Jazz Violin

Jazz Violin

ViolinFour-stringed Musical Instrument tuned in 5ths, played with a Bow, and held between the shoulder & the chin

It is hard to believe that this small Instrument, made of simple pieces of wood cut out & glued together, consisting of only 4 Chords, and whose sound range & volume are relatively low, has acquired such prominence in the world of Music. The prodigy is one of the incomprehensible phenomena of the history of mankind! The Violin, which developed from its primitive form of fiddler’s instrument to accompany singing & dancing, reached an unequalled level of perfection in only a few decades. It became, in the hands of great Musicians, the preferred instrument for expressing creative imagination.  The Violin indeed was to prove itself both as a Solo and as a concert instrument.

It is no easy task to speak equitably of the immensely rich history of the Violin, nor of its Music and its Masters. We shall attempt, however, to cover the basic elements related to the vast complexity of what is denominated “violin – The Rite of Strings

Jazz Violin Technique – For the fiddle player, Jazz has several challenging aspects which set it apart from most Folk styles. Each number in a Jazz performance starts and ends with a Melody which is played more or less “straight” (as written), but the bulk of the number is made up of improvised solos which, whilst following the basic Chord sequence, will have little if anything to do with the original tune. This is the opportunity for the Soloist to state and develop his own ideas and to inter-react with the rest of the Band. Each Solo may run several times round the sequence and occasionally the Band will do “Fours“, where 4-Bar Solos are alternated between Musicians. Hopefully the excitement will mount as each Soloist tries to copy & elaborate on the other’s previous effort.

StuffSmithStuff Smith was an African-American Jazz Violinist. Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Smith 1st gained notice as a Musician with Alphonso Trent‘s Orchestra in the ’20s. After marrying and settling in Buffalo, he teamed with Jonah Jones, who became a friend for life. Their Band became a hit at New York City’s Onyx Club on 52nd Street and recorded such popular tunes as I’se A Muggin and If You’se A ViperSmith went to Hollywood in 1938 to make the Film Swing Street and was slow to return to his work in New York.  As a StuffPontyresult, the job with Jones ended and Smith’s career slowed down although he worked regularly in New York & Chicago. He played in a Trio format in the ‘40s, then moved to California in the ‘50s and most often performed Solo. Perhaps the most influential of early Jazz Violinists, Stuff Smith said that his chief influence was Louis Armstrong and that he used the Bow “like a horn player uses breath control.” He approached the Violin somewhat in the Joe Venuti style, a forceful bowing technique and Swing-era rhythmic direction. He became a popular performer in Europe in the ‘60s and died in Munich, 25th September 1967. (Inset – Stuff with Jean Luc Ponty)



Eddie South – At the time, classical positions were not open to Black Violinists in the 1920s, so South learned to play jazz (helped out by Darnell Howard). In the early to mid-1920s, he worked in Chicago with Jimmy Wade’s Syncopators, Charles Elgar and Erskine Tate. In 1928, a visit to Europe (where he studied at the Paris Conservatoire) made a deep impression on the violinist, particularly Budapest; later on, he would often utilize Gypsy melodies as a basis for jazz improvising.   In 1931, South returned to Chicago, where his regular band included bassist Milt Hinton. In 1937, while in Paris he recorded with Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli.  South never had a major breakthrough commercially in his American career. Classically trained, fluent in several styles including Swing, Gypsy & Latin; he favoured a warm, lyrical sound; popular in Europe, where racial discrimination did not hinder his style.  He did work on radio & television but spent most of his life in relative obscurity, playing in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In later years he recorded for Chess and Mercury, and also made a final set released by Trip. South’s other early recordings (covering 1927-41) have been reissued on a pair of Classics CDs. One of the top Violinists of the pre-bop era South was a brilliant technician who, were it not for the universal racism of the time, would probably have been a top classical violinist.

JoeVenutiYoungJoe Venuti, a classically trained Violinist who switched to Jazz, worked and recorded with Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, Red Nichols,  Tommy Dorsey and just about every major Jazz figure from the 1920‘s on. His “Venuti’s Blue Four” recordings with Eddie Lang are recognized Jazz Classics. He was elected to the Downbeat All-Time Swing Band in 1936. He led various Jazz Groups in later years including one that featured a just-starting young Jazz Singer named Kay Starr.  Venuti’s legendary (some would say outrageous) sense of humour shown through in the joy of his instrument in much the same way that Fats Waller’s humour did. Everyone sounded better and, certainly happier, when they worked with Venuti.  One of Venuti’s most infamous gags was when he called up 26 tuba players in Hollywood and told them about a gig in Town that he just made up. They all showed up for the non-existent job, but Venuti ended up having to pay for it when the Union found out about it. His playing was easily more engaging than his sense of humour.


