THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL STÉPHANE GRAPPELLI by Scott Albin



 Stéphane Grappelli, by Jos L. Knaepen

Below are twelve essential tracks drawn from the long and illustrious career of violinist Stéphane Grappelli. The emphasis here is on Grappelli’s collaborations with other notable musicians, including other violinists. These meetings seemed to challenge and inspire all concerned. Needless to say, for a recording career that lasted over 60 years, this is just a glimpse at some of the innumerable highlights.

A second Grappelli “dozens,” for example, might include equally vital tracks from his encounters with Joe Venuti, Earl Hines, George Shearing, Barney Kessel, Jean-Luc Ponty and Yehudi Menuhin, and a sampling of the exciting young guitarists who graced his working groups over the years, such as Marc Fosset and Martin Taylor. Or perhaps a piece from his score for the film May Fools. With as vast and consistently fine a discography as Grappelli’s, there is a wealth of gems to explore.

In the program notes for “The Grappelli Legacy: Swing and Beyond,” an all-star celebration of Grappelli that took place at Carnegie Hall in December 1998, a year after his death, violinist Marc O’Connor made the following observations: “Stéphane Grappelli’s violin music was touched by magic and genius; he created a tradition through his innovations. The contribution of this singular stylist was monumental, the likes of which we may never see again. He was almost too good to be true. Here is to Stéphane Grappelli, the greatest natural violinist in the world. My colleagues and I will be talking and playing Grappelli for the rest of our lives, you can be sure.”


Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt: Ultrafox

Track

Ultrafox

Group

Quintette du Hot Club de France

CD

Django Reinhardt / Quintet of the Hot Club of France – First Recordings! (OJC/Prestige OJCCD-1895-2)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Django Reinhardt (guitar),

Roger Chaput, Joseph Reinhardt (rhythm guitars), Louis Vola (bass)

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Composed by Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt

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Recorded: Paris, April 1935

Albumcoverdjangoreinhardt-firstrecordings

Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt met in 1931, but did not play together until 1933, at which time the idea for a string quintet began to form (although Django would have preferred a drummer to a third guitar). The Quintette du Hot Club de France recorded from 1934 until 1939, when World War II led to its breakup. While Django received much of the acclaim, Stéphane shared the solo space and more than held his own. On the medium-tempo "Ultrafox" (the title a takeoff on the Ultraphone record company which released the side), Grappelli engagingly plays the jaunty theme that sounds a bit like "Four or Five Times." Django solos first with delicate, precise lines, then a contrasting chordal section, and finally back to glittering extended runs. Grappelli enters swinging hard, displaying a full, glowing tone and ripping off flawlessly executed lines comparable in impact to Django's, ending with a neat stop-and-start coda punctuated by the guitarist's strummed counterpoint.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Eddie South and Stéphane Grappelli: Daphné

Track

Daphné

Artist

Eddie South (violin) and Stéphane Grappelli (violin)

CD

Eddie South in Paris: 1929 & 1937 (DRG 8405)

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Musicians:

Eddie South (violin), Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Django Reinhardt (guitar),

Roger Chaput (rhythm guitar), Wilson Myers (bass)

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Composed by Django Reinhardt

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Recorded: Paris, September 29, 1937

Albumcovereddiesouthinparis

Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

Eddie South spent the years 1928 to 1931 in Paris and other parts of Europe both performing and studying, and was one of Stéphane Grappelli's early inspirations, although Grappelli was mostly playing piano for a living during those years. When South returned to Paris in 1937, he in turn was inspired by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and recording sessions soon resulted. South and Grappelli basically play a series of heated exchanges on this track, bookended by the familiar theme. Grappelli is mainly distinguished by his richer tone, not as thin as South's more classical sound. Their phrasings, however, are remarkably similar. Django Reinhardt arranged the piece and provides energetic and imaginative support that nicely frames the two violinists' expressive and technically polished improvisations. South's career never really took off, resulting in few quality record dates. If not for that, instead of a "Big Three" – Grappelli, Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith – setting the standard for jazz violin, there would probably be a "Big Four" that included the gifted Eddie South.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt: After You've Gone

Track

After You've Gone

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and Django Reinhardt (guitar)

