The finest jazz violinist ever? Most people have never succeeded in playing any instrument, at any age, the way Stephane Grappelli plays violin--perhaps the most difficult instrument--at the age of 88. For sheer technique, no one has equaled Grappelli; no matter what the tempo, he tosses off the most extravagant lines with classic French insouciance. (Even though Grappelli's virtuosity serves the greater goal of musical sensibility, it could easily stand as its own raison d'etre.) His trademark leaps into the bell-like harmonics of the violin still send shivers; his tone remains light and full as a vintage chardonnay--the same as on his pioneering records of the 1930s, on which he and guitarist Django Reinhardt proved that Europeans might have something to add to the American invention, jazz. And he still obviously finds great joy in the act of improvisation. Not even the pacemaker installed by doctors several years ago has dampened Grappelli's musical ardor; in fact, he has conceded little to age except his touring schedule (somewhat diminished) and any interest in training new accompanists (pretty understandable, I'd say). Accordingly, he appears in Chicago with the same drumless chamber-jazz trio he brought to town a few years ago. It includes the subtle and steady bassist Jon Burr and the marvelously empathetic guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, whose background chording has such presence that his energetic solos feel like an added bonus; together they recapture the vibrance of Grappelli's earliest recordings as the leader pours his suave, Chevalier-esque presence into every fillip and filigree. Vive le Jazz Hot! (The historically faithful and wholly excellent Chicago Jazz Band led by pianist James Dapogny will open the show with the classic compositions of Jelly Roll Morton and his contemporaries.) Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 294-3000.
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