Happy Birthday Stéphane Grappelli!

3867620Stéphane Grappelli (January 26, 1908 – December 1, 1997) was a French jazz violinist and founding member of the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Grappelli performed in concerts well into his 80s and collaborated with several generations of influential musicians across several genres, including Duke Ellington, Paul Simon, and Pink Floyd, for whom he recorded a solo for their album Wish You Were Here.

 

Stéphane Grappelli was four years old when his mother died, and his father left not long after to fight in World War I. The young Grappelli was sent to dance school, run by Isadora Duncan, where he learned of French Impressionist music. Left largely to his own devices, Stéphane became a self-taught musician and spent his adolescent years busking on the streets of Montmartre with his violin.

After performing successfully in a series of cabaret shows, he was convinced to play professionally. He went on to study music theory at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he also worked as a silent film pianist. Aside from his connection to the jazz violin, Grappelli called his piano "My Other Love" and released an album of solo piano of the same name, much later in his career. 

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Django Reinhardt with Stéphane Grappelli via Classic Blue Notes

In 1934, Grappelli and his friend and fellow musician Django Reinhardt formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France which became known for "Gypsy Jazz" and the rare formation of a jazz group which only used string instruments.

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The Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934.

 Django Reinhardt, Grappelli, bassist Louis Vola, and rhythm guitarists Roger Chaput and Joseph Reinhardt, via The Selvedge Yard

The group enjoyed a few years of wide popularity across Europe, and were hired as one of the house bands at a popular Montmartre nightclub, 'La Grosse Pomme.' However, the outbreak of WWII broke up the quintet, when Grappelli chose to stay in London while Reinhardt went back to France. Grappelli continued to play with jazz pianist George Shearing, who made his debut as a member of the band.

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After WWII, Grappelli and Reinhardt would periodically reunite to record together, although they did not work together on a regular basis. Beginning in the 50s, he began to collaborate with American jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, and fellow jazz violinist Stuff Smith. He cowrote "Hobo's Blues" with Paul Simon, which appeared on Simon's eponymous second album.

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Yehudi Menuhin & Stephane Grappelli via Allan Warren

He also collaborated extensively with classical musicians like renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and cellist Yo Yo Ma.

 

Other collaborators included harmonica and jazz guitar player Toots Thielemans, Indian violinist L. Subramaniam,and guitarist Diz Disley, with whom he recorded 13 albums

 

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For their 1975 album Wish You Were Here, Grappelli recorded a violin solo for Pink Floyd's title track, which was made almost inaudible, and thus left uncredited, as Roger Waters thought it would be "a bit of an insult." In the remastered 2011 version of the album, the solo can be heard clearly.

Photo via The Evening Standard/Getty Images

 

 

Grappelli made a cameo appearance in the 1978 film King of the Gypsies, along with noted mandolinist David Grisman. In 1997, Grappelli received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

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via The Moderate Voice

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Photo Credit: Allan Warren 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 26 January 2014
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