No Drowning in the Mainstream
It is Monday night. I am sitting at my desk. I am working, really. The radio is on. The DJ is talking about Stephane Grapelli, Django Reinhardt, and Le Hot Club de France. Then he plays the best music that I have heard on the radio since December, 1958, when I was born.
The violin was not invented for classical musicians; it was created for Stephane Grapelli. No, the violin was not created for Stephane Grapelli--it grew out of his chin. Stephane Grapelli is to the jazz violin what Buddy Rich (you did not for one moment think that I would leave the Big Bud out of this column, did you?) is to the drums. That is, Grapelli is a genius, an immensely enjoyable violinist.
Grapelli and Reinhardt formed the quintet for Le Hot Club in 1934. Grapelli had just begun to make a name for himself as a solo musician. Django was already famous throughout Europe. A gypsy by birth, Django was the first great jazz guitarist. He revolutionized guitar technique. He had lost two left-hand fingers early in his life. This handicap led him to invent new ways of playing and resulted in new sounds, new progressions, and new rhythms. Grapelli's swinging, raggy violin worked well with Reinhardt's rhythmic guitar style. The two were a smash hit throughout Europe. They played Le Hot Club together for years before either of them came to this country to perform.
Grapelli's sound, his swing, is unmistakable. He can play exactly as he did in 1934. He has also recorded some modern works with Jean-Luc Ponty. And he has even recorded with Yehudi Menuhin. He will play his versatile violin tomorrow night with the Diz Disley trio at the Berklee Performance Center.
And speaking of the name Diz, Dizzy Gillespie, the one and only man of the bent trumpet is in town at Kix Live, tonight through Saturday night. Brother Blue says that Gillespie's horn is bent up toward the sky because he plays for Louis Armstrong in heaven. But, do not worry: earthly human beings are allowed to featured on drums. He is not Buddy Rich, but who is?
Muddy Waters is at Paul's Mall with the John Wardwell Blues Band. Muddy Duddy is the King, the author of the blues. He has been playing slide guitar and singing for years and is bound to center his sets on standards like "I'm Ready" and "Hoochie Koochie Man."
The elder statesmen of jazz are in Boston this weekend. The old line is alive and well and swinging. The mainstream is flowing quickly through the bean town. If only Buddy Rich were here.
The DJ is talking again: "Grapelli's innate sense of swing, his incredible control just leave you agape." I turn the radio off and finish this column. Wouldn't it be nice if Brother Blue were right? Wouldn't it be nice if Louis and Django did jam every night, just for fun? "Humbling thought," as George Wald used to muse.
Anyway, you might as well dive into the muddy waters of the mainstream this weekend. You may come up dizzy, but you will not drown.