Monday, October 09, 2006

Stephane Grappelli

One of the best features on the iPod is the shuffle function. I have almost 12,000 songs on mine, and it can lead to some interesting transitions. It can be a little jarring to go from Bessie Smith to Anthony Braxton. But still, it makes for some interesting listening.

A couple of days ago, three songs in a row by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France played sequentially. Besides guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), the group featured violinist Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997).

I had the pleasure of seeing Grappelli in the mid-90s at the Hollywood Bowl. I saw him taken backstage in his wheelchair before the concert. He looked extremely frail and weak and I had serious doubts that this concert would be worthwhile. I got him to sign my book (reproduced above). I even got to talk to him a little bit. His English wasn’t very good, but it was better than my French!

When it came time for his concert segment, Grappelli was walked very slowly to his seat by his nephew. The entire Bowl was silent at the sight of this man who looked like he should be in a hospital instead of center stage. He picked up his bow and started the first number. It was as if we all had been transported back 60 years! Miraculously, Grappelli had lost nothing of his technique – there were no blurred runs, no intonation problems - nothing. It was as if the music had the power to melt the years from him. I know it sounds odd, but at the start of the first number, you could hear the entire audience smile.

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