The process of researching Le Boeuf Sur le Toit already seems to be a daunting task. Aside from a basic summary found in the New Grove Music Encyclopedia, academic sources on this Parisian nightclub are mainly brief references to the famous (Nota bene famous – one would think the research would be relatively easy) haunt of French writers, artists, and musicians. There are many false leads as well; Le Boeuf Sur le Toit is the name of a Brazilian-inspired piece by Milhaud. This is not necessarily without any merit to my paper though, as the nightclub is named after the Brazilian song on which Milhaud later based his work.
After attempting to research Le Boeuf Sur le Toit on a few databases, I switched to using the English instead (the ox on the roof). A particularly amusing search on EBSCOhost of “the ox on the roof” revealed a quite diverse collection of articles on topics ranging anywhere from “Effects of shoot-applied gibberellin/gibberellin-biosynthesis inhibitors on root growth and expression of gibberellin biosynthesis genes in Arabidopsis thaliana” to “Validation of a new method for directional dust monitoring“. Back to the drawing board.
Finally I stumbled upon a successful lead in the form of a book entitled “The Ox on the Roof: Scene from Musical Life in Paris in the 20s”. As the Kirkuk Review said in 1972, this book is “A merry bagatelle of Parisian bohemia which swoops down on ‘The Six’ … Harding is as playful as his subjects, eschewing all semblance of formal musicology in favor of a spirited recreation of the bouleyard atmosphere which nurtured the group”. While this will be a broader look at the musical life of Paris at the time, it will hopefully provide a glance into life in the famous cabaret as well.
The pianist Alexandre Tharaud released an album in 2012 that draws inspiration from the cabaret Le Boeuf Sur le Toit. It features popular hits from the 20s including music of Ravel, Gershwin, and W.C. Handy, to name a few. Tharaud explains life in the nightclub: “Every evening you would come across composers like Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, and the members of Les Six … even Stravinsky! There were French popular singers like Maurice Chevalier, Yvonne Georges, Kiki de Montparnasse and then, among the throng, lots of artists, such as Man Ray, Diaghilev, Coco Chanel, Georges Simenon … though they came from different worlds, everybody on the Paris scene came to Le Boeuf Sur le Toit for jazz and new music amidst the excitement of the Roaring Twenties … [it is immortalized] in the French term for having a jam session, faire le boeuf” (Amazon Editorial Review of Alexandre Tharaud’s Swinging Paris: Le Boeuf Sur le Toit). This demonstrates the great influence the nightclub enjoyed at the time, and continues to relish in today in the works of contemporary musicians.