Jazz violin

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Stéphane Grappelli (London 1974)

The term jazz violin describes the role of the violin in jazz . Despite the violinists of early jazz and swing, one can speak of the jazz violin in the sense of an independent, full-fledged jazz instrument only from the end of the 1960s. Only then was the way of playing really adapted to the character of jazz.

The instrument and its intonation

The “European” violin, which was first noticed in jazz, has common ancestors in the Arabian cultural area. The strict playing technique in the classic sense, under the chin, is not a matter of course, the violin is played on the knee in Arabia and Africa. The intonation of the violin is, not least because of the different conceptions of music, in Arabic music and in Gypsy music, more flexible than is known from European “technical” classical music. An improvising and freer, not as the major / minor tonality bound melis alternating copolymer games is self-evident there, creating for European ears heavy-follow nuances. Especially at the end of the Classical period, this aspect was more developed in some individual national schools. Romanticism already had an influence on Persian music because it accommodated their conception. Details of the classical violin technique such as the constant vibrato almost contradict the concept of intermediate notes and grinders. In general, one can say that the instrument technology of jazz suits the violin very well, but it only indirectly addresses the origins of the instrument, since the direct reference has been lost.

Hot Jazz - Joe Venuti

Eddie South (Photo: William Gottlieb , 1946)

Although the violin was already represented in some early jazz orchestras, such as the ragtime orchestras , this stemmed from the custom of orchestral line-ups in the 19th century. Independent violin parts or solos in these formations were hardly an issue because of the violin's soft and delicate character. One of the first violinists to try hot intonation in Germany was Arno Lewitsch .

Joe Venuti , the first important violinist in jazz, emerged from the circle of Chicago jazz musicians ; Around 1925 he was the first important jazz violinist to stretch the hair and staff of his bow around the violin and, with this technique, elicited unusual polyphonic sounds and horror from many venerable conservatory teachers ( loose bow fiddle technique).

Less known than Venuti is Eddie South , born in 1904 , who was already active on the European scene in the 1920s and played with Django Reinhardt in the 1930s . Violinist Leon Abbey was also internationally active. With Jimmy Bell , Emilio Caceres and Clarence Moore, Al Duffy was one of the jazz violinists who did not receive the same attention as Stéphane Grappelli , Stuff Smith , Eddie South and Joe Venuti in the 1930s and 40s .

Swing - Stéphane Grappelli

The grand seigneur of the jazz violin, Stéphane Grappelli, attended the Paris Academy of Music from 1924 after having learned to play the violin and piano. In 1933 he founded the Quintette du Hot Club de France with the guitarist Django Reinhardt . In 1937 he formed with Eddie South and the second French swing violinist Michel Warlop , a trio of Violins . During the Second World War he formed a new band in England with the young pianist George Shearing .

In the 1950s and 1960s, Grappelli developed into the most influential violinist on the jazz scene and contributed to making the instrument acceptable in jazz. He made records with many great jazz musicians around the world or went on tour with them. On September 30, 1966, Joachim Ernst Berendt brought him to the stage in the concert “Violin Summit” (published by MPS ) with the most respected violinists in jazz at the time, Stuff Smith , Svend Asmussen and Jean-Luc Ponty .

The American Ray Perry developed the simultaneous singing and bowing on the violin, which Slam Stewart then transferred to the bass. His compatriot Stuff Smith made a name for himself with his composition I'se a Muggin ' and experimented early on with amplifying the violin electrically and achieved unconventional, more jazzy sounds than any violinist before, disregarding the previously applicable rules of instrumental technology. Perry, too, began working with electric power in 1940.

The trumpeter Ray Nance , who worked in the Duke Ellington Orchestra , could only use the violin as a secondary instrument and played mostly serenad-like, sentimental melodies. His importance, however, shows swinging violin solos recorded shortly before his death, which referred to Claude Williams in style and phrasing .

Modern Jazz - Jean Luc Ponty, Zbigniew Seifert, Didier Lockwood

Characteristically, it was a European - according to Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann in their review of the violin in jazz - who triggered the violin's great success in modern jazz. This was Jean-Luc Ponty, born in France in 1942 as the son of a violin professor . After studying classical violin, he made jazz recordings with Stuff Smith, Stéphane Grappelli and other violinists. In 1973 he went to the USA to play with musicians like Frank Zappa ( Hot Rats ) and in John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra .

According to Smith, Ponty actually "electrified" the violin - with the aid of a number of additional devices - and thus finally made it an independent and full-fledged instrument of jazz. "His music has become a constant tightrope walk between extra-musical effects and high musicality". Ponty is one of the first musicians to combine the violin with a wah-wah pedal , distortion and MIDI technology, creating his typical, sometimes synthesizer-like sound.

Around the same time as Ponty, the American violinist Don Sugarcane Harris , who was shaped by the black blues tradition, became famous . His work on Frank Zappa's albums , such as Burnt Weeny Sandwich in the early 1970s, caused a stir . In the fusion area between rock and jazz, the violinist Jerry Goodman also received greater attention through his participation in the rock band The Flock and with the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the beginning of the 1970s.

With Harris and Ponty the appearance of new important jazz violinists began on the jazz scene. At the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1971 Joachim Ernst Berendt held his New Violin Summit (only five years after his Violin Summit in the same place) Immediately after them were the Poles Michal Urbaniak , Zbigniew 'Zbiggy' Seifert and Krzesimir Dębski (founders of the band 'String Connection' in 1980 ) popular in Europe.