Ray Nance, (vocal/cornet/violin (and Dancer). b. Dec 10, 1913 Chicago, IL, USA, d. Jan 28, 1976 New York, NY, USA) spent 20 years with the Duke Ellington band as a trumpeter, singer, entertainer, and the only violinist Ellington ever had. His speciality was the Trumpet, but he was quite an accomplished Violinist. He was also an ‘accomplished Drinker‘, whom Duke later had to let go.

Great jazz Violinists

(ranking with Joe Venuti and Stuff Smith as one of the big 3 of pre-bop)

StephGrappelliStéphane Grappelli’s longevity & consistently enthusiastic playing did a great deal to establish the Violin as a Jazz Instrument. He was originally self-taught as both a violinist and a pianist, although during 1924-28 he studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Grappelli played in movie theatres & dance bands before meeting Guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1933. They hit it off musically from the start even though their lifestyles (Grappelli was sophisticated while Django was a Gypsy) were very different. Together as Quintet of the Hot Club of France (comprised of violin, 3 acoustic Guitars & Bass) during 1933-39 they produced a sensational series of recordings & performances.  During a London engagement in 1939, WW2 broke out. Reinhardt rashly decided to return to France but Grappelli stayed in England, effectively ending the group. The violinist soon teamed up with the young pianist George Shearing in a new band that worked steadily through the war. In 1946, Grappelli and Reinhardt had the 1st of several reunions although they never worked together again on a regular basis (despite many new recordings). Grappelli performed throughout the 1950s & ‘60s in Clubs throughout Europe and, other than recordings with Duke Ellington (Violin Summit) and Joe Venuti, he remained somewhat obscure in the U.S. until he began regularly touring the world in the early ‘70s. Since then Grappelli has been a constant traveller and a consistent poll-winner, remaining very open-minded without altering his swing style; he has recorded with David Grisman, Earl Hines, Bill Coleman, Larry Coryell, Oscar Peterson, Jean Luc Ponty & McCoy Tyner among many others. Active up until near the end, the increasingly frail Grappelli remained at the top of his field even when he was 89. His early recordings are all available on Classics CDs and he recorded quite extensively during his final three decades.

SvendAsmussenViolinSvend Asmussen (b. Feb 28, 1916 Copenhagen, Denmark – was in his 90s in 2006) and still active. He formed his 1st band when he was just 17 years old… a version of Joe Venuti’s ‘Blue Four‘. This Danish musician is rarely recalled, but his wonderful lyricism earned him deserved acclaim, and still, he has a sense of the Blues matched only by American Blacks. He was already playing the violin at age 7. Made his professional debut in 1933, and made his 1st records as a leader in 1935.  During the 1930s, he played with the ‘Mills Brothers‘ and “Fats” Waller , when they visited Denmark during their European tours. In 1962, he recorded with John Lewis. During his career, he not only played with Stephane Grappelli, but, on one 1963 recording session (the “Duke Ellington‘s Jazz Violin Session”) he played viola alongside Joe Venuti and Ray Nance, who was also playing the violin instead of his more usual Trumpet. There was also a 1966 “Violin Summit” concert with Asmussen, Ponty, Grapelli, and “Stuff” Smith. (A visitor to this page, Mr. Joel Glassman has recalled that “it was recorded and issued, but is now out of print. There is a recording called “Violin Summit” in print, but it is not the 1966 concert”.) Svend has also recorded with Toots Thielemans, Lionel Hampton (1978) and with Stephane Grappelli. His character was that of a clown, an entertainer, an intellectual and more. His musical interests also spread into more complex orchestral forms.

Jean Luc Ponty
JeanLucPontyPonty was born in a family of classical musicians on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France. His father taught violin, his mother taught piano. At 16, he was admitted to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, graduating 2 years later with the institution’s highest award, Premier Prix. In turn, he was immediately hired by one of the major symphony orchestras, Concerts Lamoureux, where he played for 3 years.
While still a member of the orchestra in Paris, Ponty picked up a side gig playing clarinett (which his father had taught him) for a college jazz band that regularly performed at local parties. It proved a life-changing jumping-off point.  A growing interest in the jazz sounds of Miles Davis and John Coltrane compelled him to take up the tenor saxophone. Fueled by an all-encompassing creative passion, Jean-Luc soon felt the need to express his jazz voice through his main instrument, the violin. So it was that Ponty found himself leading a dual musical life: rehearsing and performing with the orchestra while also playing jazz until 3 AM at clubs throughout Paris. The demands of this doomed schedule eventually brought him to a crossroads. “Naturally, I had to make a choice, so I took a chance with jazz“, says Jean-Luc

