Stephane Grappelli - violin; Diz Disley - guitar; Ike Isaacs - guitar; Brian Torff - bass
An elegant improviser whose lilting lines are imbued with a vivacious spirit of swing and tender lyricism, legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli had a long and distinguished career that began in the mid '30s with the Hot Club of France Quintet (featuring Gypsy jazz guitar great Django Reinhardt) and continued well into the 1990s. An inductee in the Down Beat Hall of Fame, Grappelli received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997. The influential Parisian jazzman, who was 68 at the time of this Great American Music Hall concert, is accompanied by the Diz Disley Trio featuring the leader and Ike Isaacs on guitars and Brian Torff on bass. Together they present an appealing set of Swing era staples and tasty ballads that showcase the grand old man of violin in top form.
Following some humorous introductory remarks from the wry Brit Disley (including a putdown of electric basses by way of introducing upright bassist Torff), they jump into a lively take on the jaunty Tin Pan Alley staple, "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)," a tune popularized by Nat "King" Cole, Mildred Bailey, Benny Goodman and Sarah Vaughan and subsequently covered by countless artists. With Disley chunking away on rhythm guitar, Grappelli gets frisky on his effervescent solo here. They follow with a spirited, hard-driving rendition of "Shine," a 1910 chestnut popularized by Louis Armstrong's scat-filled 1931 recording and later recorded in 1936 by Grappelli, Django and the Hot Club of France. Their version of the 1930s pop confection "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" opens on an intimate note with a lovely conversational duet between Grappelli and Isaacs before the full band kicks into a swinging arrangement for the violinist to blow over with effortless aplomb. Disley also turns in an extroverted acoustic guitar solo on this engaging number that was covered by innumerable artists over the decades.
The violinist's lovely tone, warm, vocal phrasing and elegant filigrees on the instrument are tailor-made for Erroll Garner's romantic "Misty." Grappelli's freewheeling improvisations here are breathtaking, and Isaacs turns in a wonderful solo himself on this oft-covered American standard. From sublime to sizzle, they next jump right into a blazing rendition of "Them There Eyes," another Tin Pan Alley chestnut which was popularized by Billie Holiday and covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson and Chaka Khan. Grappelli himself had recorded a version of the tune with the Hot Club of France Quintet back in 1938. Disley's forceful comping fuels this frantic swinger.
Grappelli opens an easy-swinging of Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" with some playful pizzicato work before reverting to his signature nonchalant bowing on this timeless melody. Torff also offers some accomplished bowing of his own on an extended bass solo. Grappelli delivers an amusing story about his former Hot Club partner Django Reinhardt as an introduction to the romantic "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," a popular British song from the 1930s. Disley and Isaacs also engage in some interesting, intertwining single note lines here. Shifting gears once again, they head into a jaunty gypsy jazz rendition of "C'est Si Bon," an uplifting post-war hit in France that was later popularized in America by singer Eartha Kitt. Catch Disley's clever quote from "La Marseillaise" (the French national anthem) at the tag of this engaging ditty. Their version of "Tiger Rag," the first tune Grappelli ever played with Django Reinhardt back in 1934, opens with some intricate, chamber-like unison between Grappelli, Disley and Isaacs before they tear it up in typical Hot Club style. Grappelli precedes the group's version of "Honeysuckle Rose" with a story about his and Django's first encounter in Paris with the great Fats Waller, who composed that ebullient number. They open the piece as a lilting blues-tinged ballad before erupting into the infectious swing factor that came to characterize the Hot Club of France. Disley also turns in a dazzling, hard-driving chordal solo on this upbeat swinger.
Next up they tackle "The Birth of the Blues" with irrepressibly swinging energy. Midway through this Tin Pan Alley chestnut, published in 1926 and first recorded by Cab Calloway, the band drops out to showcase Isaac's stunning virtuosity on an unaccompanied guitar solo. They follow with a lengthy Gershwin medley that flows effortlessly from a sprightly "'S Wonderful" to a somber "Summertime" (culminating in a breathtaking cadenza by Grappelli), a jaunty "But Not For Me," a gorgeous "Someone To Watch Over Me" and culminates in an up-tempo, show-stopping rendition of "I've Got Rhythm," followed by shouts of 'encore!' from the enthralled listeners. Grappelli then sits at the piano (his first instrument as a child) to perform a stunning solo rendition of the Burton Lane-Ralph Freed tune, "How About You?," showing off the considerable influence of Erroll Garner, Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller in the process. And he closes out this GAMH concert with a rousing rendition of "California, Here I Come" (a Tin Pan Alley number introduced in 1921 by Al Jolson), which is brimming with buoyant Hot Club energy and swing.
Born on January 26, 1908 in Paris, Grappelli began playing violin at age 12 was initially attracted to music of the French Impressionists (particularly Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel). At age 16 he entered the Conservatoire de Paris and for the next four years, from 1924 to 1928, he studied music theory, playing violin by day while working as a silent film pianist at night. In 1934, he formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt, his brother Joseph and Roger Chaput on guitars and Louis Vola on double bass. Their popularity began in Paris and soon swept through pre-WWII Europe, eventually carrying over to the United States during the height of the Swing era. The group disbanded in 1939 due to World War II and in 1940 Grappelli formed his own group in London with a little known jazz pianist by the name of George Shearing. Grappelli and Reinhardt had a Hot Club reunion in 1946, though their Act II hardly rivaled the popularity of their original collaboration from the mid '30s.
After the war, Grappelli returned to Paris and formed a quintet. Through the '50s, he also played on sessions with such American jazz stars as pianist Oscar Peterson, violinist Stuff Smith and guitarist Barney Kessel. In 1963, Grappelli played with Duke Ellington's band alongside fellow violinists Ray Nance and Svend Asmussen on Jazz Violin Session. Through the '60s and '70s, he collaborated with the likes of classical flutist Claude Bolling, jazz flutist Herbie Mann, jazz violinists Jean-Luc Ponty and Joe Venuti, Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam, Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, jazz pianists Hank Jones and Earl Hines, vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarists Joe Pass, Philip Catherine and Larry Coryell, pop singer Paul Simon and classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
In 1975, Grappelli began playing with the Diz Disley Trio, led by the British Django-influenced guitarist. He worked through the '80s with U.K. guitarist Martin Taylor and also did some concerts and recordings with Dawg Grass mandolin player David Grisman. Grappelli remained active on the jazz scene through the '80s and '90s. When asked on his 85th birthday if he was considering retirement, he replied: "Retirement! There isn't a word that is more painful to my ears. Music keeps me going. It has given me everything. It's my fountain of youth." Grappelli died in Paris on December 1, 1995 from complications from a hernia operation. (Bill Milkowski)