1908-01-25

Legendary French jazz violinist STEPHANE GRAPPELLI was born (d. 1997). Grappelli is best known as the cofounder of the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt. It was one of the first (and arguably the most famous) of all-string jazz bands.

Born Stephane Grappelly (he didn’t change his name to “Grappelli” until the 1960s), his collaboration with Reinhardt produced a musical pairing that was sort of the jazz equivalent of Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards. A foil worthy of literature, Grappelli was openly Gay, fastidiously a tidy pianist and violinist.

Grappelli was born in Paris, France to Italian parents: his father, Marquess Ernesto Grappelli was born in Alatri (Lazio). His mother died when he was four and his father left to fight in World War I. As a result he was sent to an orphanage. Grappelli started his musical career busking on the streets of Paris and Montmartre with a violin.

He began playing the violin at age 12, and attended the Conservatoire de Paris studying music theory, between 1924 and 1928. He continued to busk on the side until he gained fame in Paris as a violin virtuoso. He also worked as a silent film pianist while at the conservatory and played the saxophone and accordion. He called his piano “My Other Love” and released an album of solo piano of the same name. His early fame came playing with the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt, which disbanded in 1939 due to World War II. In 1940, a little-known jazz pianist by the name of George Shearing made his debut as a sideman in Grappelli’s band.

After the war he appeared on hundreds of recordings including sessions with Duke Ellington, jazz pianists Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani and Claude Bolling, jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, jazz violinist Stuff Smith, Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam, vibraphonist Gary Burton, pop singer Paul Simon, mandolin player David Grisman, classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, orchestral conductor André Previn, guitar player Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar player Joe Pass, cello player Yo Yo Ma, harmonica and jazz guitar player Toots Thielmans, jazz guitarist Henri Crolla and fiddler Mark O’Connor. He also collaborated extensively with the British guitarist and graphic designer Diz Disley, recording 13 record albums with him and his trio, and with now renowned British guitarist Martin Taylor. In the 1980s he gave several concerts with the young British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.

Grappelli made a cameo appearance in the 1978 film King of the Gypsies, along with noted mandolinist David Grisman. Three years later they performed together in concert, which was recorded live and released to critical acclaim.  Grappelli’s music is played very quietly, almost inaudibly, on Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here. In 1997, Grappelli received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Grappelli is interred in Paris’ famous Père Lachaise Cemetery.