Jacques Boni – the hard-working, hard-driving owner/director of the Trois Mailletz cabaret in Paris in the Latin Quarter – died March 21, 2020 in Paris from the coronavirus at age 80.
Jacques had been at the helm of Trois Mailletz for 43 years. Jacques mentored more than 1,000 singers in his storied career – of which some 100 have become world-famous or regional celebrities in the music industry. Here is the story behind his accomplished legacy.
Jacques Boni was celebrating his 43rd anniversary this year as the owner/director of Aux Trois Mailletz, a well-known “traditional cabaret” (no nudity) in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
Jacques was involved in the day-to-day management of the Trois Mailletz franchise for over four decades. Amazingly, even before the club shutdown due to the French national lockdown in response to the coronavirus, Jacques showed no sign of slowing down as he approached age 81. Jacques was, no doubt, one of the hardest working people in show business for his age.
Unfortunately, Jacques fell ill after his last night of work at Trois Mailletz on March 14 (bar shutdown night), and was hospitalized in Paris where he stayed until his death.
“Jacques was the heart and soul of Trois Mailletz for over 40 years,” says Linda Lee Hopkins, a former singer at the club. “Trois Mailletz is a niche – the last cabaret of its kind in Paris. Jacques knew his music and knew what to look for in a singer.”
“How wonderful Jacques was,” says current singer Jenni Jade Ledesna. “He was a master at getting the best out of every singer. He was a very caring and loving man.”
Trois Mailletz is located on the picturesque and cobblestoned Rue Galande on the Left Bank in Paris opposite of Notre Dame. The club is downstairs in a haunting and inspiring cave, which dates back to the birth of Paris. Jacques usually presided over the lively and often raucous underground cabaret seven nights a week. He generally worked until 6 am in the morning, and 80-plus work hour weeks were the rule for Jacques. Only recently did Jacques start taking summer vacations in August as is the tradition in France. During his life, Jacques was probably awake more during the nighttime than the day.
Silver-haired and often wearing his trademark red-framed glasses, Jacques greeted the majority of his guests as they paraded into the Trois Mailletz cave. Jacques typically took a seat in the back of the long, stone-arched cave and directed a show that is no longer common in Paris.
The Trois Mailletz show can be classified as “traditional French cabaret” – meaning singing and dancing are featured, with no nudity. The show involved a talented group of up-and-coming singers, interspersed with dancing interludes (although the dancing was phased out recently).
Jacques generally introduced each act and customized the show depending on the audience, which was a mix of locals and tourists. There as an occasional visit by a famous French actor, model or dancer on any given night. The clientele also included world-famous celebrities such as American actor Johnny Depp, who made a surprise appearance at the club last autumn, playing guitar to an awe-struck audience.
Jacques' Unique World Music Platform
Over the years, Jacques developed a unique show that involved a “world music” platform. Jacques was proud of this innovation that he established in Paris in the 1980s. “World music” involves having performers from various countries sing an array of tantalizing songs in many different languages. Or, alternatively, popular songs, such as Frank Sinatra’s My Way, is sung in several different languages.
Trois Mailletz’ world-music promotions that read: “Live! Band in a famous cave: midnight to 5 am! Representing Russia, Italy, France, Guadalupe, Croatia, Senegal, Brazil, Morocco, England, Tunisia, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Serbia, Sweden, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Bronx NYC, Madagascar, Iran, Norway, Georgia and more!”
The show each night involves a cast of singers (5 to 7-plus singers) with a full accompanying band. The place features two levels: an upstairs piano bar and underground cabaret. And the talent is immeasurable: The singers you see at Trois Mailletz tonight may release an album the next day or appear on your TV on The Voice (the French, African or other version) the following week.
You can check your travel web sites, but there is no other place like Trois Mailletz in Paris anymore. Trois Mailletz is located in the heart of Paris and is open very late, long after most places have closed (open until around 5 or 6 am when the sun might be coming up, thanks to special permitting that allows such late nights in Paris). As a bonus, the cozy venue serves dinner until closing.
‘Heart and Soul’ of Trois Mailletz
How to summarize it all? Jacques’ story is told here as a result of many interviews with Jacques in recent years.
Jacques owned Trois Mailletz since 1977. In his 43 years of directing, Jacques recruited and mentored more than 1,000 singers. Of these, about 100 went on to be world-famous or regional celebrities in the music industry. Not many in the music industry can attest to such an accomplishment.
