born on 26/1/1908 in Paris, Île-de-France, France
died on 1/12/1997 in Paris, Île-de-France, France
Stéphane Grappelli (French pronunciation: [stefan ɡʁapɛli]; 26 January 1908 – 1 December 1997) was a French jazz violinist who founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1934. It was one of the first all-string jazz bands. He has been called "the grandfather of jazz violinists" and continued playing concerts around the world well into his 80s.
For the first three decades of his career, he was billed using a gallicised spelling of his last name, Grappelly, reverting to Grappelli in 1969. The latter, Italian spelling, is now used almost universally when referring to the violinist, including reissues of his early work.
Grappelli was born at Hôpital Lariboisière in Paris, France, and christened with the name Stéfano. His Italian father, marquess Ernesto Grappelli, was born in Alatri, Lazio, and his French mother, Anna Emilie Hanoque, was from St-Omer. His father was a scholar who taught Italian, sold translations, and wrote articles for local journals.
Stéfano's mother died when he was four, leaving his father to care for him. Though living in France when World War I began, his father was still an Italian citizen and was drafted to fight for Italy in 1914.
Having written about the American dancer Isadora Duncan, who was living in Paris, Ernesto Grappelli appealed to her to care for his son. Stéfano enrolled in Duncan's dance school at age six, and he learned to love French Impressionist music. With the war encroaching, Duncan, an American citizen, fled the country, turning her château over to be used as a military hospital.
Ernesto then entrusted his son Stéfano to a Catholic orphanage. Grappelli said of this time: "I look back at it as an abominable memory... The Place was supposed to be under the eye of the government, but the government looked elsewhere. We slept on the floor, and often were without food. There were many times when I had to fight for a crust of bread", and claimed that he once tried eating flies as a means of easing his hunger.
Grappelli stayed at the orphanage until his father returned in 1918, who found his son in an apartment in Barbès. Sickened by his experiences with the Italian military, Ernesto took the boy to city hall, pulled two witnesses off the street, and had him nationalized as a Frenchman on July 28, 1919. The boy's first name of Stéfano was gallicized to Stéphane.
Grappelli began playing the violin at the age of 12; his father pawned his suit to buy him a three-quarter-size instrument. Ernesto sent Stéphane to violin lessons, but the boy preferred to learn on his own. Grappelli said, "My first lessons were in the streets, watching how other violinists played… The first violinist that I saw play was at the Barbès métro station, sheltered under the overhead metro tracks. When I asked how one should play, he exploded in laughter. I left, completely humiliated with my violin under my arm.” After allowing Stéphane to learn independently for a brief period, Ernesto enrolled him at the Conservatoire de Paris on 31 December 1920; it would give him the chance to learn music theory, ear-training, and solfeggio. Stéphane graduated in 1923 with a second-tier medal. Ernesto remarried to Anna Fuchs, and moved to Strasbourg with her during Stéphane's final year of schooling. Though invited to join them, Stéphane despised his father's new bride and chose to stay behind.
At the age of 15, Grappelli began busking full-time to support himself. His playing caught the attention of an elderly violinist, who invited him to accompany silent films in the pit orchestra at the Théâtre Gaumont. Grappelli played there for six hours daily over the course of a two-year period. During orchestra breaks, Grappelli visited a local brasserie, Le Boudon, where he would listen to songs from an American proto-jukebox. It was here that he was first introduced to jazz music. He was playing in the orchestra at the Ambassador in 1928 when Paul Whiteman headlined with Joe Venuti. Jazz violinists were rare, and though Venuti played mainly commercial jazz themes and seldom improvised, Grappelli was intrigued by his bowing when he played "Dinah". He began developing his own jazz-influenced playing style.
Grappelli was living with Michel Warlop, a classically trained violinist. While Warlop admired Grappelli's jazzy playing, Grappelli envied Warlop's income. After experimenting with piano, Grappelli stopped playing violin, choosing simplicity, new sound, and paid gigs over familiarity. He began playing piano in a big band led by a musician called Grégor. After a night of drinking in 1929, Grégor learned that Grappelli had originally played violin. Grégor borrowed a violin and had Grappelli improvise over "Dinah". Delighted, Grégor urged Grappelli to play violin again.
In 1930, Grégor ran into financial trouble. He was involved in an automobile accident that resulted in deaths; he fled to South America to avoid arrest. Grégor's band reunited as a jazz ensemble under the leadership of pianist Alain Romans and saxophonist André Ekyan. While playing with this band, Grappelli met Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1931. He was looking for a violinist interested in jazz, and invited Grappelli to play with him at his caravan. Though the two played for hours that afternoon, their commitments to their respective bands prevented them from pursuing a career together.
Three years later, in 1934, the two met again at Claridge's in London, England, and began their musical partnership. Pierre Nourry, the secretary of the Hot Club de France, invited Reinhardt and Grappelli to form the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with Joseph Reinhardt and Roger Chaput joining on guitar, and Louis Vola on bass.
In 1937, the American jazz singer Adelaide Hall and her husband Bert Hicks opened a nightclub, La Grosse Pomme, in Montmartre. She entertained nightly and hired the Quintette as one of the house bands. Also in the neighborhood was the artistic salon of R-26, at which Grappelli and Reinhardt performed regularly.
For the first three decades of his musical career, Grappelli was billed as Stéphane Grappelly, a gallicized form of his name. He took back the Italian spelling of his last name; he said in order to avoid people mispronouncing his surname as "Grappell-eye".
Grappelli was in London at the outbreak of World War II and stayed there during the war. In 1940, jazz pianist George Shearing made his debut as a sideman in Grappelli's band.
In 1949, Reinhardt and Grappelli reunited for a brief tour of Italy, and made a series of recordings with an Italian rhythm group. The two recorded roughly 50 tracks together during this time. About half were later compiled for the album Djangology (released in 2005).
Grappelli played on hundreds of recordings, including sessions with Duke Ellington, jazz pianists Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani and Claude Bolling, jazz violinists Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty, and 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 Thielemans, jazz guitarist Henri Crolla, bassist Jon Burr and fiddler Mark O'Connor.
Grappelli first collaborated with the classical virtuoso Menuhin when British chat-show host Michael Parkinson introduced them on TV in December 1971 to duet playing Jalousie. Another Parkinson TV performance followed in 1976, by which time the pair had put out three albums together on EMI. In the TV show Menuhin played his prized Stradivari dating from 1714, while Grappelli revealed his instrument was made by Goffredo Cappa in 1695. He also was known to play a violin made by French luthier Pierre Jean Henri Hel.
Grappelli also collaborated extensively with the British guitarist and graphic designer Diz Disley, recording 13 record albums with him and his trio (which included Denny Wright in its early years), and with now-renowned British guitarist Martin Taylor. His Parisian trio of many years included guitarist Marc Fosset and bassist Patrice Carratini.
In April 1973 he was invited as guest for some concerts at the Jazz Club "Jazz Power" in Milan, where he performed with an Italian jazz combo, including guitarist Franco Cerri, pianist Nando De Luca, bassist/arranger Pino Presti, saxophonist Giorgio Baiocco and drummer Tullio De Piscopo.
Grappelli recorded a solo for the title track of Pink Floyd's 1975 album Wish You Were Here. This was made almost inaudible in the mix, and so the violinist was not credited, according to Roger Waters, as it would be "a bit of an insult". A remastered version, with Grappelli's contribution fully audible, can be found on the 2011 Experience and Immersion editions of Wish You Were Here.
Grappelli made a cameo appearance in the 1978 film King of the Gypsies along with mandolinist David Grisman. Three years later they performed together in concert, which was recorded live and released to critical acclaim.
In the 1980s he gave several concerts with the young British cellist Julian Lloyd Webber.
In 1997, Grappelli received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He is an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
In the years before and immediately following Grappelli's death in 1997, author and film-maker Paul Balmer was engaged in documenting Grappelli's life story and achievements for a book (released in 2003) and 2-volume DVD (released in 2002), the latter entitled "Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in the Jazz Century". At a launch party and concert to celebrate the release of the DVD, a number of Grappelli's former collaborators were reunited including Martin Taylor, John Etheridge and Coleridge Goode, who had played on the historic reunion recordings of Django with Grappelli in London in 1946.
Grappelli was gay. He had a brief affair with Sylvia Caro in May 1935 that resulted in a daughter named Evelyne. Sylvia remained in Paris with her daughter for the duration of the war. Father and daughter were reunited in 1946 when Evelyne travelled to London from France to stay with Grappelli for about a year. Grappelli never married, although from 1952 to 1980 he shared much of his life with a female friend, Jean Barclay, for whom he felt a deep brotherly affection.
Biographer Paul Balmer suggests that the love of Grappelli's life may have been an English beauty named Gwendoline Turner. She was killed in London in 1941 during The Blitz. Grappelli cried intermittently for two years after her death; he kept a lock of her hair and an oil portrait of her for the rest of his life.
Grappelli died in Paris after undergoing a hernia operation. He is buried in the city's Père Lachaise Cemetery.
- Unique Piano Session (Jazz Anthology, 1955)
- Improvisations (Mercury, 1957)
- Feeling + Finesse = Jazz (EastWest, 1962)
- Duke Ellington's Jazz Violin Session (1963)
- Two of a Kind (Storyville, 1965)
- Violin Summit (PolyGram, 1967) with Stuff Smith, Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty
- I Remember Django (Black Lion, 1969) with Barney Kessel
- Le Toit de Paris (BMG, 1969)
- Paris Encounter (Atlantic, 1969) with Gary Burton
- Afternoon in Paris (Verve, 1971)
- I Hear Music (RCA, 1971)
- Manoir de Mes Reves (Musidisc, 1972)
- Homage to Django (Classic Jazz Music, 1972)
- Satin Doll (Vanguard, 1972)
- I Got Rhythm (Black Lion, 1973)
- Just One of Those Things (Black Lion, 1973)
- Live in London (Black Lion, 1973)
- Meets the Rhythm Section (Blue Note, 1973)
- Oscar Peterson-Stephane Grappelli Quartet (Accord, 1973)
- Stardust (Black Lion, 1973)
- Stephane Grappelli (Pye 1973)
- Talk of the Town (Black Lion, 1973)
- Les Valseuses (Musidisc, 1974)
- Stephane Grappelli Meets Earl Hines (Black Lion, 1974)
- The Giants (Black Lion, 1974)
- Les Calmos (Sido, 1975)
- Violinspiration (MPS, 1975) with Diz Disley
- Jalousie (EMI, 1975) with Yehudi Menuhin
- Fascinating Rhythm (Music of the 30's) (EMI, 1975) with Yehudi Menuhin
- Homage to Django (Classic Jazz, 1976)
- Stephane Grappelli/Bill Coleman (Classic Jazz Music, 1976)
- The Reunion (MPS, 1976) with George Shearing
- Tea for Two (Sony, 1977)
- Parisian Thoroughfare (Arista, 1977)
- Live at Carnegie Hall (Signature, 1978)
- Uptown Dance (Columbia, 1978)
- London Meeting (String Jazz, 1979)
- Stephane Grappelli and Hank Jones (Muse, 1979)
- Venupelli Blues (Affinity, 1979) with Joe Venuti
- At the Winery (Concord Jazz, 1980)
- Happy Reunion (Sunnyside, 1980) with Martial Solal
- Stephane Grappelli '80 (1980)
- Young Django (PolyGram, 1980)
- Stephane Grappelli/David Grisman Live (Warner Bros, 1981)
- Vintage 1981 (Concord Jazz, 1981)
- Stephanova (Concord Jazz, 1983) with Marc Fosset
- Bringing It Together (Cymekob, 1984) with Toots Thielemans
- Conversations (Milestone, 1984) with L. Subramaniam
- We've Got the World on a String (EMI, 1984) with Martin Taylor
- Just One of Those Things (Angel, 1984)
- Looking at You (MPS, 1984)
- On the Road Again (Doctor Jazz, 1984)
- Violins No End with Stuff Smith (Pablo, 1984)
- Grappelli Plays George Gershwin (Musidisc, 1984)
- Together at Last (Flying Fish, 1985) with Vassar Clements
- Bill Coleman with Django and Stéphane Grappelli 1936 to 1938 (DRG, 1985)
- Grappelli Plays Jerome Kern (GRP, 1987)
- The Sound of Jazz (Cleo, 1987)
- Olympia 88 (Atlantic, 1988) with Martial Solal
- The Intimate Grappelli (Jazzlife, 1988)
- Grappelli, Louis Bellson and Phil Woods (Rushmore, 1989)
- How Can You Miss? (Rushmore, 1989)
- The Best of the Jazz Violins (LRC, 1989)
- Anything Goes: Stephane Grappelli & Yo-Yo Ma Play (Mostly) Cole Porter with Yo-Yo Ma
- One on One (Milestone, 1990) with McCoy Tyner
- Shades of Django (Verve, 1990)
- Something Old Something New (Franciscan, 1990)
- My Other Love (Columbia, 1991)
- Live at Warsaw Jazz Festival (Who's Who in Jazz, 1991)
- Anything Goes (Columbia, 1992)
- Legrand Grappelli (Verve, 1992) with Michel Legrand
- Master of Violin (1992)
- First Class (1992, Milan) with Claude Bolling
- 85 & Still Swinging (Angel, 1993)
- La Copine (Munich, 1993)
- Live 1992 (Verve, 1993)
- So Easy to Remember (Omega Classics, 1993)
- Stephane Grappelli in Tokyo (Denon, 1993)
- Hot Licks: I Hear Music (Sound Solutions, 1993)
- Réunion (Linn, 1993) with Martin Taylor
- It's Only a Paper Moon (Four Star, 1994)
- A Portrait of Stephane Grappelli (Empire, 1995)
- Live at the Blue Note (Telarc, 1995)
- Flamingo (Dreyfus, 1996)
- Aquarius (Iris Musique, 1996)
- Cosmopolite Concert (Hot Club, 1996)
- It Might as Well Be Swing (Jazz World, 1996)
- L' Douce France (Universal/Verve, 1996)
- Stephane Grappelli & McCoy Tyner (Who's Who in Jazz, 1996)
- Live (Justin Time, 1998)
- The First Session (Acoustic Disc, 2008)
- Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt the Gold Edition (1998)
- Djangology (Bluebird, 2005)
- Reuters obituary
- Dregni, Michael (2004). Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend. Oxford University Press. p. 70. ISBN 0-19-516752-X.
- Dregni 2004, p. 71.
- Dregni 2004, p. 72.
- Dregni 2004, p. 73
- Dregni 2004, p. 74.
- Dregni, Michael (2006). Django Reinhardt and the Illustrated History of Gypsy Jazz. Speck Press. pp. 45–59. ISBN 978-1-933108-10-0.
- "Performer Adelaide Hall ..." Archived 5 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine., Midnite in Paris, Tumblr.com, 7 September 2011; retrieved 8 June 2014.
- Grappelli, Stéphane (1992). Mon Violon Pour Tout Bagage. Paris: Éditions Calmann-Lévy.
- "Stéphane Grappelli – A tribute introduced by Yehudi Menuhin". Daily Motion, 31 December 1997.
- The Piper (2002). "A Rambling Conversation with Roger Waters concerning all this and that". Retrieved 9 July 2005.
- Listing of Wish You Were Here Experience Edition, Amazon UK.
- Listing of Wish You Were Here Immersion Edition, Amazon UK.
- Ake, David (2004). "Jazz". In Kimmel, Michael; Aronson, Amy. Men and Masculinities. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 438. ISBN 9781576077740.
- Mnookin, Seth (21 December 1999). "Sharps & Flats". Salon.
- Dregni 2004, p. 121.
- Coryell, Larry (2007). Improvising: My Life in Music. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-8793-0826-1.
- Brace, Eric (5 December 1997). "A Memorable Evening With the Great Grappelli". Washington Post.
- Balmer, Paul (2003). Stéphane Grappelli: With and Without Django. Sanctuary. pp. 96, 142. ISBN 9781860744532.
- "Obituary: Stephane Grappelli". The Telegraph, 2 December 1997.
- Balmer, Paul (2003). Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in Jazz. Bobcat Books. pp. 161–163. ISBN 9781847725769.
- Grappelli, Stéphane; Oldenhove, Joseph; Bramy, Jean-Marc (1994). Stéphane Grappelli - Mon violon pour tout bagage. Calmann-Levy.
- Balmer, pp. 9, 128–129.
- "Stéphane Grappelli | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
- Balmer, Paul (2003). Stéphane Grappelli: With and Without Django. London: Sanctuary Publishing. ISBN 978-1-86074-453-2.
- Grappelli, Stéphane; Jean-Marc Bramy (2002). With Only My Violin: The Memoirs of Stéphane Grappelli. New York: Welcome Rain Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56649-151-8.
- Smith, Geoffrey (1987). Stéphane Grappelli: A Biography. London: M. Joseph. ISBN 978-1-85145-012-1.
- Information on biography DVD
- Stéphane Grappelli's Biography & Discography at AllMusic.com
- Stéphane Grappelli's Discography at Discogs.com
- "Twelve Essential Stéphane Grappelli Recordings" by Scott Albin at Jazz.com
- "The Improviser " - 3-part series on Jazz Violinist Stéphane Grappelli on AdventuresInMusic.biz, 2004
- Stéphane Grappelli on YouTube TV appearance
- "My Other Love" - the piano