|About this Recording
STEPHANE GRAPPELLI Vol.2
‘Swing From Paris’ Original Recordings 1935-1943
Jazz’s most famous and most popular violinist, Stephane Grappelli was born in Paris on 26January 1908. His Italian father Ernesto (translated by the Parisians to Ernest) had come to the French capital as a refugee at the age of nineteen. A studious and refined individual who in his youth had been an aspiring dancer, he served in the Great War and although subsequently a struggling business entrepreneur did his best to encourage Stephane’s artistic inclinations. Stephane’s mother had died when he was three years old and he spent his early life in a Paris orphanage. Largely self-taught at first in piano (a sample of his playing on “It Had To Be You” opens Stephane Grappelli Vol.1, Naxos 8.120570), he also trained at the Isadora Duncan school of dance but, inspired by classical music began to take a serious interest in the violin at the age of twelve. His father taught him tonic sol-fa and having already mastered the harmonium at twelve he enrolled in piano and violin classes at the Conservatoire, paying his way meanwhile by playing violin on café terraces.
In 1921, Stephane first heard Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings at the Coliseum and, by 1924 was himself actively playing (mainly piano) in summer seasons and in silent cinemas. Already an avid student of the latest developments of American jazz, he was greatly impressed by the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and, especially, by the Philadelphia-born violinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978) who, like Grappelli, had entered the world of jazz via more classical channels. At first his engagements were centred around small jazz ensembles at Parisian society functions but from 1926 he performed in a piano duo within the band of Grégor et ses Grégoriens, a Jack Hylton-esque band resident at the Casino de la Forêt, and it was at this time that he first made the switch from piano to Venuti-style violin. In June 1930 the group sailed to Buenos Aires and, on their return in October, toured the south of France. At the end of 1930, Grappelli was back in Paris and by 1931 was regularly engaged at the Croix du Sud, an avant-garde bohemian establishment frequented by, among other talents, Django Reinhardt.
By October 1932, he was playing piano once more with Grégor at the Paris Olympia. With this group he toured to Zurich, Lugano, Milan and Rome and, prior to its permanent disbanding, to St. Jean-de-Luz, in 1933. The following year (with Django, Django’s brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitars and Louis Vola on bass) he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which made its first recordings in December 1934 and swiftly won renown throughout Europe and the USA. Soon, the Club’s two major protagonists were household names and from 1935 Stephane and Django also recorded with Coleman Hawkins’ jazz ensemble before the Quintette first visited London, in 1938.
Their reputation on several recorded imports (including tracks 1–6 here) having preceded them, the much-fêted Hot Club made another appearance in London (at the Palladium) at the outbreak of World War II, in September 1939. By this time Stephane was already domiciled in England and, on leaving the Quintette, remained to pursue a more solo profile, particularly with George Shearing. Although in poor health and speaking little English Stephane was kept working in London throughout the blitz, assisted primarily by vocalist Beryl Davis and her father, Harry Davis, who fronted Oscar Rabin’s band. During late 1939, at the invitation of his friend the pianist Arthur Young, he joined the resident band of Hatchett’s Restaurant in Piccadilly which, rivalled only the Café de Paris, ranked among London’s plushest eating and dancing establishments. Although a group known as the Swingtette was already in existence at the restaurant, Grappelli’s arrival on 3 December 1939 was viewed as a major coup both by Hatchett’s and by Stephane himself. Up to that time little more than a well-intentioned society band, the Swingtette now boasted a hot Parisian extra in the form of “The World’s Greatest Swing Violinist”. Stephane, too, had cause for jubilation, having found a new niche as well as a new home: “I always think of England as my second country”, he later averred, “because I was welcomed during the war like a brother, and I will never forget it”.
From 29 December 1939 the group (on average a ten-part ensemble, plus vocalist) recorded on a regular basis for Decca (the first session included Ting-A-Ling, a seemingly unlikely revival of a British pop number of 1926 vintage and a characteristically swung version of Frankie Masters’ imported American novelty Scatter-Brain). The “corny element” of the Novachord offset by Grappelli’s swinging fiddle set the trend for an extended further series of popular recordings, which ranged from various jazz ‘revivals’, including Euday L. Bowman’s Twelfth Street Rag (1916) and Johnny Green’s Body And Soul (1930) to Lying In The Hay (an Anglicised version of French cabaret-star Mireille’s 1933 tune ‘Couchés dans le foin’) and the latest American dance and film material (by Don Raye, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen and the like). In the summer of 1940, soon after the outset of the Battle of Britain, Arthur Young was injured in an air raid and had to resign from Hatchett’s. His place was taken in the Swingtette by the blind, twenty-year-old American George Shearing, heard here in the sessions of 28February and 9April 1941 and 7July and 6October 1943.
Peter Dempsey, 2003
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