JAZZ VIOLINISTS

Stuff Smith

Stuff Smith

Stuff Smith was one of the creators of jazz violin. Smith began playing in the 1930s when he was 20 years old. His playing was distinguished by his aggressive rhythms. The trio of Smith, Jimmy Jones (piano) and John Levine (bass) was popular in the jazz world for their performances at the Onyx Club. It is strange but true that even though there was no drummer, the trio generated a rhythmic pulse. The only company to issue their records was the Asch label.


Stephane Grappelli

Stephane Grappelli

Stephane Grappelli was born on 26th January 1908 in Paris and died in the same city on 1st December 1997. As one of the most famous jazz violin players, Stephane Grappelli’s continuous work and admired playing did much to boost the violin’s status as a jazz instrument.

It should be noted that he was self-taught on both violin and piano; but then, from 1924-28 he gained a musical education at the Paris Conservatoire. Until he met guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1933, he played in cinemas and in dance orchestras. When the Hot Club’s boss Pierre Nurri suggested the idea of establishing a string orchestra, they jumped at the chance. So the quintet of the Hot Club of France was established (violin, three acoustic guitars and bass). The Ultraphone, Decca and HMV studio recordings soon made the group popular.

When the Second World War began in 1939, the quintet split up; Grappelli stayed in London and Reinhardt returned to France. A little later Grappelli met the young pianist George Shearing in a new band and stayed with it until the war ended.

In 1946, Grappelli and Reinhardt tried to reunite. Although they made a number of recordings, they were never together for very long. In the 1950s and 60s, although Grappelli played many clubs in Europe, he was little known in the USA. In the early 1970s he began regular tours to different parts of the world. Known for his energy throughout his life, even at 89 Grappelli was at the top of his art.


Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty was born into a family of musicians on 29th September 1942 in the city of Avranches in France. Aged five he began playing the violin and later took up the piano. In his youth his playing fanatically for hours a day was not in vain; he was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire. At the age of 17, although he won the highest award among violinists, he began playing in a symphony orchestra, not as a soloist.

In that period he became interested in the jazz violin, influenced by the records of musicians like Grappelli and Stuff Smith. He also showed his talent by playing in small groups on saxophone and clarinet. After gaining experience in improvisational music he tested his ability in playing jazz violin. This era began in 1962 and continued during his military service, moving over completely to the jazz genre.

From 1964 he began playing with his own groups and he included work with other jazz violin players on his album.

In 1967 he went to the USA and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. He met up with Frank Zappa in America and later worked very closely with him. From 1969, Ponty recorded with the stars of the USA: Frank Zappa and the George Duke trio. After returning to France, forming his own group, Ponty started to experiment, from 1970-72 with free jazz.

After this, he continued his career in the USA with great success. For the first time he played with Frank Zappa on the album, ‘Mothers of Invention’. From 1974-75 he was a member of the second line-up of the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. After mixing with musicians experimenting with jazz-rock and to achieve a new sound, Ponty used different sound processors and synthesisers and became one of the leading exponents of the electronic violin.

Fom the mid 1970s, Ponty recorded some fine solo albums on the Atlantic label. He also recorded together with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and his idol, Stephane Grappelli.

Jean-Luc Ponty entered modern music history as a musician who developed the new possibilities available to the violinist from electronics; at the same time using modern harmonic-melodic conceptions arising from fusion music, to become one of the musicians who gave a new life to his instrument.


Didier Lockwood

Didier Lockwood

Didier Lockwood is one of the world’s best violin players; Stephane Grappelli’s spiritual son and heir, a musician who brought French jazz into the light of the highest international regard and invented a unique sound. He has made gold records; he is one of the best players of Celtic music and a connoisseur of the various cultures of eastern music. He was founder of one of the most popular jazz colleges in Europe, near Paris, where the professional musicians of the world could take advantage of a unique opportunity to improve and advance their improvisational skills.

His father was a professor and teacher of the violin and his brother was a jazz pianist. Lockwood took from the former his great interest in the instrument and from the latter a love for fine improvisation. At that time Didier Lockwood founded a new direction. Electronic music aroused great interest and achieved great success thanks to a violin of the highest quality.

When he was 16 he was deemed worthy of first prize at the Calais National Conservatoire. This award was a springboard which launched his artistic career. During the next ten years Lockwood applied himself diligently to learning different playing skills, beginning within a trio of string instruments and progressing to solo playing. From a quartet to the DLG synthesiser group, he demonstrated his talent in different fields.

Receiving three stars in ‘Downbeat’, the accepted ‘Bible’ of world jazz, and recipient of the first ‘Music of Victory’ for both classical and jazz music gave him great pleasure. He was able to lyrically combine spontaneity with technical perfection.

Between 1993 and 1994 Lockwood accepted invitations to prestigious international festivals to celebrate twenty years of creativity and gave hundreds of concerts all over the world.

In 1996 he made his debut as composer and player with the Lille National Orchestra led by Jean-Claude Casade and later, with the Cannes Orchestra, he played the first performance of ‘Seagulls’, a three-part concert for electro-acoustic violin and symphony orchestra. This was a great achievement!

In 1999 Lockwood composed his Bastille opera, based on the libretto “Space Voyager’s Diary 2” before starting a successful tour of France. In the same year Didier Lockwood was accorded the rank of ‘Art Officer’ and awarded The Ministry of Culture’s medal.

In 2001, the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin gave him ‘carte blanche’ to produce a new work, “Future’s Gift”. Its premier was played by twenty jazzmen and the National Orchestra of France in the Matignon Palace.