Curtain comes down on a jazz legend

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The Independent Online
Stephane Grappelli, the great jazz violinist, once said that he would go on playing until the "final curtain". Yesterday the performance ended. Paul McCann recalls a career that spanned Django Reinhardt and Nigel Kennedy.

The world's greatest living jazz violinist finally laid down his bow yesterday after a 70-year playing career, when he died in Paris at the age of 89. Grappelli died in a clinic where he had an operation for a hernia last week. The cause of death has not been disclosed.

Friends reported yesterday that he had been ill and in the clinic for some weeks, but had been playing his brand of swing jazz to audiences in Australia as recently as last summer - despite needing a wheelchair for the performance and oxygen when he came off stage. In September this year he accepted the Legion D'Honneur from President Chirac.

A slight stroke in 1993 forced Grappelli to cancel a series of gigs. In 1994, he had surgery to replace an artery in his neck, and that kept him off the stage for two months.

But his need to spread the music he loved was unstoppable: "I love to tour. I have to tour! I am like a shark; I won't stop," he once said. "I will play until the final curtain."

Lord Menuhin, speaking from Germany yesterday said: "He was perhaps the most beloved violinist and brought more joy to people than anybody else that I can think of in the string world."

Pete King, director of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, said: "He has made a huge contribution to jazz. "He was an incredible player and a very melodic player whose music was so attractive to his listeners."

Grappelli and his partner in the Hot Club Quintet, gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, broke the American dominance of jazz when they played to audiences across Europe in the 1930s, despite initial audience hostility.

Born in 1908, the son of a philosophy professor, Grappelli began his musical career at 15 as a pianist for silent films. He won a scholarship to the Isadora Duncan school and the Paris Conservatoire where he studied piano and violin.

After stints playing sax, accordion and drums he chose the violin, modestly saying later: "I chose the violin because there is not too much competition."

After being spotted by music critics in an orchestra in a Paris Hotel he and Reinhardt formed the Hot Club Quintet which went on to become the most influential and popular jazz band in Europe. They popularised the "swing" sound that formed the soundtrack to a million wartime romances.

After the war, he did not return to touring until the Sixties. Then he started his endless globetrotting, playing romantic tunes from the great writers of the jazz era: George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.