Jean-Luc Ponty is a pioneer and undisputed master of violin in the arena of jazz and rock. Classically trained, with an unquenchable ability to swing when he wants to, and consumed by a passion for tight structures and repeating ostinatos, Ponty has been able to handle styles as diverse as swing, bop, free and modal jazz, jazz-rock, world music and even country, mixing them up at will. Ponty was born in a family of classical musicians on September 29, 1942 in Avranches, France. At the age of 15, he was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire, ultimately winning the Premier Prix at age 17. He played with the Concerts Lamoureux Orchestra for 3 years. A growing interest in Jazz brought him to leading a dual musical life: rehearsing and performing with the orchestra while also playing jazz at clubs throughout Paris in the night. Few at the time viewed the instrument as having a legitimate place in the modern jazz vocabulary. With a powerful sound that eschewed vibrato, Jean-Luc distinguished himself with be-bop era phrasings and a punchy style influenced more by horn players than by anything previously tried on the violin; nobody had heard anything quite like it before. After a hitch in the French Army (1962-64), Ponty went completely over to the jazz camp, leading quartets and trios in Europe and visiting the Monterey Jazz Festival workshop in 1967. In the late 60s and early 70s he then toured and recorded with Frank Zappa, the George Duke Trio and the Mahavishnu Orchestra and formed the free-jazz Jean-Luc Ponty Experience (1970-72). Afterwards, he set out on his own, compiling a long series of solo albums on Atlantic. On 1991‘s Epic-released Tchokola, Ponty combined his acoustic and electric violins, for the 1st time, with the powerful polyrhythmic sounds of West Africa. In 1995, Ponty joined guitarist Al Di Meola and bassist Stanley Clarke to record an acoustic album under the name The Rite of Strings. In 1997, Jean-Luc Ponty put back together his group of Western & African musicians pursuing the new fusion he started in 1991. Ponty also performed a highly acclaimed duet with bassist Miroslav Vitous in December 99. In January 2000, he participated to Lalo Schifrin’s most recent recording with a big band, Esperanto.

AaronnWeinsteinAaron Weinstein Named a “rising star violinist” by Downbeat Magazine, Aaron Weinstein is quickly earning a reputation as one of the finest jazz violinists of his generation. As a featured soloist, Aaron has performed at Lincoln Center, Wolftrap Center for the Performing Arts, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, the JVC Jazz Festival, the Iridium, Birdland, and Django Reinhardt festivals in France, Iceland and New York City. Aaron has performed and recorded with and an array of jazz masters including: Howard Alden, Gene Bertoncini, Al Caiola, Scott Hamilton, Dick Hyman, Les Paul, Houston Person, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli, Annie Ross, Warren Vache, Frank Vignola, and Claude “Fiddler” Williams as well as legendary rock guitarist, Jay Geils, New York Pops founder/conductor, Skitch Henderson.

He is a recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he was awarded a full 4-year talent-based scholarship. While still in high school, he founded New Trier High School’s Stephane Grappelli Tribute Trio, voted as the nation’s best high school instrumental jazz group by Downbeat Magazine in 2002. Aaron has won various competitions including the 1998 and 2001 Illinois State Fiddle Championships, making him the youngest performer ever to hold this title. With the release of Aaron’s Arbors Records debut, “A Handful of Stars”, (called “the rebirth of the hot jazz violin” by Nat Hentoff) Aaron has become the youngest jazz musician to have recorded as leader for this prestigious traditional jazz record label. Aaron’s MySpace 


Picture by Simon Tuke
Piotr Jordan (Violin, Viola)
was born and brought up in Lodz, Poland and started playing the violin at age 6. After studying at the Warsaw Conservatory he moved to Prague.  He has lived and worked in England as a professional violinist since 1994 playing in numerous bands in a variety of styles ranging from Hot Club Jazz to Gaelic to Hungarian Gypsy music.  Jack Massarik of the Evening Standard said he “plays the sweetest Gypsy violin in London”

Florin Niculescu Video
FlorinNiculescuFlorin Niculescu is one of the finest violinists on the international jazz scene today. Through many musical collaborations this captivating musician has developed a distinct sound and language, building on a solid classical education and linking gypsy traditions to diverse forms of jazz. His impeccable technique and outstanding virtuosity – praised by fellow musicians and audiences alike – are not a means to an end but a way of expressing his artistic personality.
Minor Swing with Laurent Korcia

TchaLimbergerTcha Limberger who is blind and hails from a famous family of Manouche gypsy musicians was introduced to Magyar Note / Transylvanian Gypsy style through local music camps. learning dances with music workshops on the 3 core instruments of the genre, violin, bass, and brac.
The celebrated violinist Fodor Neti Sándor (b. 1922 – died Oct. 2004) the biggest name of his generation, spotted Tcha and taught him the many melodies, harmonies and ornamentations.