CD

Djangology 49 (Bluebird 90448)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Django Reinhardt (guitar),

Gianni Safred (piano), Carlo Recori (bass), Aurelio de Cavolis (drums)

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Composed by Henry Creamer and Turner Layton

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Recorded: Rome, January or February, 1949

Albumcoverdjangoreinhardt-djangology49

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

The start of World War II broke up the popular Quintette du Hot Club de France, then touring England, with Stéphane Grappelli remaining in London for the duration of the conflict, while Django Reinhardt returned to France. Beginning in 1946, the two reunited periodically up until their last recordings in Italy in 1949. As one hears on this track from those final sessions, their playing by then had taken on a new level of assuredness and virtuosity, no doubt indirectly influenced by the innovations of bebop. Except for the pianist's brief intro, the Italian rhythm section goes almost unnoticed. It is the astonishing, swiftly executed solos of both leaders, as well as Django's almost manic rhythm guitar support for Stéphane, that nearly overwhelm the listener. It would be another 20 years before Grappelli's popularity began to accelerate, and it continued to do so for almost another 30 years after that. Django, alas, would drift through the next, and last, four frustrating years of his life.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli: Body and Soul

Track

Body and Soul

Artist

CD

Jazz in Paris: Improvisations (Verve 549242)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin),

Maurice Vander (piano), Pierre Michelot (bass), Baptiste “Mac Kac” Reilles (drums)

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Composed by Johnny Green and Edward Heyman

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Recorded: Paris, April 10, 1956

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-jazzinparis-improvisations

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Stéphane Grappelli's career flew a bit under the radar in the 1950s, although he toured Europe and England and regularly played club, hotel and cabaret dates. A first American tour with Django Reinhardt was planned in 1953, but Stéphane could not locate the elusive Gypsy and then learned that Django had died of a stroke. This track from 1956 shows Grappelli in top form, and as masterful as ever on a ballad. His embellished reading of the melody recalls Coleman Hawkins to some extent, but the gracefully structured lines and gorgeous tone are uniquely his own. Stéphane seasons his solo with a speck of dissonance here and there, and some characteristic swoops into the upper register. For contrast he also speeds up some of his runs, displaying impressive technique while doing so. Pianist Vander's understated accompaniment adds just the right touch.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli & Stuff Smith: How High The Moon

Track

How High The Moon

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and Stuff Smith (violin)

CD

Jazz in Paris: Stuff and Steff (Universal Music 016510-2)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Stuff Smith (violin),

René Urtreger (piano), Michel Gaudry (bass), Michel Delaporte (drums)

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Composed by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis

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Recorded: Paris, June 22, 1965

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-stuffsmith-jazzinparis-stuffandsteff

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Stéphane Grappelli and Stuff Smith were, along with Joe Venuti, the most significant and influential early jazz violinists. Stéphane and Stuff display their contrasting styles on this version of "How High the Moon" from 1965, just two years before Stuff's death. Smith had the coarser, straighter tone with little if any vibrato, played with more blues feeling due to the way he slurred his notes, and sometimes would hit a string with his bow in a way that produced a plucked effect. Grappelli's more elegant style grew out of the classical and Gypsy guitar traditions, and he had the admirable ability to maintain his rich vibrato at any tempo and in any register. Bix Beiderbecke's piano playing, Grappelli once said, had "a fantastic psychological effect on me." Smith's style, on the other hand, he said was inspired more by such horn players as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Red Nichols. You can hear all that and more on this track, as the violinists challenge each other, playing intricate, careening lines in their distinctive solos. After pianist Urtreger's well played, boppish improv, Stéphane and Stuff trade passages in exciting fashion, and then give drummer Delaporte some space, which he utilizes skillfully. Very hot jazz from a hot group.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli & Gary Burton: Falling Grace

Track

Falling Grace

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and Gary Burton (vibes)

CD

Paris Encounter (DBK Works 504)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Gary Burton (vibes), Steve Swallow (bass),

Bill Goodwin (drums)

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Composed by Steve Swallow

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Recorded: Paris, November 4, 1969

