Tag Archives: Stephane Grappelli

Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2013: Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli

Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19th ****

You had to feel sorry for Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis’s trio having to work hard and fast on fingerbusting solos in the sweltering heat of yesterday evening at the Spiegeltent. But right from the off, this impressive band was cooking (in more ways than one), lulling the audience into a false sense of laidback, playful security on an opening Honeysuckle Rose then driving the speed up into top gear and performing most of the old Waller warhorse at an exhaustingly fast pace.

What was obvious from the outset was what a tight unit Kliphuis, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy are. Watching them communicate with eye contact, and – in the case of Kliphuis and Clark – play complicated passages in unison with the breeziest of casual elegance, it was clear that theirs is a relationship where familiarity and spontaneity happily co-exist.

Whereas many Hot Club-style bands may boast one top drawer guitarist or a fantastic instrumentalist out front, Kliphuis’s trio has twin virtuosi in the form of him and Clark, as was most perfectly showcased on the stunning Grappelli ballad Souvenir de Villengen, a musical dialogue between the two.

Other highlights of their one-set gig were a seductive take on The Nearness of You (which highlighted just how lovely the all-strings sound is, particularly on ballads), a lightning fast Shine and the finale, a whistlestop tour of genres of violin music in which Kliphuis (like the late Grappelli) plays – and another demonstration of his loose, lyrical and swinging style.

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 20th 2013

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Tim Kliphuis: Grappelli a Go-Go

TimKliphuisGuitarists inspired by the gypsy jazz playing of the legendary Django Reinhardt are ten-a-penny but violinists emulating the jaunty, joie-de-vivre-oozing, style of Stephane Grappelli, the other star of the iconic Quintet of the Hot Club of France, are much less common. Dutch virtuoso Tim Kliphuis is a rare example – and one who is bringing a new Grappelli tribute concert to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival next week.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that a Grappelli tribute concert means a concert of music played by Kliphuis – who counts the late French man as his prime violin inspiration, along with Jean-Luc Ponty – in the style of his hero. But, in fact, it’s more than that: the music which Kliphuis’s trio will play will mostly be numbers which Grappelli wrote, and which have seldom been performed, least of all by their composer.

Indeed, it may be news to most of us that the grand homme of jazz violin produced enough compositions to fill even half of a concert. However, Kliphuis says:  “We’ve unearthed compositions that people won’t have heard performed – certainly not by Grappelli, and not by anybody else as far as  I know. I want to show how lovely they are.”

But why is it that we don’t know about Grappelli as composer? “Well, it’s his own fault,” laughs Kliphuis. “It’s because he didn’t play his own tunes. He just wrote them, and he would record them on an album – that’s how we know them or they would have disappeared completely – maybe once, maybe twice and that was that.”

Like many jazz greats, Grappelli didn’t vary his concert repertoire too much as he grew older. Kliphuis says: “His original tunes were probably not as well known by his accompanists, and I think he was very happy just letting his accompanists play what they knew and what they were comfortable with – and not rehearsing too much. So he recorded the tunes – to get them on record, have a document of them – but in concerts, he’d play well-known tunes, hits like Sweet Georgia Brown and Crazy Rhythm. He wanted an easygoing approach which of course works, so the show would be fun because the musicians were enjoying themselves and not reading or thinking too much.”

We know that Grappelli co-wrote (with Reinhardt) many of the classic Hot Club tunes, but when did this solo composing take place – all the way through his career?  “It started in the 1940s, after the Hot Club. During the war years he was in London. His first composition is from 1942 – it’s called Jive Bomber – and there’s another called Piccadilly Stomp from the same year. Those are the first two I’ve found that are kind of suitable for playing by us.

“I’m sure he composed tunes between the 1940s and the 1970s but you don’t see them until the 1970s because then he would record a song on an album somewhere. With me being very much into Grappelli’s style as a fiddler, any record that I’d see that I didn’t know all the tunes on, I’d buy – so I ended up with a lot of different recordings of Sweet Georgia Brown but I also found some unfamiliar songs that I had to check out.”

It was a ballad called Souvenir de Villingen that first alerted Kliphuis to his hero’s composing skills. “It’s slightly unusual, quite modern and classical sounding. And of course he plays it very beautifully. It’s a melody you remember.” In all, Kliphuis reckons, Grappelli probably wrote between 20 and 30 compositions. “I know ten or 12 of them well, and I play eight of them that I think are great. So it’s like that – there’s a percentage that are not quite up to the standard of great songs but there are a few that are really good and so we’ve taken those and put them in the programme, which will also include his big hits and songs that he was fond of playing.”

The “we” that Kliphuis refers to throughout our chat is his regular trio, the other two thirds of which are Scottish. Since 2006, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy have worked regularly with Kliphuis, both in the UK and abroad, and the unit is very much a working band – a rare species in this day and age.