Linda Lee Hopkins, the former singer at the club, called Jacques “the heart and soul of Trois Mailletz. Jacques was in the back corner of Trois Mailletz for over 40 years. Jacques knew how to integrate all the singers. Each singer sang in his or her own language. He reached out to people from all countries.”
Jacques’ life story and his 43 years of directing the Trois Mailletz franchise is movie material. Numerous performers began (or renewed) their careers with Jacques. The list is long and includes the legendary jazz singer Nina Simone; master trumpeter Arturo Sandoval; salsa singer Yuri Buenaventura; and Brazilian samba singer Elza Soares, to name a few who performed on the world stage after Trois Mailletz.
Well-known regional stars who began at Trois Mailletz under Jacques’ direction include French singer Dany Brillant; American jazz and gospel singer Linda Lee Hopkins; French jazz singer Anne Ducros; and the jazzy and soulful Zaz, again to name a few.
“We train new singers,” Jacques was fond of saying.
Like any mentor, Jacques experienced a love-hate relationship over the years with his corps of singers.
Current Trois Mailletz singer Pascal Toussaint, an ex-opera singer and rare male soprano, said this recently before Jacques death: “Jacques had such a special style, it’s hard to describe. If Jacques was the main character of a movie that I wrote, people would ask: ‘Why did you exaggerate this character so much?’ Jacques was a great boss, but he can be as lovable as he can be hate-able.”
“In the beginning, we would fight regularly,” Pascal said. Once, Pascal said he threw his microphone at Jacques because Jacques was talking during his song: “I realized later that we fought because we were so passionate in what we do. The expectations of each other are really high.
“We are a better team because of the battles,” Pascal continues. “Jacques keeps you alive in your job. When on stage, it is a battle. The audience doesn’t give a damn about you. You have to make them stay. You have to have that warrior temperament. It’s work. It’s a battle.
“Jacques wanted to be an artist but when he couldn’t, he redirected his energy to make others successful. He pushes you to be the best you can be. He is the arm and we are the hand.
“I’ve learned so much from Jacques. He wants people to move to next stage of their careers, but he gets jealous, like a father. Jacques sees his children grow up, but doesn’t want them to grow up.”
Born in France – with Italian and Chilean Roots
For the record, “Egidio Jacques Boni” was born on August 1, 1939 in Nancy, France, and was therefore technically a Frenchman.
But Jacques’ family heritage covers a lot more geography – ranging from Italy and France to Chile. It’s a little complicated but here’s Jacques’ life story in a nutshell:
- Father from Italy: Jacques’ father, Luigi Boni, grew up in Spoleto, Italy and was a well-regarded construction manager. Think Italy.
- Father moved to Chile: In 1936, Jacques’ father, Luigi, moved away from Italy to escape the hostile political climate created by Benito Mussolini, who would become a dictator and side with Germany during World War II. Luigi moved to far-away Chile where some of his family members had already escaped to. Think Chile.
- Successful business in Chile: In Chile, Luigi (Jacques’ father) worked in a family business established by Jacques’ uncle (Alfredo Boni). The business was naturally construction, centered in the port town of Valparaiso, Chile. Jacques’ uncle at that time became “a very rich man,” according to Jacques.
- Mother from Chile. It was in Chile where Luigi (Jacques’ father) met Adriana Carey, and they married in short order. Adriana was Chilean from a local farming family, with Irish heritage. Adriana would become Jacques’ mother.
- Back to Europe where Jacques was born. In a twist of fate, Jacques’ father and future mother returned to Italy in 1939 to help Jacques’ grandfather (Jean-Giovanni Boni, a socialist in opposition to Mussolini) escape Mussolini’s rule. But the Boni family had issues leaving Italy and fled over the Alps into France. The Boni family was temporarily blocked from returning to Chile, and that’s when Jacques was born in Nancy, France in 1939. Think France.
- Jacques’ childhood years. The Boni family returned to Chile where Jacques lived from ages 1 to 7. Think Chile again.
- Back to France. In 1945, Jacques’ family returned to France to assist for a second time in rescuing their grandfather (Jean-Giovanni Boni), who had returned earlier to Italy only to be taken a political prisoner for several months. The grandfather was eventually released and they all settled in Paris after World War II. Think France again.
Feel free to reread the above bullet points to assimilate the details of Jacques’ life story. The long journey that the Boni family took before ending up in Paris takes many twists and turns. But long story short, Jacques was born a Frenchman, but his parents were from Italy and Chile, and they all eventually settled in Paris as a safe haven after World War II. Now you know.
