Stéphane Grappelli

Stephane Grappelli was born on January 26, 1908 in Paris, France. Attracted to the music from his earliest youth, Stephane learned to play piano first. At the age of thirteen, his father (a philosophy teacher of Italian origin) got him a second-hand violin and taught him the scales. The boy was spellbound. He had some formal training ? four years at the Paris Conservatoire, but was mostly self-taught. Desperately poor, Stephane worked in a cinema accompanying silent pictures and in dance bands. ?In the cinema I had to play Mozart principally, but was allowed some Gershwin in funny films. Then I discovered jazz and my vocation, and kissed Amadeus goodbye?. It was not by chance that he loved Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the two jazziest impressionists of the turn of the century, that frequented the same Paris Conservatoire; their deep effect on Grappelli's improvisation style was pervasive.

The French were the first among Europeans to welcome jazz and Django Reinhardt was the first authentic non-American genius of jazz. That was the scenario in which the young Stephane Grappelli met Django and, inspired by the guitar/violin model of Venuti and Eddie Lang, formed with him the Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. In the five years that followed, the Hot Club performances and recordings resulted in the most transcendent jazz ever made for this kind of casting. Arm-in-arm with Joe Venuti, Stuff Smith and Claude Williams, Grappelli invented the swing jazz violin. As a rule, gifted improvisers are ingenuous composers; Grappelli and Reinhardt composed many of their pieces together and thus created the basics of this genre repertoire.

The Second World War found Grappelli in England. He reunited occasionally with Reinhardt after the war, until the guitarist's death in 1953, but never reached the magic started that first night at the Croix du Sud Montparnasse. The war could not stop Grappelli who, from his hospital bed, formed a group in London with the blind pianist George Shearing and a one-legged bass player. Grappelli's fame faded in the 1950s, but his American debut at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1969 with the revival of roots music, from ragtime to bluegrass, made him known internationally.

In the '70s Grappelli recorded a series of albums with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin that introduced him to the Menuhin's mannerly spectators. However, Grappelli's real breakthrough happened at the 1973 UK Cambridge Folk Festival (accompanied by Disley and Denny Wright); his performance was sensational. For the following twenty years, already a legend, he toured the world in one breath, playing the most prestigious venues in the UK, Europe, the USA and the Far East. Grappelli died in Paris on Dec. 1, 1997.