Friday, January 27, 2012


Although “Daphne” was written by a Belgian gypsy musician, it found itself in the center of an amazing transcontinental multi-cultural musical cross-pollination involving its author Django Reinhardt, the legendary French violinist Stephane Grappelli and African American jazz violinist par excellence Eddie South. The amazing confluence of genius inspired by this tune resulted in its becoming a pillar of American-style jazz violin.

Django Reinhardt, born in 1910, spent most of his youth in Romani (Gypsy) encampments close to Paris. His first instrument was the violin. He later transferred his music-making to banjo, then to banjo-guitar and finally to guitar developing a technique and style for which he became world famous. Reinhardt was influenced by American music very early in his life as evidenced by his first recordings on banjo in 1928.

In 1934, while freelancing in Paris with a tango group, Reinhardt met violinist Stephane Grappelli who was doubling on saxophone at the time. As a result of their historic meeting, these two musicians began to imitate the recordings of the amazing jazz violin and guitar duets being made in America by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. In short order, they formed an all-string ensemble called “Quintette du Hot Club de France” and quickly took their place among the greatest string jazz musicians in the world.

During the 1930s in Paris, the French recording label “Swing Records” was hosting recording sessions at the Hot Club of France and inviting American jazz musicians to perform and record together with their own French jazz players. They were hoping to stimulate further interest in jazz among the French. In one particular session, jazz violinist Eddie South (who was just a couple of years older than Grappelli) recorded several tracks with the already famous French duo, including Reinhardt’s jam tune “Daphne.” The result of this session made jazz history.

Eddie South, born in 1904, was a classical violin prodigy and received formal training at the Chicago Music College. Unfortunately, like many other African American violinists in the '20s and '30s, he was forced to abandon classical violin as a career because of the lack of opportunities in the classical music industry for players of his ethnicity. However, unlike many who found themselves in similar circumstances, South did not switch to guitar or another instrument but began to develop jazz violin playing.

After beginning his career performing in vaudeville and jazz orchestras in Chicago, South started his own group called “The Alabamians.” On tour to Europe with this group in 1928, he was influenced by Hungarian folk music and the music of the Romani. Gypsy melodies he heard in Budapest were particularly attractive to South and naturally became woven into his jazz improvisations. The Alabamians did record a couple of tracks on their initial visit to Paris, however it was on their return visit in 1937 that South recorded with the new jazz sensations of Europe – Django Reinhardt and the equally dazzling-swinging-technical master-of-the-violin, and therefore kindred spirit, Stephane Grappelli.

The orphan Frenchman Grappelli was enamored with American jazz. The prodigy South was fascinated by the sound of gypsy violin music. Their musical collaborations together with Django Reinhardt’s authentic gypsy-style guitar playing combined for a history-making, cross-pollinated, interracial-transcontinental musical stew. The importance of their recording of “Daphne” inspired the inclusion of this tune in the Method and their actual playing of it inspired the “hot” solo. Eddie South’s hot jazz violin solos earned him the sobriquet “The Black Angel of the Violin.”

From Book III of the O'Connor Method.

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