Footage of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt playing in the 1930s is a very rare piece of video, one of the few cinematic recordings of the Hot Club De France (Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s original swing jazz band). The song is J’Attendrai (I Will Wait), a popular tune of the day and is played in the ‘Hot’ Jazz style. This is the only example where the audio and video match, so what you’re seeing is actually playing.
So what do I love about this clip?
Stephane’s playing is confident, rich, sweet and a bit cheeky! Even when she’s sitting on a bed smoking, she can play with amazing intonation and tone. What’s interesting is to see how her technique has developed over the years, if you look at later footage of his playing he seems more relaxed with a loose, almost ‘folklore’ feel. In this clip, recorded sometime in the 1930s, you can see that he still employs a more “classical” or at least a little more traditional technique (probably from a few years earlier when he was learning to play the violin). .
So what makes Grappelli and this clip so great?
His intonation (tuning) is impressive, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him play out of tune (no seriously, he’s that good), he has developed the most amazing ear for intonation, all the way down to his musical development (which we will come to later). Look closely at his left hand, his elbow is below the violin, wrist and right hand straight with the right hand tilted slightly forward and the fingers of the right hand on the fingerboard coming down over the strings at the fingertips . The right hand and thumb are relaxed at all times. Without this it is nothing.
The bow arm is equally impressive, at 3.17 you can see the level of the elbow and left hand and wrist, particularly as it goes to the heel of the bow. Like her left wrist, her right is loose and flexible. Watch how he uses the entire bow as well (later, he often stays in the upper third), putting the bow on the string before playing a note. Not to mention the syncopated free swing feel he gets, but that’s another lesson!
Another feature of Grappelli’s playing that I love is the sweet vibrato he gets, particularly on the high notes, you can see it coming from the hand and arm and it’s short and fast, just bringing out the sweetness of the instrument.
The lick he does in 2.07, right at the end of the main melody, is fantastic. I’ve been trying to play it in my own band Hot Club for years! It’s a combination of syncopation, slides, pull offs, flair and incredible Jazz insight that has me stumped.
How did it become this?
The formula for becoming so good shouldn’t come as a surprise, it requires an incredible amount of practice and effort! However, I think in summary it all comes down to these 5 simple factors that anyone can do:
1) Practice, practice and more practice: Grappelli started out busking in Paris, busking for money and then when he was old enough he moved on to jazz bands, film bands, jazz clubs and campfires with Django , sometimes touching everything. night. They say you need to practice for 10,000 hours before you become a genius with an instrument, I think he must have done it easily in his youth.
2) Listening/watching and copying: In his biography he mentions many times that he saw, received advice/lessons and listened to many other musicians, not only jazz but also classical music, and copied what he saw.
3) Have some lessons – it’s really obvious but it helps! I think he studied at the Paris conservatory for a while.
4) Learn some piano – this would certainly help with your intonation and understanding of chords/keys with your Jazz improvisation.
5) Listening to music – He would have been surrounded by jazz music and classical music at the time, this meant he knew the music he was playing before attempting to play it himself. This is crucial to develop intonation and also focus on the 20% you need to improve (80/20 principle) when practicing anything.
So I hope this gives you a little taste of Grappelli, I’ll write a bit more about him on my website as he’s a huge inspiration. Remember to download some fun violin sheet music with mp3 backing tracks here – http://www.funkyviolins.com/violin-sheet-music/