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Stéphane Grappelli

Stéphane Grappelli
Grappelli in 1976, by Allan Warren
Background information
Birth name Stéfano Grappelli
Born (1908-01-26)26 January 1908
Paris, France
Died 1 December 1997(1997-12-01) (aged 89)
Paris, France
Genres Swing, continental jazz, Gypsy jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Violin, piano, saxophone, accordion
Associated acts Django Reinhardt, Quintette du Hot Club de France, Yehudi Menuhin, Oscar Peterson, David Grisman

Stéphane Grappelli (French pronunciation: ​; 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.[1]

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.


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Post-war 1.2
  • Personal life 2
  • Discography 3
    • Albums 3.1
    • Collaborations 3.2
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Early years

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.[2] Stéfano's mother died when Stéfano 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 as an American citizen fled the country; she turned over her château to be used as a military hospital.[3] 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.[3] Stéfano stayed at the orphanage until his father returned from the war in 1918; the father found them an apartment in Barbès. Having been sickened by his experiences with the Italian military, Ernesto took Stéfano to city hall, pulled two witnesses off the street, and had his son nationalized as a Frenchman on July 28, 1919.[3] The boy's first name of Stéfano was gallicized to Stéphane.

The boy began playing the violin at age 12; his father pawned his suit to buy him a three-quarter size violin. Ernesto sent his son to violin lessons, but Stéphane 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.”[3] After allowing Stéphane to learn independently for a brief period, Ernesto enrolled him at the Conservatoire de Paris on December 31, 1920; it would give him the chance to learn music theory, ear-training, and solfeggio. Stéphane graduated in 1923 with a second-tier medal.[3] Ernesto remarried, to Anna Fuchs and moved to Strasbourg with her during Stéphane's final year of schooling. Though invited to join them, Stéphane chose to stay behind. He despised his father's new bride.[3]

At age 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.[4] 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 Grappelli 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 Louis Armstrong's "Dinah".[4] 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, he envied Warlop's income.[4] After experimenting with piano, Grappelli stopped playing violin, choosing simplicity, new sound, and paid gigs over familiarity.[4] 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."[5] 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.[5] Grégor's band reunited as jazz ensemble under the leadership of pianist Alain Romans and saxophonist 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,[6] their commitments to their respective bands prevented them from pursuing a career together.

Three years later, in 1934, the two encountered each other at Claridge's in London, England, and they 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.[7]

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.[8] Also in the neighborhood was the artistic salon of R-26, at which Grappelli and Reinhardt performed regularly.[9] 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".

The Quintette du Hot Club de France disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II; Grappelli was in London and stayed there during the war. In 1940, a jazz pianist sideman in Grappelli's band.


Grappelli in 1991

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.

Grappelli played 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 Thielemans, jazz guitarist Henri Crolla, bassist Jon Burr 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 (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, bassist / arranger Pino Presti, 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".[10] A remastered version, with Grappelli's contribution fully audible, can be found on the 2011 Experience[11] and Immersion[12] 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.

Personal life

Grappelli was gay,[13][14][15][16][17] but he did have 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.[18] Grappelli never married.[19]

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.[20]

He died in Paris after undergoing a hernia operation. He is buried in the city's Père Lachaise Cemetery.



This list does not include all compilation releases.

  • Djangology: Django Reinhardt, the Gypsy Genius (1936 to 1940)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt the Gold Edition (1934 to 1937, copyright 1998)
  • Bill Coleman with Django and Stephane Grappelli 1936 to 1938 (released 1985, DRG Records)
  • Unique Piano Session Paris 1955 (1955, Jazz Anthology)
  • Improvisations (Paris, 1956)
  • Paris Encounter (Atlantic, 1969) with Gary Burton
  • Afternoon in Paris (1971, MPS)
  • Manoir de Mes Reves (1972, Musidisc)
  • Homage To Django (1972, released 1976 Classic Jazz)
  • Stephane Grappelli (1973, Pye 12115)
  • Black Lion at Montreux with the Black Lion Allstars (Black Lion Records BL-213, Recorded July 4, 1973)
  • Just one of those things! (1973 Black Lion Records) Recorded at the 1973 Montreaux Jazz Festival
  • Stephane Grappelli - I Got Rhythm! (1974 Black Lion Records) with Diz Disley, Denny Wright and Len Skeat recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 5 November 1973
  • Satin Doll (1975, Vanguard)
  • Parisian Thoroughfare (with Roland Hanna, Mel Lewis & George Mraz, Arista/Freedom Records 1975)
  • The Rock Peter and the Wolf (1976 RSO Records) (2007 CD Verdant Records) with Jack Lancaster, Phil Collins, Brian Eno, Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Gary Brooker, Gary Moore, Alvin Lee, Manfred Mann etc.
  • Stephane Grappelli and Cordes (1977, Musidisc)
  • Live at Carnegie Hall (1978, Signature)
  • Uptown Dance (1978, Columbia)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti: Venupelli Blues (1979, Affinity)
  • Oscar Peterson Skol (1979, released 1990 Pablo)
  • Young Django (1979, MPS)
  • Sonny Lester Collection (1980, LRC)
  • Stephane Grappelli '80 (1980 Happy Bird)
  • Stephane Grappelli/David Grisman: Live at Berklee (recorded September 20, 1979, Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Diz Disley: Live at Carnegie Hall (1983, Dr Jazz)
  • Vintage 1981 (1981, Concord)
  • Just One Of Those Things (1984, EMI Studios)
  • Grappelli Plays George Gershwin (1984, Musidisc)
  • Martin Taylor: We've Got The World on a String (1984, EMI)
  • Stuff Smith: Violins No End (1984, Pablo)
  • Fascinating Rhythm (1986, Jazz Life)
  • Live in San Francisco (1986, Blackhawk)
  • Classic Sessions: Stephane Grappelli, with Phil Woods and Louie Bellson (1987, RTV Communications Group)
  • Stephane Grappelli Plays Jerome Kern (1987, GRP)
  • The Intimate Grappelli (1988, Jazz Life)
  • Steph'n'Us, with Don Burrows & George Golla (1988, Cherry Pie. Possibly Australia only)
  • How Can You Miss, with Louie Bellson and Phil Woods (1989, Rushmore)
  • Jean-Luc Ponty - Violin Summit (1989, Jazz Life)
  • Jazz 'Round Midnight (1989, Verve)
  • My Other Love (1991, Colombia)
  • Stephane Grappelli in Tokyo (1991, A & M records)
  • Bach to the Beatles (1991, Academy Sound)
  • Stephane Grappelli 1992 Live (1992, Verve)
  • Michel Legrand (1992, Verve)
  • Martin Taylor Reunion (1993, Linn Records)
  • Jazz Masters (20+-year compilation, 1994, Verve)
  • 85 and Still Swinging (1993, Angel)
  • Stephane Grappelli Live at the Blue Note (1996, Telarc Jazz)
  • Crazy Rhythm (1996/2000, Pulse)
  • Parisian Thoroughfare (1997, Laserlight)