Jacques Formative Years – He Almost Became a Lawyer
Now for the rest of the story… Jacques’ formative years were spent in Paris so that makes him a true Parisian.
In the late 1960s, Jacques studied law and political science at the University of Paris-Assas in Paris. Jacques’ intention was to become a lawyer (an “avocet” in French), and he was making great progress in his studies during his university days. It appeared then that Jacques was indeed going to be become a lawyer. (Tell this to all his recent and former singers! Maybe, this is where Jacques’ mind set was coming from.)
However, there was a sudden change of course, as Jacques’ father (Luigi) abruptly had his business go bankrupt in Paris when Jacques was half way through law school. Consequently, Jacques was forced to work to finance his studies, as well as help keep his family financially afloat.
To this end, at age 28, Jacques opened a small, intimate bar called Polly Maggoo in the Latin Quarter in Paris. The timing of Jacques’ entry into the bar business occurred at an extraordinary time – this is when the student revolutionary days of the late 1960s occurred. Polly Maggoo became a popular hangout for revolutionists and intellectuals, and Jacques was a willing catalyst to the revolution.
Jacques could talk for hours about his early days as a bar owner at Polly Magoo and all the intriguing people he interacted with. This chapter in Jacques’ life was related to me in this story linked here: Future Trois Mailletz Owner, Jacques Boni, Enters the Bar Business during French Student Revolts.
Polly Magoo’s popularity, however, waned as the French student revolts subsided in 1969. So Jacques turned to new career as a show director at the Caveau de la Bolée in nearby Saint-Michel in Paris in the early 1970s. This was as turning point in Jacques’ career. Jacques developed a variety show at Caveau de la Bolée with singers, comedians and magicians. “It was a patch work of entertainment,” Jacques said before his death. Jacques hired singers from various parts of the world (such as Serbia and Russia), and his showcasing of international talent would become the basis of his “world music” concept that he perfected at Trois Mailletz.
Jacques never did finished law school and instead jumped head first into the world of entertainment.
The Trois Mailletz Cave and its History
Trois Mailletz soon came into Jacques’ life. But first some background…
Jacques Boni’s story revolves around the famous Trois Mailletz cave that housed his nightly cabaret shows. The medieval cave is thought to be some 2,000 years old, dating back to the origins of Paris (when Paris was a Roman garrison town called Lutetia).
The Trois Mailletz cave was likely a hideaway for many renegades and guerrillas over the centuries, including French Revolutionists. Later, from all indications, the Trois Mailletz cave became a prison (metal shackles still adorn the walls there) and then possibly a holding cell for dead bodies headed to local cemeteries. Maybe you can sense Trois Mailletz’ haunting past when you are there!
The first known business at Trois Mailletz was a hotelier (boarding house) in the year 1280 AD, when it was recorded that property taxes were paid by an establishment named Hostelerie des Mailletz, according to Jacques. The area was called Mailletz since 1200, which means hammer or mallet.
More recently in 1948, Trois Mailletz was established as a “traditional intimate cabaret”, owned by actress Denise Calvet and featuring Léo Ferré (poet, composer and cabaret singer) and Catherine Sauvage (French singer and actress). Aux Trois Mailletz means “The Three Mallets” in English, a nod to these three founders.
Soon after, however, Trois Mailletz shifted from being a cabaret to a jazz club just a year later around 1949. This began great jazz era of Trois Mailletz.
Three foreign investors (one from China) infused money into the operation as the Trois Mailletz’ building was rebuilt after the war.
Trois Mailletz mainly catered to American GI’s and their spouses who remained in Paris after World War II. A host of famous jazz artists played Trois Mailletz during that time to pay tribute to American soldiers who had liberated Paris during World War II.
The list of jazz greats that played at Trois Mailletz during that 1940s and 1950s era (before Jacque’s involvement) is overwhelming and included Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltran, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lil Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Bill Coleman, Bud Powell, Sidney Bechet and Memphis Slim, to name the most famous. Most of these appearances were limited occasions, similar to how Bob Hope entertained troops in Viet Nam. These memorable performances in the hallowed confines of the Trois Mailletz cave are what make the venue legendary!
Nonetheless, Trois Mailletz’ glory days as a jazz club began to fade in 1958, when then French president Charles de Gaulle, in wanting an independent defense force, asked non-French troops to leave France. As American GI’s steadily left the country over the next several years, the famous jazz performers stopped coming to Trois Mailletz – except for pianist Memphis Slim who settled in Paris and played at Trois Mailletz until 1965. You can still buy online recordings of Memphis Slim and bassist Willie Dixon live at Trois Mailletz during two sessions in 1962.
