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CD Review

The Very Best of Grappelli & Menuhin

16 Arrangements of Songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, and others

Stéphane Grappelli, Yehudi Menuhin, violins
Various Accompaniments
Angel 66830 DDD/ADD 65:03
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This is a "greatest hits" CD compiled from the six albums that Grappelli and Menuhin recorded between the mid-70s and mid-80s. Mixing these two gentlemen together with some of the very best American "pop" resulted in effervescent music-making, and many a listener unexposed to this blend until now probably will feel the need to go back and hear the original releases. At least that's how it is with me.

Grappelli, who died in 1997, began his musical life as a devotee of French classical music, but it wasn't long before he was hooked on jazz. In the 1930s, he joined guitarist Django Reinhardt and other musicians to form the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Their strings-only sound defined everything that was smart about European jazz at the time. It was music for dancing and music that almost made it possible to forget the political rumblings east of France. After the war, Grappelli and Reinhardt resumed their collaboration briefly, but the French violinist eventually found himself working with American jazz greats such as Geroge Shearing and Coleman Hawkins.

Whatever Yehudi Menuhin touches becomes music, and his eclectic interests (remember his advocacy of Indian classical music) made him a perfect partner for Grappelli. Menuhin worried about his own lack of jazz experience; Grappelli worried that Menuhin's virtuosity would show up deficiencies in his technique. The experiment was a success, however, and it was a success with every repetition. On each of these 16 tracks, one can hear the violinists playing to the other's strengths rather than exposing the other's weaknesses. The dialogue is seemingly spontaneous, and the tone is affectionate and bantering. Given the scaffolding of these wonderful songs, Grappelli and Menuhin build castles in the sky. You may wish to mix martinis before putting this CD on, but it would be a shame to introduce any competing sensual stimuli.

The first album supported the violinists with a trio (piano, bass, and drums). Subsequent albums added guitar, then strings, keyboards, and even harp. Perhaps the earliest recordings are the most pure, but all of them are purely enjoyable.

Jazz doesn't get much classier than this!

Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle