly played in Los Angeles – generally at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill or the Catalina Jazz Club, but have recently started expanding their reach having played the Music Theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.
“We do original renditions of French music, but we also have original songs. The arrangements will feel fresh so people hear songs in a way they haven’t before,” she said. “We want to keep things exciting and fresh always, but we have to add new material so people come back.”
French music’s role during the Soviet-era communism and how it is beloved in Israel is a tie that brings the Russian and Jewish communities to the show. Kantor said that French music was so popular in Israel that they classic French songs were translated into Hebrew and became a staple of Israeli culture. In the Soviet-bloc countries, French music was allowed while American and British music was banned. Julia Kantor was born in the Ukraine and her husband in Russia. Each immigrated to the U.S. as children, but the countries of their birth bring a cultural link to their music.
“We have a lot of Russians who come because they grew up on French music,” she said. “They aren’t coming for the Russian twist we put on the music, but for the French music itself. Armenians and Romanians, too. It’s a very international group that comes to the show.”
The language barrier that may exist isn’t an obstacle to enjoying the music.
“You don’t have to speak French or know the music,” she said. “It’s joyful. It lifts the spirit. It’ll transport you whether you recognize it or not. It’s for everyone.
“It’s a multi-cultural experience through the lens of French music. People are amazed to find out how beloved these songs are around the world. This music has traversed the world. It is international.”
The Paris Chansons will be on KBEM Jazz 88 on March 22 at 6 p.m.