By 1967, all American GI’s had left France and Trois Mailletz struggled to attract a new crowd to sustain its business. In 1974, the club closed due to financial troubles. Nobody was immediately interested in taking over the place, and for three years, the Trois Mailletz cave literally collected cobwebs. It was a shock that the renowned Trois Mailletz jazz club – where some of jazz’s all-time greats had performed – was suddenly dark.
Enter the unexpected figure of Jacques Boni.
Jacques Boni Resurrects Trois Mailletz
One day in the late 1970s, Jacques unexpectedly came upon one of the Trois Mailletz’ disenfranchised owners in the streets of the Latin Quarter, who asked him if he wanted to buy Trois Mailletz. With his financial standing greatly improved over the years, Jacques indicated his interest and eventually struck a deal. He reopened Trois Mailletz in 1977 as its new owner and show director.
After cutting his teeth as a self-taught cabaret director at the nearby Caveau de la Bolée for five years, as mentioned above, Jacques had built enough confidence in his newfound ability to direct cabaret shows and attract spectators.
During my many interviews with Jacques in recent years, I asked him why he bought Trois Mailletz.
“At first, it was to defend the French culture of cabarets,” Jacques said. “If you sang French songs back then, it was not in fashion.” However, his vision of a French cabaret didn’t materialize.
Ironically, the first 10 years of shows at Trois Mailletz under Jacques’ direction generally involved American jazz standards and blues. In a way, Jacques continued the Trois Mailletz jazz tradition, unconsciously trying to revive its glory days. An American movie during the time called the Cotton Club (centered on a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s) reinforced Jacques’ ambition to revive jazz at Trois Mailletz. In addition, he had the freedom to play popular American songs due their low royalty fees.
So, initially, Jacques continued the jazz tradition at Trois Mailletz by booking jazz singers.
Some of those early jazz performers during Jacques’ initial era at Trois Mailletz included Spunky Wilson, Lavelle, Maunda Djui, Maurice Andre and Frank Pouicel. These performers came and went as Jacques followed the typical show business practice of simply booking acts.
“At first, we were doing jazz in a jazz club the same old way,” Jacques said. “But people did not come.” As a result, Trois Mailletz did was not a well-frequented establishment in those early days.
But in the 1980s, Jacques slowly began to change the way Trois Mailletz operated, which required tapping into his financial resources. Upstairs from the cabaret, Jacques expanded the piano bar by buying a hair stylist shop next door. The piano bar would become instrumental is grooming singers for the cabaret.
In addition, Jacques established an in-house band to support singers. The idea came upon Jacques when a musician named Zanini was booked to play at Trois Mailletz for four nights. After low attendance the first three nights, Zanini offered to play the fourth night for free as a gesture of goodwill. However, Zanini’s bassist didn’t agreed with the plan and walked out, leaving the band short-handed. This gave Jacques the idea to recruit and maintain his own in-house band, which he continued to do over the years.
“The power of Trois Mailletz is the band,” Jacques said. Jacques thus was able to bring in solo singers; he didn’t need to hire a whole group. “Singers can come to Paris alone and sing at Trois Mailletz,” Jacques said. In fact, the well-respected jazz pianist Bernard Maury played with the Trois Mailletz in-house band in those early days.
Nina Simone Puts Trois Mailletz on the Map
During its first few years in business, as stated, Trois Mailletz did not do too well. But this changed once Jacques cajoled and recruited legendary artist Nina Simone to play at Trois Mailletz in 1982 and the club sold out night after night. Simone, one of the all-time great jazz singers and pianists, found refuge at Trois Mailletz in Paris during a troubling time of her career. Simone went from rags to riches in the USA, and then back to rags in Paris, where Jacques saved her career and possibly her life. Simone’s outrageous two-year history at Trois Mailletz and the benevolent actions of Jacques in nurturing the troubled star was related to me by Jacques in a three-part series, with the first installment linked here: What Happened at Trois Mailletz, Miss Simone? (Part 1)
Simone was the recipient of Jacques’ incredible benefaction, which saved her from harm or even death (as befell another famous American singer, Jim Morrison, who died in Paris before Simone’s time in 1971).
After Nina Simone put Trois Mailletz on the map, Jacques worked tirelessly to make the club successful, incorporating diverse musical roots that led to his world-music platform.