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-garyburton-parisencounter

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

This was a match made in heaven. The young Gary Burton was touring Europe and the then 64-year-old Stéphane Grappelli was performing regularly at the Hilton Hotel in Paris when Atlantic Records recorded them. Stéphane and Gary are both lyrical players, romantic and delicate on ballads, but capable of playing with an edge and an ecstatic propulsion at quicker tempos. Both also make their formidable technique subservient to their expressiveness, with no wasted notes or unfocused flashiness. Steve Swallow's rhapsodic "Falling Grace," which he wrote for Bill Evans, was a perfect vehicle for Grappelli and Burton to react and interact. Swallow's booming basslines are also worth noting, anchoring the group's overall sound. The year 1969 was a turning point for Grappelli, as he also had recorded meetings that year with Joe Venuti and Barney Kessel, and visited the U.S. for the first time to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival (albeit in the rain and while oblivious youngsters rioted around him). He never looked back, and went on to finally become an international star.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli & Oscar Peterson: Them There Eyes

Track

Them There Eyes

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and Oscar Peterson (piano)

CD

Oscar Peterson / Stéphane Grappelli Quartet, Vol. 1 (Verve 013028)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Oscar Peterson (piano).

Composed by Maceo Pinkard, William Tracey & Doris Tauber

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Recorded: Paris, February 22-23, 1973

Albumcoveroscarpeterson-stéphanegrappelli-quartetvolume1-jazzinparis

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Stéphane Grappelli was extremely active in 1973, with at least eight recording sessions that year alone, and the date with Oscar Peterson was probably the best. Peterson was in the rhythm section for the 1957 Violins No End album that featured Grappelli and Stuff Smith, but it wasn't until 1973 that Stéphane and Oscar got to go at each other one on one, as on this duet track (Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Kenny Clarke filled out the quartet elsewhere). Peterson's rollicking intro precipitates Grappelli's sizzling entrance, immediately improvising on the melody. His breakneck lines are beautifully structured, with many engaging riffs sprinkled about. Peterson's following solo is very bluesy, with a ringing tone and a great variety to his attack as he builds in intensity and creativity, very cogent and controlled. The violinist takes the out-choruses swinging hard, again using catchy riffs to great effect, ending with another highly embellished reprise of the theme. Grappelli always regretted not getting to the U.S. before one of his early inspirations, Art Tatum, passed away. Peterson was as close as Stéphane would get to that great pianist's style, and one can sense the excitement he felt at this opportunity, which Peterson clearly reciprocated.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli: Blues for Django and Stéphane

Track

Blues for Django and Stéphane

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin, piano)

CD

Young Django (Universal 5301)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin, piano), Philip Catherine (guitar), Larry Coryell (guitar), Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (bass).

Composed by Larry Coryell

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Recorded: Stuttgart, West Germany, January 19-21, 1979

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-youngdjango

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

This is a priceless example of Stéphane Grappelli's inspiring interaction with younger musicians, who were always floored by his vitality and skill. This session not only tried to channel the spirit of Django Reinhardt, but on this track Larry Coryell's infectious Texas-style guitar evokes Charlie Christian, and Grappelli surprises us with a deftly executed piano solo ranging from stride to barrelhouse with stops in between. Grappelli also contributes a concise, blues-drenched violin solo that contains highly expressive upper- register explorations. The two guitarists' prancing blues riff, which both opens and closes the piece, also adds to the success of this memorable track.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli and David Grisman: Tiger Rag

Track

Tiger Rag

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and David Grisman (mandolin)

CD

Stéphane Grappelli / David Grisman: Live (Warner Archives 3550)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), David Grisman (mandolin), Mark O'Connor (violin),

Mike Marshall (guitar), Rob Wasserman (bass)

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Composed by Harry DeCosta and The Original Dixieland Jazz Band

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Recorded: live at the Berklee Center for the Performing Arts, Boston, MA, September 20, 1979

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-davidgrisman-live

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Stéphane Grappelli played concerts as well as recorded with David Grisman's captivating acoustic string group, which enjoyed several years of great popularity before its members parted ways in the early 1980s. The group, in a way, was an eclectic re-imagining of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with bluegrass and folk elements added to the mix. This track features Grappelli with fellow violinist Mark O'Connor, who was mentored by Stéphane starting at age 17 and went on to a successful career encompassing the jazz, country and classical fields, including his Hot Swing Trio. Grappelli introduces this "Tiger Rag" as "a transcription for two violins," but after their mostly unison intricate exposition, the rest of the group enters the fray and Grappelli and O'Connor perform dazzling solos and exchanges, Mark's slight country twang helping to distinguish him from Stéphane. Grisman's energetic mandolin picking prods them along. Said O'Connor of Grappelli years later: "The last time we played together was about a year before his death. He gripped my hand strongly afterwards and would not let go of it for 30 minutes. I understood that he wanted me to carry on his memory."