The violinist Zbigniew 'Zbiggy' Seifert, who presented the first solo album for jazz violin, was one of the Polish jazz musicians who made their country one of the most interesting jazz countries in the world. His expressive style and his virtuoso mastery of violin technique followed a further development of the musical ideas of John Coltrane . The critic Patrick Hinley wrote: “What Seifert and Coltrane have in common [...] is a quality that could be called 'controlled flow' or 'responsible freedom'. In the music of these two, nobody can say what will happen next, but you can be sure that you will always be led to an outer limit. ”His colleague Michal Urbaniak still represents a special kind of fusion, the Eastern European one Folk music included. He can be heard on Billy Cobham's Glass Menagerie, but also on his own albums.

After Seifert's early death in 1979, Didier Lockwood, who was oriented towards jazz rock, was once again a Frenchman as his worthy successor. After completing classical violin training, Lockwood, born in 1956, discovered free improvisation for himself and joined the rock group Magma at the age of 17 . At the age of 21 he was discovered by Stéphane Grappelli and increasingly oriented himself towards jazz. According to his own statements, he is very influenced by his Polish colleague Seifert.

World Jazz - L. Shankar

In the 1980s, with the opening of jazz to non-European musical cultures such as Indian music, other violinists became successful on the jazz and fusion scene: on the one hand L. Shankar , who was involved in John McLaughlin's Shakti project; on the other hand, his older brother L. Subramaniam , who became known through recordings with Larry Coryell , Herbie Hancock , John Handy and Ali Akbar Khan . Both come from the South Indian musical culture and have brought Indian violin traditions into the jazz scene with a high level of musicality and empathy. The Indonesian Luluk Purwanto should also be mentioned here. This path was prepared by Michael White , who as early as 1965 mixed oriental and classical elements with those of jazz in the quintet of John Handy.

Free jazz and creative jazz

Mark Feldman (2007)

Michael White, who already played with Eric Dolphy , John Coltrane and Sun Ra , was also a pioneer . The best-known violinists of free jazz and the improvised music that developed from it include Leroy Jenkins , Billy Bang and Mark Feldman , as well as Charles Burnham , Dominique Pifarély , Terry Jenoure and Phil Wachsmann . Ramsey Ameen became known in the second half of the 1970s through the Cecil Taylor Unit.

Jenkins, with his cluster-like “hammered” violin sound, used the violin as a percussion instrument and sound generator, regardless of violinistic or harmonic traditions. Michel Samson created interesting sound fabrics that abandoned the language of jazz and over which Albert Ayler's improvisations unfolded. Billy Bang and Charles Burnham worked with the String Trio of New York , the latter also with James Blood Ulmer , Ali Akbar with Ronald Shannon Jackson . Mark Feldman belongs to the circle around John Zorn . Berendt and Huesmann include the violinist Billy Bang, who plays his instrument with an unusually virtuosic bowing technique and does so with “that rough, percussive attacca , which is more interested in originality and blues quality than in so-called blues, among the“ most original violin parts of New Jazz ” 'Classical' norms ”.

The String Trios

Albrecht Maurer , violinist in the Kent Carter String Trio

The internationally recognized string trios include Billy Bang's "String Trio Of New York", the " Arcado String Trio ", the "Masada String Trio", which processes influences from Jewish music, and the " Kent Carter String Trio", which focuses on a mixture of jazz and classical modern .

The string quartets - Kronos Quartet

Since the 1980s a number of string quartets have emerged in the scene between jazz, improvised music and classically oriented music , which, in parallel to the pure saxophone quartets , endeavored to achieve style openness and cross-border fantasy; these were in particular the Kronos Quartet , the Black Swan Quartet , the Turtle Island String Quartet and the Modern String Quintet , in which the German Jörg Widmoser participated. Although the Kronos Quartet does not improvise, its modern concert music with compositions by Philip Glass , Terry Riley and John Zorn has so thoroughly "sawed up" the image of the "cozy string quartet" and built it up to a new level of sensitivity that jazz musicians have repeatedly come to work together is used, such as by Steve Lacy , Max Roach , Anthony Braxton or Cecil Taylor .

More jazz violinists

Other jazz violinists are Hannes Beckmann , Jean-Pierre Catoul , Regina Carter , Valentin Gregor , Klaus Heuermann , Gregor Hübner , Jason Hwang , Edzard Model, Mic Oechsner , Tobias Preisig , Benjamin Schmid , Adam Taubitz and the German swing musicians Helmut Zacharias and Helmut Weglinski . Mary Oliver and Carlos Zingaro point towards free improvisation music .

five-string electric violin

Important albums of the jazz violin


  • Joachim Ernst Berendt, Günther Huesmann: The jazz book . Fischer TB, Frankfurt / Main 1991; Chapter “The violin”, p. 462 ff.

Web links


  1. Julie Lyonn Lieberman: Improvising Violin . 1997
  2. Joachim Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann
  3. Ponty, who had performed there in 1966 with Grappelli, Stuff Smith and Svend Asmussen, now showed the possibilities of an electrified game with Don Sugarcane Harris, Michal Urbaniak and Nipso Brantner . Both summits were documented on MPS plates.
  4. cit. after Berendt / Huesmann, p. 465 f.
  5. cit. based on Joachim Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann: Das Jazzbuch p. 467
  6. Drawing from John Zorn's Masada songbook are the Masada String Trio and the Bar Kokhba Sextet. Each ensemble fills one CD with beautiful chamber jazz woven around a heart of Jewish melodies. Allmusic .
  7. String-derived chamber jazz ensembles like the Revolutionary Ensemble and the String Trio of New York are still decidedly jazz-oriented, but Carter and his cohorts are onto something different entirely. All About Jazz, 2004.
  8. cit. based on Joachim Ernst Berendt and Günther Huesmann: Das Jazzbuch p. 468
  9. www.jazzviolin.de
  10. Both Feldman and Courvoisier compliment each other well as they play in perfect step with one another. Highly recommended. Allmusic, 1999