This self-taught French musician is considered the greatest jazz violin virtuoso of all time. Grappelli honed his prodigious talent on the streets and in silent film houses-and then he met guitarist Django Reinhardt. Together, the two musicians founded the hugely successful Quintette du Hot Club de France. In the 1950s, Grappelli launched a prolific solo career, one that featured numerous collaborations in the jazz arena and beyond. He continued to record and perform until the end of his life.
Stéphane Grappelli was born in Paris on January 26, 1908. As a youth, he played music on the streets and in the film house orchestras of Paris.
Grappelli's career took flight when, through a common friend, he was introduced to Django Reinhardt. The two soon formed an acoustic quintet composed solely of strings (three guitars, a bass and a violin), which was unheard of at the time. The group enjoyed its heyday from 1933 to 1939.
When the Second World War broke out, the quintet was in London. Wisely, Grappelli elected to stay, and over the next six years he worked with local musicians, including pianist George Shearing.
After the war
Grappelli returned to Paris in 1946. He and Reinhardt still played together from time to time, but the palmy days at the Hot Club had long passed. In the 1950s and 1960s, Grappelli's solo career saw him perform at all of the leading events, from Newport to Montreux. In America, however, critical acclaim did not come until after his 1974 concert at Carnegie Hall.
Grappelli recorded regularly under his own name, and an impressive list of artists sought his collaboration-jazz greats Oscar Peterson, Barney Kessel, and Hank Jones, renowned violinists Joe Venuti and Jean-Luc Ponty, even established pop stars like Paul Simon.
Stéphane Grappelli paid a first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 1984. At the tender age of 76, still at the height of his art, Grappelli's formidable improvisational skills were on full display. Accompanying Grappelli that evening were Marc Fosset on acoustic guitar, Martin Taylor on electric guitar, two regular bandmates, and Brian Torff on bass.
Grappelli returned to the Festival seven years later, in 1991, at the ripe age of 83. One week earlier, he'd undergone a quadruple bypass... Courageous and generous, the magician-violinist did not disappoint. Several seasoned musicians, Bucky Pizzarelli among them, used this marquis event to pay a well-deserved tribute to Mr. Grappelli.
Active until the end of his life, Stéphane Grapelli showed remarkable longevity. He passed away on December 1, 1997 at the age of 89.