One of the reasons it works, says Kliphuis, is because – like Grappelli – they all love classical music. “That’s probably the thing that binds us. The love of classical music translates itself in a wish to be kind of dynamic, to have really high points and low lows and to have a range of emotions in the music we’re playing– we don’t just play swingy stuff, where you do a set of swing and another set of swing. We are trying to go beyond that and to get more emotion in our concerts and they are both looking for that as much as I am.”

* Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19 at 6.30pm. For info & tickets, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

(First published in The Scotsman, July 15 2013)

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Australia’s First Lady of Jazz

Had it not been for Julie Andrews and a weekly pile of ironing, Janet Seidel, who is currently touring the UK, might not have become the renowned singer and pianist that she is. The glamorous fiftysomething given the title of  First Lady of Jazz  by critics in her native Australia only discovered her singing voice thanks to the LP of the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady, which she listened to every time she carried out her weekly chore – of doing her family’s ironing.

“I’ve got four brothers – I was the only girl – and I used to listen to that record over and over again while I was ironing their shirts. So when my school said
they were going to stage My Fair Lady, I thought: ‘Gosh, I can sound exactly like Julie Andrews.’ So I auditioned and got the role, and I’m so grateful because that experience gave me the chance to conquer my shyness: I put the pancake make-up on and I became Eliza Doolittle, not Janet Seidel.”

Brought up on a dairy farm near Adelaide, Seidel had been playing piano from an early age and was regularly “shuffled out to play pieces for my granny”. Her natural shyness didn’t prevent her from playing piano but it took a while for her to sing as she played – after all, she had to be herself, not Eliza, in that context. “It was a leap of faith, really,” she says.

In her late teens and early twenties, while she was studying classical music at university in Adelaide, Seidel formed a band with two of her brothers. “We did everything from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo to Suzi Quatro songs. I had a keyboard and we’d play country dances and all sorts of gigs.” Even now, she still works with one of her brothers: David Seidel is the bass player in her current trio.

During Seidel’s university years, piano bars became all the rage – and proved to be a lucrative way of subsidising student life, though it took a bit of getting used to. Seidel explains: “I was so used to having my brothers there on guitar and bass, and to being surrounded by friends. For this solo gig, I had to expand my repertoire and learn how to interact with strangers – the idea of the piano bar is that people come in and sit around the piano bar and want to talk to you. It really was a baptism of fire but it served me well. Back then, you could get work anywhere in the world just playing piano and singing.”

To begin with, she played poppier material – Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were her favourite songwriters – but she soon graduated on to the Great American Songbook and since then, it has interested her “almost exclusively”.

Seidel first heard jazz on the radio when she was still at school. “The ABC had a programme, Music to Midnight, which I used to listen to – and that’s how I first heard Nat ‘King’ Cole and Blossom Dearie.” Both of these great singer-pianists proved highly influential – but the girlish-sounding Dearie especially so. The jazz writer Whitney Balliett once said of her “tiny” voice that, without a microphone, “it wouldn’t reach the second floor of a doll’s house”.

During her student days, Seidel had the chance to see Dearie perform – and it proved to be a defining moment. “She came to Adelaide as the support artist for Stephane Grappelli who was on an Australian tour. She did a solo thing in the first half and it was just magical, you know – one of those spine-tingling moments.. I’d always been a bit ashamed of my voice – it wasn’t a huge operatic voice, and it wasn’t a big mama kind of belter. Then I heard Blossom’s fairy-like voice and I thought: ‘She’s so delicate and intimate, and still communicating that way without doing anything silly with her voice.’ And I loved the way she played piano.”

Peggy Lee’s recordings also helped shape Seidel’s soft and gentle style. “I read in a book that, before she became a star, Peggy was singing in a bar and there was a lot of loud noise. She decided that she would sing a bit more softly to see if it would quieten the crowd down, and it worked.”

Seidel toured Scotland a couple of years ago with a show of Blossom Dearie songs, but she’s not the only heroine to whom she has paid tribute: Doris Day is another favourite and she takes comparisons to Day as a great compliment. “She was a very tuneful and very swinging jazz singer – she really knew how to phrase and she had a lovely light lilting kind of approach to singing.”

Recently, Seidel was hired to sing a jingle for an Audi advert, to be broadcast on British television. For that, she was called upon to sing like Julie London – with whom she bears a strong vocal resemblance. “She was a big influence on me. I love that cool, unfussed style and the timbre of her voice – it’s a very caressing sound without being forced or deliberately sexy.”

A Julie London tribute may be the next obvious step, but for this tour, Seidel is celebrating Johnny Mercer’s songbook, including the ballad Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home – a song which would be apt for any jazz musician, let alone one who’s on an eight-month house-swap ….

* Janet Seidel Trio plays Recital Room, Glasgow on Thursday,  March 15, at 7.30pm. Call 0141 353 8000 or visit http://www.glasgowconcerthalls.com for tickets.

