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Erik Visits an (Non) American Grave, Part 338

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This is the grave of Stéphane Grappelli.

Born in 1908 in Paris, his mother died young. But his father, who was an Italian writer, knew Isadora Duncan and when he was drafted into World War I by the Italian government, tried to convince her to take care of his young son. He was already in her dance school. But when she bailed for the United States, he had to head to an orphanage for the war years. It was a Dickensian experience that he later bitterly recollected. But his father survived the war and rescued him in 1918. He learned the violin, went to school for it, and was mostly just an alright player it seems in these early years. When his father remarried and moved to Germany, the boy remained in Paris because he hated his stepmother. He was 15 years old and on his own. His violin became his means of supporting himself, first through playing in silent film orchestras. After hearing Paul Whiteman play in 1928, he was blown away that his violin could be played in jazz. But he also felt his future was in piano and switched that full time for some time. But he later picked up the violin again.

In 1931, Grappelli met Django Reinhardt. This would change his life. By 1934, they were playing together regularly in the Hot Club and made some of the greatest music of the era between that time and the outbreak of World War II. For the rest of his long life, he would play with basically everyone, a legend, even if his most innovative days were behind him: Ellington, Paul Simon, Joe Pass, Yo Yo Ma, I could go on. He even played on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album, but it ended up so low in the mix that Roger Waters didn’t credit him since the band felt it would be an insult.

Let’s listen to some Grappelli.

Stéphane Grappelli died in 1997 after undergoing a hernia operation. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

I am currently on my way to Texas for a conference, where maximum graving will take place. If you would like to help cover the required expenses to keep this series alive, you can donate here. I’m not saying you need to send me back to France or anything, but if you are interested me covering other jazz legends, Bud Powell is in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania and Albert Ayler is in Highland Hills, Ohio. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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