Historians conveniently set out the history of jazz as “up-the-river-from-New-Orleans-to-Chicago-and-on-to-New-York.” They also indicate that the journey brought stylistic changes too, often for outside reasons, and while it may be sometimes difficult to trace the link between, say, King Oliver’s band and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever unit nevertheless the development chain exists. What is frequently overlooked is that jazz music of all eras and styles is bound together by a more obvious bond, namely that of melodic inventiveness. At any stage in its growth one can find the tune masters, the soloists who love to take a song and embellish it with flowing cadences, hovering around the extremities of the composer’s original theme and never straying too far to lose the non-specialized listener. Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, these men were obvious masters of melody but so too are younger men such as Archie Shepp (he has recorded a memorable Prelude To a Kiss, for example), Gary Burton and many others.
Stephane Grappelli straddles the decades, playing the violin with more grace and elegance than an entire string section. Stephane has always leaned heavily on pure melody for his success, and let it be said at once that his popularity has increased steadily over the years and is now one of the most respected jazzman by the widest possible audience. Any Grappelli album contains a wealth of material by the cream of the song-writers and this present LP is no exception; indeed it includes songs which the violinist has never recorded before, plus two of his outstanding originals. The session took place in a vast film studio, capable of housing almost a complete concert orchestra, yet the intimate atmosphere created by Grappelli and Alan Clare points to the dedication to the task at hand. Grappelli and Clare have worked together many times over an extended period.
Their backgrounds differ considerably but the music they produce together might almost be the work of one man. Stephane was born in Paris on January 26, 1908 and commenced the study of music at the age of ten, when he started with the harmonium. He soon switched to the violin, studied harmony and won first prize for solfeggio at the Paris Conservatiore. In order to keep up his studies, after his parents had moved to Strasbourg, Stephane had to work for a living and spent some time as the pianist in various pit orchestras in Paris theaters. His meeting with the late Django Reinhardt and their teaming up in the Quintet of the Hot Club De France is jazz history and since the end of World War Two Stephane has been adding further pages to the history books with his brilliant solo playing at clubs, jazz festivals, on record, television, radio, in fact, wherever there has been an audience for good music.
Alan Clare was born in the Walthamstow district of London on May 31, 1921. He too showed strong musical tendencies at an early age and he remembers that his parents fitted blocks to the piano pedals so that he could reach them with his feet. When he was ten he won a music prize at the Stratford Music Festival (Stratford-on-London, that is, not Stratford-on-Avon); it was a prize which carried with it a scholarship for full-time musical study; but this was 1931 and the Depression of the period meant that his parents could not afford the expense of sending their son to college. By the time he was 15, he was already a full-time musician and two years later he was appearing at London clubs such as The Nest and The Nut House Club with drummer-leader Carlo Kramer. In 1940 he was called up by the army for six years and on his release worked for a couple years with Sid Milward’s comedy band. In 1948 he started working with Stephane Grappelli for the first time, a partnership which lasted until 1950 when he became a resident pianist at the London Studio Club. The Studio Club was the haunt of musicians and artists and it was here that Alan quietly developed a very impressive “underground” reputation as one of the finest pianists on this side of the Atlantic.
Since then he has been in demand for all manner of sessions, several of which have brought him into contact again with Grappelli, and the rapport which these two men achieve is in evidence on all ten tracks of the enclosed recording. Alan is the kind of pianist who knows all the correct chords of almost any song which he is likely to be asked to play, and Stephane is a musician who can generate a flowing melodic line which floats gracefully over a sympathetic background.
Here then is an album of pure empathy, two musicians assisting in the common cause to produce music which is timeless. Clare hints at the verse of Stardust in his introduction before Grappelli eases in to the well-known chorus. Alan switches to celeste in places for Greensleeves and Stephane turns in one of the best performances on the lovely We’ll Be Together Again, the standard jointly composed by singer Frankie Laine and his accompanist, the late Carl Fisher. Grappelli’s two originals have all the grace and style one would expect from this elegant musician; Amanda must be very pleased with this tribute and Tournesol is Stephane’s Gallic impression of a sunflower.
STEPHANE GRAPPELLI (violin)
ALAN CLARE (piano, celeste)
1) STARDUST (TAKE 1) 3.54
2) THE NEARNESS OF YOU (TAKE 7) 3.53
3) TOURNESOL (TAKE 6) 3.10
4) GREENSLEEVES (TAKE 10) 1.35
5) YOU GO TO MY HEAD 4.40
6) NATURE BOY 3.26
7) CAN’T HELP LOVING THAT MAN O’ MINE 3.44
8) WE’LL BE TOGETHER AGAIN 4.24
9) THE TALK OF THE TOWN 4.06
10) AMANDA 4.06
11) I SAW STARS 3.12
12) GREENSLEEVES (TAKE 17) 2.00
13) TOURNESOL (TAKE 8) 3.09
14) THE NEARNESS OF YOU (TAKE 8) 3.44
15) STARDUST (TAKE 2) 3.53