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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


Swing from Paris

Original recordings Volume 2: 1935-1943

rec 1935-1943

NAXOS JAZZ LEGENDS 8.120688 [58.05]

Hot lips [3.06]
Ain’t misbehavin’ [2.55]
H.C.Q. Strut [2.58]
Swing from Paris [2.33]
I’ve had my moments [2.59]
Time on my hands [2.42]
Scatter-brain [3.12]
Ting-a-ling [3.27]
Lying in the hay [2.58]
Playmates [2.56]
Sweet potato piper [3.02]
Twelfth Street Rag [2.54]
Beat me Daddy, eight to a bar [3.01]
I never knew [2.36]
Body and soul [3.24]
The folks who live on the hill [3.30]
Weep no more, my lady [3.07]
That old black magic [3.02]
Heavenly music [3.08]
Featuring Django Reinhardt (guitar) and George Shearing (piano)

Menuhin, a great admirer of and collaborator with Grappelli once commented, ‘Stephane is like one of those jugglers who sends ten plates into the air and recovers them all’. Despite his dominance, it’s hard to know on which musician to focus here. The incredible technique, some of it breathtaking from not only Grappelli but also guitarist Reinhardt, is exemplified by the track (4) from which this disc takes its title. The two met at the Croix du Sud Montparnasse nightclub in early 1934. ‘One day’, recalled Grappelli, ‘ he was strumming on his guitar, and I started to improvise with him’. With Reinhardt’s brother, Joseph, and Roger Chaput on guitars and Louis Vola on double bass, the idea of the quintet was born. ‘There were no microphones then, so it was hard for a violin to be heard. It was a revolution to play jazz only with string instruments’.

Then there’s the music’s atmospheric French quality in ‘I’ve had my moments’ exemplified by the chordal textures before Grappelli even appears, followed by its unpredictable, occasionally sexy, rhythmic kicks from the accompanying players. This is a wonderfully evocative disc from mid-1930s Paris, with Grappelli’s Quintet of the Hot Club de France taking centre stage, before he moved to London as the shadows of mid-Second World War extended further across Europe. In London, Grappelli joined the Swingtette at Hatchett’s restaurant in Piccadilly, on average a ten-part ensemble plus vocalist such as Beryl Davis. Soon after the start of the Battle Britain, the group’s pianist Arthur Young was injured in an air raid and his place taken by the blind 20 year-old George Shearer, heard here in sessions made in 1941 and 1943.

Grappelli uses all possible violin techniques, pizzicato, harmonics, double-stopping, glissandi among them, and integrates them smoothly into his jazz style. The wartime recordings tend either to be cheerily upbeat in character, perhaps to keep public morale high, such as in ‘Sweet Potato Piper’ with its cartoon-like silly sounds of novachord and pipes, or there’s a retrospective nostalgia using popular revivals of tunes from as far back as 1916 (‘Twelfth Street Rag’). For sheer variety of instrumental colour, listen out for four violins, harp, cello, guitar, bass, drums, vibes and the first of Shearing’s appearances in ‘I never knew’.

‘I play best when I am happy or sad’, said Grappelli, ‘or when I was young and in love. If I have ordinary troubles, I forget everything when I play. I split into two people and the other plays," he said. And that’s just how it all sounds here.

Christopher Fifield

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