Be among the first to view (bird’s eye, as it were) Duke Ellington and Stephane Grappelli playing a medley that includes “Solitude,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” This was filmed in 1973, a year before Duke’s death at age 75, and a decade after Ellington’s Jazz Violin Session, featuring Grappelli, Svend Asmussen, and Ray Nance.
Ellington played in Paris during his first European tour in 1933, a year before Grappelli and Django Reinhardt became the nucleus of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France. By 1939, when Duke returned to Paris, Grappelli had moved to London, where he waited out the war years, while Django remained in Paris and became a hero of the French Underground. While in Paris, Ellingtonians Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor recorded five titles with Django, including Stewart’s delightful original, “Montmartre.”
Following the war, Django came to the States and toured with the Ellington Orchestra. In Music Is My Mistress, Duke writes, “Among those I think of as citizens of Paris was Django Reinhardt, whom I regard as among the few great inimitables of our music…I always said that Django was a great believer because a believer is an optimist who thinks of tomorrow, and one of Django’s favorite sayings was, ‘Tomorrow, maybe’.”
As it happened, Django anticipated a hero’s welcome when he arrived in New York, and didn’t even bring a guitar, so certain was he that American guitarmakers would greet him with freebies and endorsement offers. Moreover, all of the advertising for Ellington’s tour had been created before Django was added to the bill, so his appearances resulted in little advanced publicity or notices. But Django’s biographer Michael Dregni says that while the trip was a mix of “cruel disappointments and great successes,” it “inspired him to create some of his most stunning music” upon his return to Europe.
Here’s Django with Duke playing “Honeysuckle Rose.”