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Django

If there’s a gig at any jazz festival which is guaranteed to attract and delight punters who ordinarily wouldn’t touch jazz with a five-foot pole, it’s the one with the Django Reinhardt-inspired band. Thanks to the fact that, over the last 25 years, the genius gypsy jazz guitarist’s extremely accessible style of music has been heard on everything from Renault Clio adverts to movie soundtracks (Belleville Rendez-Vous, Chocolat), it’s familiar beyond the jazz world – and popular in its own right.

The Edinburgh Jazz Festival, in one of its smarter moves, has picked up on this year’s centenary of the guitar legend and has even more Reinhardt-style bands in its programme than usual. Reinhardt – actually, I’m going to call him Django, because nobody ever calls him by his surname – may have been dead for over five decades but his pioneering gypsy jazz guitar playing and legacy of recordings have undoubtedly inspired more imitators and tribute bands than any other jazz musician’s.

Why? Well, there are various reasons. One is that he was the greatest and the first; a true original who fused his native gypsy music with the swinging jazz that he heard on American records in the early 1930s. You only need to watch Woody Allen’s Sweet And Lowdown – the fictional story of “the world’s second-greatest guitar player” – to see how a musician could become obsessed with mastering the Django style. There are, unsurprisingly, an awful lot of Django anoraks out there.

If you’re a natural-born show-off who’s a gifted guitar player, imitating Django’s digital gymnastics is a sure-fire way of grabbing attention – while cashing in on the Reinhardt name. Similarly, a band with a variation on the classic Django/Hot Club line-up of three guitars, bass and violin (or clarinet) can also exploit the listening public’s love affair with Django’s gypsy jazz.

Another reason for the proliferation of Djangly bands is that the best-loved part of his output – the recordings he made as a member of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France in the 1930s and 1940s – is simply some of the happiest, most uplifting jazz there is. It’s sophisticated but easy to appreciate, and Django’s colourful and flamboyant flights of fancy – all the more impressive when you realise he was limited to the use of only two fingers on his left hand as the result of burns sustained in a fire when he was 18 – have been credited with paving the way for such great rock guitarists as Jimi Hendrix.

For me, Django’s appeal is multi-faceted. As both an improviser and a composer (of such beautiful ballads as Manoir de Mes Reves, My Serenade or his big hit, Nuages), he has a unique way with a melody; on slow numbers in particular there’s an ethereal, melancholy quality which is unmistakably his. Faster tunes showcase his wit and astounding dexterity. On solo numbers, or numbers with guitar and bass accompaniment, he brings so much drama and excitement that when you play them back in your mind you feel sure there was another soloist in there: play I’ll See You In My Dreams and hear what I mean.

In Django’s hands, the most familiar tunes go off in unexpected directions. Just listen to the wonderful, bright and optimistic-sounding chord with which he prefaces the chorus of the Marseillaise (renamed Echos de France) on the first recording he made when he was reunited with Stephane Grappelli after the war.

Of course his partnership with Grappelli is another reason for loving Django. That they came together in the early 1930s – they hit it off when they were both in a dance band at Paris’s Claridge Hotel – was fortuitous, but the fact they were able to keep the sparks flying throughout their collaboration is something to be thankful for. Their recordings in the late 1930s are as thrilling as the first ones, and even after a six-year separation during the war years, the magic was still there. Their partnership is one of the miracles of jazz. The recordings these men made as part of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France simply exude joie-de-vivre. Their playing, while dazzling in its virtuosity, has a warmth and casual but jaunty elegance about it that defeats many of their imitators who may be wizards at mastering the technique but can’t conjure up the jubilant, spontaneous spirit of that archetypal French jazz band.

And the Frenchness, that certain quelque chose – in this case, a beguiling mixture of playfulness, whimsy and laid-back charm – is another factor in my love affair with Django and his music. Of course, his playing was an expression of his restless personality which many friends and colleagues described as infuriating. He was an unconventional, lackadaisical and often unreliable character who had to be taken in hand by the older Grappelli to get the recordings done.

This was a guy who kept a pet monkey, turned up for formal concerts in odd shoes and splashed his cash from his first Hot Club recording date on a giant white stetson. Listening to interviews about Django, it shines through that – like such other eccentric geniuses as Lester Young and Thelonious Monk – there was huge affection for him despite his often exasperating idiosyncracies.

Django was not only the first European jazz musician to be revered by American players; he was also the first jazz musician to sound European: to give jazz, as the Glasgow-born guitarist Jim Mullen put it, “a local perspective”. His sudden death from a stroke, at the age of just 43, deprived the world of a true musical pioneer who was still exploring and evolving, pretty much to the end. Lucky for us he left more than 800 recordings which continue to delight and inspire successive generations of young players to offer their own take on Django’s jazz.

* The Edinburgh Jazz Festival begins on July 30. A special Django 100 theme runs through the festival. Visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.co.uk

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