A Who’s Who of Trois Mailletz Singers
With some 1,000 singers having worked under Jacques’ tutelage at Trois Mailletz, he saw all kinds of singers with all kinds of personalities and backgrounds.
“We’re like a small school. We train new singers,” Jacques said. “After two or three years at Trois Mailletz, people sing better because they sing every night. The throat is a muscle and it needs to be exercised and it gets stronger.”
Often, Jacques used his intuition to gauge if someone could be a stand-out singer, and hired singers on the spot after hearing them sing on stage for the first time. He often groomed singers in the upstairs piano bar before having them take center stage in the cabaret downstairs. Jacques was even known to recruit singers off the street, with French singer Dany Brillant being one notable example.
Because there have been so many singers at Trois Mailletz over the years, Jacques not surprisingly had a hard time remembering all the names and dates they sang at Trois Mailletz. Jacques had his share of American, Latin, and Senegal singers in addition to local French singers perform at his club. Indeed, I am finalizing a fairly comprehensive list of the most memorable singers to perform at Trois Mailletz over Jacques’ 43 years of directing his unique show (to be released in the near future).
Having numerous singers come and go at Trois Mailletz never bothered Jacques. “It was hard to keep the troops together,” Jacques said. “My singers often needed a change and they’d leave. But that would open the door for new singers and a new show. When I lose someone, it’s a new beginning for the club. They don’t believe in Trois Mailletz, they believe in themselves. I believe in myself and the music. When people leave, I have no feeling. I am disappointed but not unhappy. I have opened the door for others. Along comes another performer!”
During all the adventure in Jacques’ life in the club business, he has always found time to have a family and find love:
- Jacques married his first wife Francoise in 1973 and had two children with her, including oldest son Alex who worked for a time at Trois Mailletz as a presenter introducing acts. Unfortunately, Alex died in 2016 after drug and alcohol abuse.
- At his death, Jacques’ was married to Rabia, who previously worked at Trois Mailletz as an accountant. Jacque and Rabia had two daughters who are now aged about 15 and 10 years as of this writing, both recently interested in playing the cello.
Like I said, Jacques life story is movie material and maybe this will happen someday. There are thousands of other antidotes of Jacques’ life that people can recall. He suddenly lost hearing in his right ear about 10 years ago and always sat turned to the music and people with his left ear. He was surprisingly into astrology. He had a cadre of strong bouncers at his clubs who sometimes acted like bodyguards. He had a heart condition two years ago and required a stent, but he was back at work within weeks strong as ever.
All the people that Jacques worked with and knew are in shock over his death, compounded by the earth-shattering consequences of the coronavirus today. The coronavirus is a world tragedy and now Jacques Boni will always be associated with it.
Jacques created a multi-faceted entertainment and eating venue that allowed people to escape into a cave and enjoy life with friends and newfound friends alike. Jacques directed his shows and business with tireless effort and made Trois Mailletz a welcoming and comforting place. The performances that Jacques orchestrated over the years will never be forgotten by those who frequented his famous cave. The legacy of Jacques Boni, who would have been age 81 this summer, will always be remembered and the show at Trois Mailletz must go on without him. That’s what he would have wanted.
Related story originally published in 2015 and updated in 2019:
© 2020 R Jonathan
Linda Lee Hopkins on March 22, 2020:
I remember one night when I was singing and the people seemed not to be paying attention, so I hopped up on the table and the place went wild. That was the beginning of the artists singing on the table. When I did it the first time, the tables weren't nailed down and the plates and drinks went flying everywhere!! LOL. What a great experience. R.I.P. Jacques
Francisco LoPEZ on March 21, 2020:
I did work at Les Trois Mailletz from 1990 to 2000 as Piano player at the Piano - Bar and with the band down at the Cave. That place was really special, a constant parade of artists, singers, musicians and dancers for sure; but also many many others. Visitors and clients if every night. As it was open from 18:00 till 6:00 am. ( All night long). You could easily spend each magic night meting famous and rare people there. Thanks Jacques for the opportunity of being part of that great “Family of pals”. Bar tenders, waiters and chefs... all the staff. Such a great nights of spectacle and stories we experience there! Blessings for you all. PACO LoPEZ. Baja California MEXICO.
Jean Loup Longnon on March 21, 2020:
Jacques was a marvelous sweet-tyranic mentorof plenty of artists. We all love him and will miss him,but are readyto carry-on and defend the work of his life : Trois-Mailletz witch should continue to live.