STEPHANE GRAPPELLI Vol.2
'Swing From Paris' Original Recordings 1935-1943
Jazz's most famous and most popular violinist, StephaneGrappelli was born in Paris on 26January 1908. His Italian father Ernesto(translated by the Parisians to Ernest) had come to the French capital as arefugee at the age of nineteen. A studious and refined individual who in hisyouth had been an aspiring dancer, he served in the Great War and althoughsubsequently a struggling business entrepreneur did his best to encourageStephane's artistic inclinations. Stephane's mother had died when he was threeyears old and he spent his early life in a Paris orphanage. Largely self-taughtat first in piano (a sample of his playing on \It Had To Be You" opens StephaneGrappelli Vol.1, Naxos 8.120570), he also trained at the Isadora Duncan schoolof dance but, inspired by classical music began to take a serious interest inthe violin at the age of twelve. His father taught him tonic sol-fa and having already mastered theharmonium at twelve he enrolled in piano and violin classes at theConservatoire, paying his way meanwhile by playing violin on cafe terraces.
In 1921, Stephane first heard Louis Mitchell's Jazz Kings atthe Coliseum and, by 1924 was himself actively playing (mainly piano) in summerseasons and in silent cinemas. Already an avid student of the latestdevelopments of American jazz, he was greatly impressed by the recordings ofLouis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and, especially, by the Philadelphia-bornviolinist Joe Venuti (1903-1978) who, like Grappelli, had entered the world ofjazz via more classical channels. At first his engagements were centred aroundsmall jazz ensembles at Parisian society functions but from 1926 he performedin a piano duo within the band of Gregor et ses Gregoriens, a Jack Hylton-esqueband resident at the Casino de la For?â?¬t, and it was at this time that he firstmade the switch from piano to Venuti-style violin. In June 1930 the groupsailed to Buenos Aires and, on their return in October, toured the south ofFrance. At the end of 1930,Grappelli was back in Paris and by 1931 was regularly engaged at the Croix duSud, an avant-garde bohemian establishment frequented by, among other talents,Django Reinhardt.
By October 1932, he was playing piano once more with Gregorat the Paris Olympia. With this group he toured to Zurich, Lugano, Milan andRome and, prior to its permanent disbanding, to St. Jean-de-Luz, in 1933. Thefollowing year (with Django, Django's brother Joseph and Roger Chaput onguitars 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 renownthroughout Europe and the USA. Soon, the Club's two major protagonists werehousehold names and from 1935 Stephane and Django also recorded with ColemanHawkins' jazz ensemble before the Quintette first visited London, in 1938.
Their reputation on several recorded imports (includingtracks 1-6 here) having preceded them, the much-f?â?¬ted Hot Club made anotherappearance in London (at the Palladium) at the outbreak of World War II, inSeptember 1939. By this time Stephane was already domiciled in England and, onleaving the Quintette, remained to pursue a more solo profile, particularlywith George Shearing. Although in poor health and speaking little EnglishStephane was kept working in London throughout the blitz, assisted primarily byvocalist Beryl Davis and her father, Harry Davis, who fronted Oscar Rabin'sband. During late 1939, at the invitation of his friend the pianist ArthurYoung, he joined the resident band of Hatchett's Restaurant in Piccadillywhich, rivalled only the Cafe de Paris, ranked among London's plushest eatingand dancing establishments. Although a group known as the Swingtette was already in existence at therestaurant, Grappelli's arrival on 3 December 1939 was viewed as a major coupboth by Hatchett's and by Stephane himself. Up to that time little more than a well-intentioned societyband, the Swingtette now boasted a hot Parisian extra in the form of "TheWorld'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 asmy second country", he later averred, "because I was welcomed during the warlike a brother, and I will never forget it".
From 29 December 1939 the group (on average a ten-partensemble, plus vocalist) recorded on a regular basis for Decca (the firstsession included Ting-A-Ling, a seemingly unlikely revival of a British popnumber of 1926 vintage and a characteristically swung version of FrankieMasters' imported American novelty Scatter-Brain). The "corny element" of theNovachord offset by Grappelli's swinging fiddle set the trend for an extendedfurther series of popular recordings, which ranged from various jazz'revivals', including Euday L. Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag (1916) and JohnnyGreen's Body And Soul (1930) to Lying In The Hay (an Anglicised version ofFrench cabaret-star Mireille's 1933 tune 'Couches dans le foin') and the latestAmerican dance and film material (by Don Raye, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen andthe like). In the summer of 1940,soon after the outset of the Battle of Britain, Arthur Young was injured in anair 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 of28February and 9April 1941 and 7July and 6October 1943.
Peter Dempsey, 2003