Stephane Grappelli - violin; Diz Disley - guitar; John Etheridge - 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 Djangophles Diz Disley and John Etheridge and American bassist Brian Torff on this set of Swing era staples. And the grand old man of violin is in vintage form throughout.
They open with 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. Next up is a bristling, swinging rendition of the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart number "This Can't Be Love" (from the 1938 Broadway musical The Boys from Syracuse), which Grappelli had recorded on several occasions throughout his career. Sparks fly on this sizzling up-tempo romp while Grappelli's capable string crew supports his dazzling lines with tight, rhythmically charged accompaniment. Disley matches Grappelli's heat with a burning guitar solo of his own. A tender rendition of the lovely Jerome Kern ballad "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" brings out Grappelli's most lyrical playing of the set, then he's right back on the sprightly side of things with a effervescently swinging rendition of "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, they slide into a relaxed rendition of Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll," which has Grappelli applying endless layers of filigrees on top of that familiar melody (including some rare, blues-tinged pizzicato work). Bassist Torff also turns in a virtuosic, deep-toned upright solo on this engaging bit of Ellingtonia. The gorgeous rendition of "Solitude" that follows opens with an intimate duet between Grappelli and guitarist Etheridge before the full band enters on the poignant theme. The great violinist adds a stirring cadenza at the end of this heartfelt tribute to the Duke. Guitarist Etheridge's unaccompanied intro leads into another telepathic duet with Grappelli, which ultimately resolves to 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). And sure enough, midway through this luxurious interpretation they shift gears and head into an up-tempo romp, burning a blue streak along the way.
Grappelli and company next deliver faithful interpretations of two Django Reinhardt tunes from the Hot Club days, the poignant ballad "Manoir De Mes Reves" and giddy, up-tempo jump number "Daphne." The violinist offers another breathtaking cadenza at the end of this spirited Django number. Next up is a tune primarily known by Americans as a '50s doo-wop number, "I Only Have Eyes for You." But in fact, as Grappelli explains to his GAMH crowd, he had been playing this enchanting melody for 40 years at the time of this performance. (Indeed, this Tin Pan Alley chestnut was originally written by Harry Warren-Al Dubin for the 1934 film Dames and subsequently recorded by such jazz greats as Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Ella Fitzgerald, and others). Once again, he plays a few choruses in duet form with guitarist Etheridge before the full band enters with a loping swing pulse.
A special treat is an intricate, chops-busting arrangement of "Tiger Rag," the first tune Grappelli ever recorded with Django Reinhardt in 1934. Everyone in the quartet gets a solo taste on this dynamic show-stopper. They follow with another famous Hot Club staple, "Coquette," written in 1928 by Tin Pan Alley tunesmith Johnny Green with his lyricist partner Gus Kahn. From the jaunty to the sublime, they next turn in a beautiful rendition of Erroll Garner's "Misty" before burning out on another familiar Hot Club number, "Sweet Georgia Brown." Grappelli then surprises the audience by switching instruments for an engaging solo piano rendition of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," which he adorns with extravagant runs and some accomplished, two-fisted Harlem stride playing. And he closes out his GAMH set on a rousing note with a swinging rendition of another popular Hot Club staple, George and Ira Gershwin's "Lady Be Good."
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 1978, Grappelli began playing with the Diz Disley Trio, led by the British Django-influenced guitarist. Through the '80s, he worked with the British guitarists Martin Taylor and John Etheridge, and also did some concerts and recordings with Dawg Grass mandolin player David Grisman. 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)