Savannah Morning News column
Jan. 12, 2014
I was looking for tennis player Serena Williams. Instead I found singer Julie Rose Wilde. That’s Paris. Not a bad trade. Serena, citing anonymity, likes to practice there. Julie, always looking to step up her musical game, thought it would be a great place to make an album. I wanted to practice my French, drink red wine without sulfides and see the Musee d’Orsay, once a grand railroad station, today a grand museum.
I wanted to get lost in this café society of liberte, egalite and fraternite. Which I did, somewhere on the No. 4 Metro line, on the way to find Julie. Lost in the “camera roll” of my phone.
“I take you there,” said a kindly conductor after the train stopped and everyone else had departed. No attitude. He backed up a stop, watched us get off the platform and smiled.
Then I took another gamble. In front of Julie’s rented apartment on rue Mouton Duvernet. I spotted an open door on the second floor balcony in this city of decorative wrought-iron balconies and spoke her name. “Julie?” No one should mind. There’s always a buzz in Paris. People linger. In the cafes. At the markets. In glassed-in patios. They plot. They talk. They hook their pocketbooks, hats or canes on a clasp under the bar and stay awhile. No one hassles you to leave.
It worked. She heard me. Paris is a big city, two-and-a-half million, but few buildings are taller than four stories, by design. They care about proportions. They appreciate aesthetics.
Julie and collaborator Austin Smith were putting the final touches on, “Mystery of Love in Paris,” a big band, gypsy, jazzy album matching Julie’s compositions and voice, Austin’s orchestration, and the strings, horns and talents of 27 local musicians.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” said Julie, who lives on Isle of Hope, another dream. “I’m sitting in the Hector Berlioz School of Music, laying down tracks, doing the over-dubs and making this happen.”
Believe it. This woman can make things happen. She recorded her last album in Nashville, then went to Paris to promote it. She sang with street bands and in a cabaret near the Moulin Rouge. She raised funds on an Austin-produced Indiegogo Kickstarter campaign where Julie sings in a dynamite black dress, black gloves and red rose. She secured quarters in Paris. And that’s when she called Austin from Notre Dame and said, “You have to be here.”
“It’s been in my mind forever,” Julie said, “to go to Paris and sing.”
There were a few chapters that came first.
Like Garden City, where Julie grew up, where her father was the fire chief. Like West 36th Street, where she and her sister took piano lessons. Like Georgia Southern University where she got undergraduate and graduate degrees after skipping 12th grade at Groves High School.
In and around music there was her downtown shop, Native Secrets; and her current jobs as a vocal coach to some 20 students, and an interior designer for the Kessler Collection Hotels, including The Mansion on Forsyth Park.
But there’s always been music. She taught for eight years in Savannah schools, then lived in Atlanta to work in a music theater. At an American Traditions workshop in Savannah she met a teacher in Los Angeles, where she went for more training. Then there was a teacher in New York City. Now there is her own group, The Bohemian Dream Band.
Before arriving in Paris Julie came armed with guitar parts from guitarist Bill Smith, Austin’s father. When she and Austin needed a guitarist at the last minute they engaged a prominent bassist, Bureli Lagrene, who lives in Strasbourg. When they needed more strings they secured a well-known French jazz violinist, Didier Lockwood.
“I can’t help myself,” Julie said. “This is who I am. I’m always thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we, well, you know,” she said, her voice trailing off. “I just love the process. I just think you have to take risks.”
For me, the only thing left to do on my last day in Paris was to go hear some jazz on a late Sunday afternoon. We took a Metro to La Chope des Puces, a club on Rue Rosiers, where Django Reinhardt used to live. As with all French gatherings there were kids, old people, young people (all wearing rakish scarves, of course). The guitarists, including Ninine Garcia, were polished, casual. They had a following. But I couldn’t help wishing that a jazz singer from the Isle of Hope was out there fronting the duo, offering a little swing, a little soul, a little mystery.