Stephane Grappelli - violin
Diz Disley - guitar
Ike Isaacs - guitar
Brian Torff - bass
An elegant improviser whose lilting lines are imbued with a vivacious spirit of swing and tender lyricism, legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli had a long and distinguished career that began in the mid '30s with the Hot Club of France Quintet (featuring Gypsy jazz guitar great Django Reinhardt) and continued well into the 1990s. An inductee in the Down Beat Hall of Fame, Grappelli received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997. The influential Parisian jazzman, who was 68 at the time of this Great American Music Hall concert, is accompanied by UK guitarists and ardent Django-philes Diz Disley and Ike Isaacs and American bassist Brian Torff on this set of Swing era staples. And the grand old man of violin is in vintage form throughout the set.
Following some humorous introductory remarks from Disley (including a dis of Chicago and a putdown of electric basses by way of introducing upright bassist Torff), they jump into a lively take on Jimmy McHugh's jaunty "I Can't Believe You're in Love with Me," a tune introduced in 1927 by Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards (the voice of Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney film classic, Pinocchio) and later popularized by Billie Holiday. Grappelli's violin work here is dazzling and coy at the same time, full of elaborate curlicues and imbued with an undeniable sense of swing. Isaacs' guitar solo is sadly off-mic and, therefore, barely audible (unfortunate since the rest of the mix here is so resonant and brimming with rich, even tones). From that snappy opener they launch right into a bristling uptempo reading of the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart number "This Can't Be Love" (from the 1938 Broadway musical The Boys from Syracuse). The violin maestro nonchalantly double times the lines here while digging into his fiddle with rare abandon on this unbridled swinger. Disley's guitar solo here is strictly in a Djangoesque tradition.
From pure burn to sublime ballad, they segue to a tender rendition of the lovely Jerome Kern ballad "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which elicits Grappelli's most poignant and lyrical playing of the set. Then it's right back to the effervescent swing factor with a sprightly romp through "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," the Swing era staple originally recorded as a ballad by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Ethel Waters and the Hot Club of France, who recorded their version in 1936 with American vocalist Freddy Taylor. Changing moods once again, they slide into a relaxed rendition of Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll." Bassist Torff contributes an extended solo here, and his big woody tones wow the GAMH audience. The gorgeous rendition of Ellington's "Solitude" that follows opens with an intimate duet between Grappelli and guitarist Isaacs who, unfortunately, is still barely present in the mix. The great violinist adds a stirring, blues-tinged cadenza at the end of this heartfelt tribute to the Duke.
Following another telepathic duet between Isaacs and Grappelli, the quartet settles into a soothing balladic rendition of "Tea for Two," a Tin Pan Alley chestnut that served as a vehicle for some scintillating jams by the likes of bebop burners Art Tatum and Bud Powell (as well as Grappelli and Django back in their Hot Club days). The great Grappelli imbues his phrasing here with all manner of luxurious vocal phrasing, including inventive use of harmonics, before they kick into high gear and head into a burning jam section at a breakneck tempo, with Torff, Disley and Isaacs collectively laying it down in no uncertain terms. Next up are two songs by Grappelli's former Hot Club of France partner, Django Reinhardt -- the poignant ballad "Manoir De Mes Reves," which segues to the giddy uptempo jump number "Daphne." The violinist offers another breathtaking cadenza at the end of this Django medley.
A surprise here is a faithful cover of Roberta Flack's romantic "Killing Me Softly With His Song," played with soulful restraint by the violin maestro. Torff, Disley and Isaacs provide an alluring kind of tango feel in support of Grappelli's plaintive violin on this popular number. They return to a Hot Club of France vibe with sprightly renditions of "Birth of the Blues" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," then conclude their GAMH performance with an encore of another Swing era staple, "After You've Gone." (Grappelli would appear the following night at the Great American Music Hall with Disley, Torff and British guitarist John Etheridge substituting for Ike Isaacs).
Born on January 26, 1908 in Paris, Grappelli began playing violin at age 12 was initially attracted to music of the French Impressionists (particularly Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel). At age 16 he entered the Conservatoire de Paris and for the next four years, from 1924 to 1928, he studied music theory, playing violin by day while working as a silent film pianist at night. In 1934, he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt, his brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitars, and Louis Vola on double bass. Their popularity began in Paris and soon swept through pre-WWII Europe, eventually carrying over to the United States during the height of the Swing era. The group disbanded in 1939 due to World War II and in 1940 Grappelli formed his own group in London with a little known jazz pianist by the name of George Shearing. Grappelli and Reinhardt had a Hot Club reunion in 1946, though their Act II hardly rivaled the popularity of their original collaboration from the mid '30s.
After the war, Grappelli returned to Paris and formed a quintet. Through the '50s, he also played on sessions with such American jazz stars as pianist Oscar Peterson, violinist Stuff Smith and guitarist Barney Kessel. In 1963, Grappelli played with Duke Ellington's band alongside fellow violinists Ray Nance and Svend Asmussen on Jazz Violin Session. Through the '60s and '70s, he collaborated with the likes of classical flutist Claude Bolling, jazz flutist Herbie Mann, jazz violinists Jean-Luc Ponty and Joe Venuti, Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam, Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, jazz pianists Hank Jones and Earl Hines, vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarists Joe Pass, Philip Catherine and Larry Coryell, pop singer Paul Simon and classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
In 1975, Grappelli began playing with the Diz Disley Trio, led by the British Django-influenced guitarist. He worked through the '80s with U.K. guitarist Martin Taylor and also did some concerts and recordings with mandolin player David Grisman, including work on his Dawg Jazz/Dawg Grass album. Grappelli remained active on the jazz scene through the '80s and '90s. When asked on his 85th birthday if he was considering retirement, he replied: "Retirement! There isn't a word that is more painful to my ears. Music keeps me going. It has given me everything. It's my fountain of youth." Grappelli died in Paris on December 1, 1995 from complications from a hernia operation. (Milkowski)