Monday, January 26, 2015

Stephane Grappelli: Inventor Of The Jazz Violin

Stephane Grappelli, the unsurpassed master of the jazz violin, entertained audiences almost to the very day he died in 1997 at the age of 89.  There was happiness and optimism in virtually every note of his music, even when those notes brought nostalgia and its touch of sadness to mind. No question he loved what he did and it flowed straight to his listeners. I doubt his songs ever came to an end without a sea of smiles in the audience.

Here is Grappelli in late 1995 performing with Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, John Burr on bass, and guest guitarist, John Pizzarelli, at the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in New York.

Grappelli was born is Paris, grew up poor and made a marginal living as a self-taught street violinist and silent film accompanist on the piano. In 1934 he met a gypsy guitarist named Django Reinhard - we commemorated his birthday a few days ago -  and with him formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France, an ensemble that would make history in the world of jazz and popular music.

Grappelli made his American debut in 1960, long after the Hot Club dissolved, and enjoyed a second career playing to admiring fans around the world for the next 35 years. I find it interesting that Grappelli was almost forgotten in the U.S. until he began touring in the 1970s when he was well into his 60s. One would think that a jazz virtuoso would be well known in the country that birthed the genre. How thankful we should be that he was "rediscovered" here and lived to entertain us for so many years.

Here is one example of that entertainment, a stunning performance of Nuages, a jazz standard composed by Django Reinhardt. The recording features Grappelli with Oscar Peterson on piano, Joe Pass on guitar, and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen on bass. 

Yep. Simply stunning.

To conclude, here is the Quintette du Hot Club de France in their classic performance of Minor Swing, composed by Reinhardt and Grappell in the mid-1930's:

Yes, it's another jazz standard, and still going strong after eighty years. 

No comments: