Stephane Grappelli

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: A Life in the Jazz Century: documentary film
PERFORMER: Stephane Grappelli
CATALOGUE NO: 074 181-9

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Jazz history lists innovators who came upon the scene like meteors, only to have their lives tragically curtailed. By contrast, artists like Stephane Grappelli proved equally gifted in both music and years.

A Life in the Jazz Century traces the late violinist’s 77 years as an active professional, from the poverty-stricken youth busking in the courtyards of his beloved Montmartre to his status as a seemingly ageless, perpetually vital elder statesman of jazz.

An interview filmed not long before Grappelli’s death at 89 captures the violinist’s grace and wry humour (optional subtitles are a plus for understanding his good but heavily accented English) as he recalls stumbling upon New Orleans jazz for the first time, plus the events leading to his partnership with the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Their Quintet of the Hot Club of France showed that Europeans could not only play American jazz but make it personal and passionate, too. Essentially self-taught, Grappelli had a fluent, relaxed and elegant style that underwent few changes over the years, and earned equal admiration from jazz and classical colleagues.

We see his famous duets with Yehudi Menuhin, along with the gangly, teenage Nigel Kennedy trading licks with the master at Ronnie Scott’s.

In addition to all the existing Reinhardt footage, a supplementary DVD provides ample extras, including Grappelli’s scintillating post-war London-based combo featuring a young George Shearing, vintage photos from the violinist’s shoebox and a glimpse of Grappelli’s wistful, impressionistic piano playing.

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Superb production values, meticulous research and labours of love inform this indispensable documentary package. Highly recommended.