JerryGoodmanJerry Goodman is an American violinist best known for playing in the fusion jazz bands The Flock and Mahavishnu Orchestra. After his 1970 appearance on John McLaughlin’s album My Goals Beyond, he became a member of McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra until the band broke up in 1973. After Mahavishnu, he recorded 3 solo albums for Private Music — On the Future of Aviation, Ariel, and It’s Alive — and went on tour with his own band, as well as with Shadowfax and The Dixie Dregs. He scored Lily Tomlin’s The Search For Signs Of Intelligent Life In The Universe and is the featured violinist on numerous film soundtracks, including Billy Crystal’s Mr Saturday Night. His violin can be heard on more than 50 albums from artists ranging from Toots Thielemans to Hall & Oates to Styx. After a long absence from the public eye, he appeared on Gary Husband’s Force Majeure: Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2005.

timkliphuissmallTim Kliphuis ranks among the world’s finest jazz violinists. Hailing from Holland, his first international recognition came after he joined Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist Fapy Lafertin in 1999. Their co-operation resulted in 3 acclaimed CDs and tours in Europe and the UK. Since he embarked on a solo career in 2004, Kliphuis has performed with such world-renowned jazz players as Les Paul, Bob Wilber, Herb Geller, Bucky Pizzarelli and Stochelo Rosenberg. He has played jazz festivals all over the world, including North Sea Jazz, La Villette (Paris), Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Djangofests in Seattle, Chicago and Philadelphia and clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express (London) and Iridium Jazz Club (New York). With his new London-based Quartet, featuring Len Skeat, Mitch Dalton and James Pearson, he recorded The Grappelli Tribute (2005) which was released to rave reviews. This line-up enables Tim to fuse more and more of his classical background into jazz.  Tim’s Grappelli Workshops often accompany concerts on tour. He is now working his broad teaching experience into a violin tuition book about Stéphane Grappelli’s style.

Not all violinists were males. Ginger Smock (1920-1995) was one very talented, and beautiful lady violinist. Sadly, Ginger is rarely recalled these days. She was equally adept with the Classics, and with Jazz, where her style was greatly influenced by “Stuff” Smith‘s work. At times, she was called “The Lovely Lady with the Violin”, or “The Bronze Gypsy and her Violin”, and in Hawaii, she was “The Sweetheart of the Strings”. In Los Angeles, Smock recorded with some ‘Rhythm and Blues’ groups, performed with the Los Angeles Symphony, and appeared on television (also had her own TV show). During the 1960s and ‘70s, Ginger worked as a concertmaster for various Las Vegas hotels where she backed many of the leading stars of the day including Sammy Davis, Jr. (In 2005, ‘AB Fable’, a small British company released a CD with some rare recordings of Ginger Smock. Previously, her only available recordings were from a 1946 session with the ‘Vivien Garry Quintet’, where she played a solid body Rickenbacher electric violin.)

Didier Lockwood (born 11th February 1956) is a French Jazz Violinist.
He was born in Calais and studied classical violin and composition at the Calais Conservatory. However, he became enamored of rock and roll and quit his studies in 1972 to form a progressive rock group called Magma with his brother Francis, pianist. They played together for three years, but Didier was soon entranced by the improvisation of Jean-Luc Ponty on Frank Zappa’s King Kong album. Lockwood was also influenced by Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert and, of course, Stéphane Grappelli, whom he joined on tour.  He has also played with Quebecois fusion group Uzeb on their Absolutely Live album.  He is famous for exploring new musical environments and for performing various sound imitations on his amplified violin, such as seagulls or trains.Didier Lockwood created a string instruments improvisation school, CMDL (Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood), in 2001.  He is married to singer Caroline Casadesus  Throughout 2006 Didier has been touring with Martin Taylor the Jazz guitarist. In these performances it is noticable to see that he is very involved in improvisation.

Didier Lockwood has had a diverse career, ranging from fusion to swing and advanced hard bop. In the 1980s, he was considered the next in a line of great French violinists after Stephane Grappelli and Jean-Luc Ponty, but he maintained a fairly low profile in the 1990s. Lockwood began studying violin when he was 6. Ten years later, he stopped his formal training and joined a rock group. He played in Paris with Aldo Romano and Daniel Humair, among others, met Grappelli and toured with him. He had a fusion group called Surya and recorded with Tony Williams around the same period of time (1979). Didier Lockwood played in the United States on several occasions in the 1980s and recorded an acoustic album in 1986 with fellow violinists John Blake and Michal Urbaniak.