  • Violin Summit: Stephane Grappelli, Stuff Smith, Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty (1967, Polygram)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Earl Hines: Stephane Grappelli meets Earl Hines
  • Stephane Grappelli and Hubert Clavecin: Dansez Sur Vos Souvenirs (Musidisc)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Barney Kessel: Remember Django (1969, Black Lion)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Barney Kessel: Limehouse Blues (1972, Black Lion)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Gary Burton: Paris Encounter (1972, Atlantic)
  • Stephane Grapellli and Paul Simon: Paul Simon (9) 1972 Hobo's Blues (Columbia 1972)
  • Menuhin and Grappelli Play Berlin, Kern, Porter and Rodgers & Hart (1973 to 1985, EMI)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Oscar Peterson (1973, Musicdisc)
  • Stéphane Grappelli and Baden Powell: La Grande Reunion (1974, Accord)
  • Stephane Grappelli and The Diz Disley Trio: Violinspiration (1975, MPS)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin: Jalousie (1975, EMI)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin: Fascinating Rhythm (Music of the 30's) (1975, EMI)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Bill Coleman: Stephane Grappelli/Bill Coleman (1976, Classic Jazz [CJ 24], recorded in 1973)
  • Stephane Grappelli and The George Shearing Trio: The Reunion (1977, MPS)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Martial Solal (1980, MPO)
  • Stephane Grappelli and David Grisman Live (1981, Warner Brothers)
  • Stephane Grappelli with Marc Fosset Stephanova (Concord Jazz, 1983)
  • Stephane Grappeli with L Subramanian Conversations (1984)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Toots Thielemans: Bringing it Together (1984, Cymekob)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Helen Merrill (1986, Music Makers)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Vassar Clements: Together at Last (1987, Flying Fish)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty: Compact Jazz (1988, MPS)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Martial Solal: Olympia 1988 (1988, Atlantic)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti: Best of Jazz Violins (1989, LRC)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Yo Yo Ma: Anything Goes (1989)
  • Stephane Grappelli and McCoy Tyner; One on One (1990, Milestone)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Dr. L. Subramaniam: Conversations (1984, Milestone)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Claude Bolling: First Class (1992, Milan)
  • The Rosenberg Trio featuring Stéphane Grappelli, Jan Akkerman & Frits Landesbergen: Caravan (1994, Polydor BV)
  • Stephane Grappelli and Michel Petrucciani: Flamingo (Dreyfus 1996)
  • Stephane Grappelli, Carl Hession, Frankie Gavin, Marc Fosset: Frankie Gavin 2003–2004 Collection/The Grappelli Era (2003)
  • Stéphane Grappelli : Verve Jazz Masters 11


  1. ^ Reuters obituary
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dregni 2004, p. 71
  4. ^ a b c d Dregni 2004, p. 72
  5. ^ a b Dregni 2004, p. 73
  6. ^ Dregni 2004, p. 74
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Performer Adelaide Hall ...", Midnite in Paris, 7 September 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  9. ^ Grappelli, Stéphane (1992). Mon Violon Pour Tout Bagage. Éditions Calmann-Lévy, Paris.
  10. ^ The Piper (2002). "A Rambling Conversation with Roger Waters concerning all this and that". Retrieved July 9, 2005.
  11. ^ Experience EditionWish You Were HereListing of , Amazon UK
  12. ^ Immersion EditionWish You Were HereListing of , Amazon UK
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Dregni 2004, p. 121.
  16. ^ Coryell, Larry (2007). Improvising: My Life in Music. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-8793-0826-1.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Obituary: Stephane Grappelli". The Telegraph, 2 Dec 1997.
  20. ^ Balmer. pp. 9, 128–129.

Further reading

External links

  • Obituary
  • Information on biography DVD
  • "Twelve Essential Stéphane Grappelli Recordings" by Scott Albin at
  • "The Improviser " - 3-part series on Jazz Violinist Stéphane Grappelli on, 2004
  • Stéphane Grappelli on YouTube TV appearance
  • "My Other Love" - the piano
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