As much as I love dabbling in other genres, jazz can be kind of painful for my violin and me. It is just so hard not to sound like a complete nerd on the violin when playing jazz. I think it’s that in classical music, we are trained to execute everything straight, everything clean, and, of course, no added blue notes. When we join a jazz jam, the violin often sounds more square and nerdier even than a high school band’s rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. It’s going to take a lot of work for that to sound good.
“Playing jazz on the violin is easy. Just do everything opposite that you would in classical music.” ~ Stephane Grappelli.
I may be misquoting Stephane Grappelli here, but a musician friend once attributed this line to him, and I’ve always kept it in mind when listening to or trying to play jazz. Grappelli is pretty much the gold-standard when it comes to jazz violinists. This Parisian-born, classically-trained, street-inspired improvisational genius developed his craft while pulling six hour days busking and laid tracks with Django Rheinhardt, Duke Ellington, Yehudi Menuhin, and Yo-Yo Ma, to name a few.
Other than a dropped jaw at his clever licks and immaculate phrasing (that sounds so simple but is so not!), what I get from Grappelli’s playing is the impression that he doesn’t care what style or what genre he’s playing; he’s just going to transcend all that technical drudgery and light it up. Soulful, aching, or just overwhelmed with joy, his music drips with an earnest flair. This is kind of the thing with all great musicians–they’re just such a wonderful monster at their instruments that what they play is more direct than any group of words, any span of time, any series of images. This talent is rare and beautiful and everywhere in Grappelli’s recordings.
The video above is a small transcription of a piece Grappelli recorded with Django Rheinhardt which is featured on their 1988 album, Souvenirs.