One of the all-time great jazz violinists (ranking with Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith as one of the big three of pre-bop), Stéphane Grappelli's longevity and consistently enthusiastic playing did a great deal to establish the violin as a jazz instrument. He was originally self-taught as both a violinist and a pianist, although during 1924-28 he studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Grappelli played in movie theaters and dance bands before meeting guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1933. They hit it off musically from the start even though their lifestyles (Grappelli was sophisticated while Django was a gypsy) were very different. Together as Quintet of the Hot Club of France (comprised of violin, three acoustic guitars and bass) during 1933-39 they produced a sensational series of recordings and performances. During a London engagement in 1939, World War II broke out. Reinhardt rashly decided to return to France but Grappelli stayed in England, effectively ending the group. The violinist soon teamed up with the young pianist George Shearing in a new band that worked steadily through the war. In 1946, Grappelli and Reinhardt had the first of several reunions although they never worked together again on a regular basis (despite many new recordings). Grappelli performed throughout the 1950s and '60s in clubs throughout Europe and, other than recordings with Duke Ellington (Violin Summit) and Joe Venuti, he remained somewhat obscure in the U.S. until he began regularly touring the world in the early '70s. Since then Grappelli has been a constant traveler and a consistent poll-winner, remaining very open-minded without altering his swing style; he has recorded with David Grisman, Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Larry Coryell, Oscar Peterson, Jean Luc Ponty and McCoy Tyner among many others. Active up until near the end, the increasingly frail Grappelli remained at the top of his field even when he was 89. His early recordings are all available on Classics CDs and he recorded quite extensively during his final three decades.
© Scott Yanow /TiVo