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli & McCoy Tyner: I Want To Talk About You

Track

I Want To Talk About You

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and McCoy Tyner (piano)

CD

Stéphane Grappelli / McCoy Tyner: One on One (Milestone 9181)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), McCoy Tyner (piano).

Composed by Billy Eckstine

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Recorded: New York, April 18, 1990

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-mccoytyner-oneonone

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

When one hears another version of this tune, John Coltrane's 1963 emotionally charged interpretation from his Live at Birdland release immediately comes to mind, especially Trane's awe-inspiring one-of-a- kind coda. Grappelli and Tyner (pianist on that Trane masterpiece) approach this performance from a more romantic, less beseeching point of view. At the same relaxed tempo as Coltrane's, Grappelli essays the lilting theme with a semi-sweet vibrato, Tyner offering full-bodied support to the violinist's tender yet fervent variations. Stéphane's cascading solo is similarly both delicate and profound, and McCoy's all-too-brief improv that follows is laden with majestic chords. As Grappelli lingers lovingly on the melody while the track nears its conclusion, you lean forward in hopeful anticipation of a coda from the violinist that, alas, never comes. Grappelli and Tyner first performed together three years prior for a Maryland Public Broadcasting event, and this recorded collaboration between the then 82-year-old young-at-heart violin giant and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history was the fortunate end result.

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli & Claude Bolling: Cute

Track

Cute

Artist

Stéphane Grappelli (violin) and Claude Bolling (piano)

CD

Bolling / Grappelli: First Class (Milan 35633-2)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Claude Bolling (piano),

17-piece big band featuring Pierre Schirrer (flute), Pierre-Yves Sorin (bass), Vincent Cordelette (drums)

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Composed by Neal Hefti. Arranged by Claude Bolling

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Recorded: Paris, December 3-4, 1991

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-claudebolling-firstclass

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Better late than never. Not only was this session Stéphane Grappelli's only recording with a big band, this track also finds him playing a tune he may never have performed before and sharing the spotlight with a flutist, perhaps another first. Bolling's arrangement is, as Grappelli shouts out at the end of another selection on the CD, "First class!" Bassist Sorin and drummer Cordelette lay down a driving foundation for the stirring improvisations of Grappelli and flutist Schirrer, and the orchestra plays its fanfares and intricate unison passages with gusto and a velvety blend of instruments. "Cute" is but one of 14 delicious tracks on a remarkable CD that as a whole is a unique must-have from Grappelli's lengthy discography (a DVD version is available as well).

Reviewer: Scott Albin


Stéphane Grappelli: Night and Day

Track

Night and Day

Artist

CD

Live at the Blue Note (Telarc 83397)

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Musicians:

Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar),

Jon Burr (bass)

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Composed by Cole Porter

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Recorded: live at the Blue Note, New York, October 9-11, 1995

Albumcoverstéphanegrappelli-liveatthebluenote

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Although a number of Stéphane Grappelli CDs were released after his death in 1997, the music on most, if not all, predated this 1995 live recording. On this track, Grappelli begins with the verse in a pensive manner and then subtly embellishes the familiar melody, enhancing it with aptly placed upper-register asides. Burr's aggressive, resonant basslines are in stark contrast to Pizzarelli's laid-back rhythm guitar. Bucky solos next in his inimitable style, strummed passages mixing with delicately picked phrases and rich chords. He and Stéphane then improvise in tandem, weaving their enticing lines to a dramatically descending resolution that elicits a burst of applause. Grappelli ends the piece much as he started, softening his attack as he comes to a clever, yet unexpected conclusion utilizing just a small segment of the theme. Even at age 87, Grappelli was still an undiminished master of the jazz violin.

Reviewer: Scott Albin



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