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Svend Asmussen & Stephane Grappelli

 B i o g r a p h y

Svend Asmussen may be the finest little-known jazz performer in the world. A bit of a child prodigy, Asmussen's recording career spans more than 60 years.  As a young man, Svend was something of a novelty performer, beginning to excel on the violin, but also performing on vibes, and other instruments, as well as being a vocalist.

As a more mature performer he explored and recorded in a wide variety of styles, including that of the Indian subcontinent.  Now, as an elder statesman of the instrument, his jazz violin virtuosity takes a back seat to no one, including his contemporary, the much better known Stephane Grappelli.

Perhaps the primary reason that Asmussen is not well known in the United States is that he has preferred to make his native Denmark the headquarters of his operations and has made only infrequent appearances in the U.S., most notably at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival "violin summit" with Ray Nance and Jean-Luc Ponty.

The story of Asmussen's life would make a pretty good movie. In the late 1930s, Svend worked in Denmark with touring artists such as Fats Waller, The Mills Brothers, and Josephine Baker.  In 1939 he was quite a hit in London, Hamburg, and Paris.  But the outbreak of war in Europe postponed other proposed tours and projects. The Nazis hated American Jazz.  At one point Asmussen was arrested and incarcerated in Berlin.  After the war, he became the most popular entertainer in Denmark, if not all of Scandinavia.  At that time, his popularity extended beyond jazz, as he was perceived primarily as a club, vaudeville, and radio performer. There were also many film appearances and credits, some of the details of which may be found on a separate pages.

During the period 1958 to 1961, Asmussen, along with popular Swedish singer Alice Babs and guitarist Ulrik Neumann, formed a trio entitled the "Swe-Danes," a sort of music hall/pop vocalese group.  They were the most popular act of their time in Scandinavia and also toured the United States to acclaim, appearing in venues (Hollywood's Cocoanut Grove, New York's Waldorf-Astoria) from coast to coast.  Their "Scandinavian Shuffle" was nominated for a Grammy in 1960.  Mr. Asmussen's career outside of jazz is mostly beyond the scope of this page, but I couldn't resist including this remarkable picture of the Swe-Danes.  From left to right, that's Svend, Babs, and Ulrik.  Click the image for a larger version.

Asmussen's early influence was Joe Venuti, but it was a visit to Denmark by Stuff Smith that rekindled his interest in jazz.  He certainly had the opportunity to be better known abroad.  On more than one occasion, he turned down invitations from Benny Goodman to join the clarinetist's famous group.  Apparently, he was comfortable to remain a big frog in a little pond.  This is too bad, as it makes one's mouth water to imagine what the fabulous Goodman "small groups" might have produced if Asmussen had been added to the likes of Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton.  A suggestion of the possibilities can be heard on an elusive 1978 album featuring a collaboration with Hampton.

Stephane Grappelli (originally surname was spelled with a 'Y') would have earned himself a place in Jazz History books if only for his important role in the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, featuring the dazzling virtuosity of Django Reindhart. Grappelli's violin was the perfect foil to Reindhart's guitar in this piano-less group. Fired by Reindhart's tremendous rhythmic powers, Grappelli's contributions to recordings by the Quintette like Lime House Blues, China Boy and It Don't Mean A Thing (all 1935) and Them There Eyes, Three little Words and Swing '39 (these latter three tracks from 1938-39) were admirable in their execution.

Occasionally Grappelli would play piano, as when harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler recorded with the group in 1939, the year when Reindhart and Grappelli, violin, recorded (with delightful results) as a duo (all Django Reindhart). Grappelli born (1908) and raised in Paris was involved with music at a very early age. By 12 years, he had acquired his first violin- just one of several instruments he learned to play. He began professionally with theatre bands, eventually being introduced to jazz music. A French jazz musician, Philippe Brun, introduced Grappelli to Reindhart. Soon after that meeting they put the idea of Quintette into practice. When World War II commenced, Grappelli and the band were touring Britain. While the others returned to Paris Grappelli decided to stay. During the next six years he became a popular figure in London with habitues of nightlife in general and in musical entertainment in particular, working with local musicians in the local clubs. In 1946, he returned to Paris, renewed association with Reindhart, but he magic of pre-war days did not re-appear too often. Between 1948-55 worked in Club Saint Germain, Paris, and in the latter year played nine-month residency in St. Tropez. During the '70s Grappelli has played throughout Europe, in Clubs, concerts and festivals, has and broadcast televised extensively, and has been a regular visitor to the recording studio.

In 1966, Grappelli was recorded in concert in Switzerland, together with fellow jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Stuff Smith and Svend Asmussen (Violin Summit). Since then he has recorded frequently in London. A live date at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (Stephane Grappelli 1972) finds him responding to an enthusiastic audience. Elsewhere he has recorded with much success, with Americans Gary Burton (Paris Encounter), Bill Coleman (Stephane Grappelli-Bill Coleman), Roland Hanna, (Stephane Grappelli Meets he Rhythm Section) and Barney Kessel (I Remember Django).

 A l b u m s

Two of a Kind (Stroryville Records, 1965)