Between 1978 and 1992 I lived in Sheffield and was a regular attender at music events in the city, in particular the Leadmill and the Crucible Theatre. Amongst the artists I went to see were Ornate Coleman (twice), Abdullah Ibrahim, David Murray, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dudu Pukwana, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler and the inimitable Stephane Grappelli who I saw on at least three occasions.
I had become familiar with the work of Grappelli through the records I bought by Django Reinhardt and the Quinter of the Hot Club of France. Grappelli’s partnership with the guitarist Django Reinhardt in the Quintette du Hot Club de France, formed in 1934, produced what is still the only European jazz style without an obvious American ancestry.
Critics detected the influence of the little cafe orchestras with whom Grappelli had once played; the more learned discovered in his playing the lyricism of Debussy and Ravel.
At all events, the Quintette du Hot Club de France (made up of violin, three guitars and double bass) produced a svelte sound that was at once unmistakably jazz and quintessentially Gallic. This remained true of Grappelli’s own playing throughout his long career, although in later years his improvisation grew bolder and infinitely more expressive.
The first time I saw Grappelli I was stunned by his musical virtuosity on the violin, his ability to take a tune like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and create an improvised lyrical masterpiece around it. At the end of the first half of the concert many, like me just sat quietly reflecting of the genius we had just seen before us.
At the start of the second half Grappelli came on stage alone and sat down at the piano and proceeded to dazzle the audience with his musical virtuosity on the instrument. I think that many like myself were just “gobsmacked” (good old Sheffield saying) at the mans talent, as many had no idea that he was a virtuoso on the piano as well.
Just spend six minutes or so listening to the video I have posted and you will hear one of the few musicians to whom the title “genius” can be really attributed.
He is sadly missed.