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Michel Warlop (January 23, 1911 – March 6, 1947) was a French classical and jazz violinist professionally active from 1929 to 1947.
Warlop was a child prodigy and won every award and prize that existed for the violin in France before attaining the age of 18. Warlop started his musical studies with his mother, a music professor, and entered the Conservatory at Douai at age six. There he was a student of Victor Gallois who earlier had won the Prize of Rome for the violin. Two years later he played a concert in Paris for war relief (WW1). He transferred to the Conservatory of Lille and started at the Conservatory of Paris at age 13. After starting to make a name for himself in classical music he changed over to jazz around 1929 and started recording in 1930. He played with all greats in France in the 1930s and 1940s; Django Reinhardt, Alix Combelle, Louis Vola, Stephane Grapelly, Roger Grasset, Noël Chiboust, Pierre Allier, André Ekyan, Guy Pacquinet, Max Geldray, Alex Renard, the Ferret brothers, Phillipe Brun, Georges Jacquement-Brown, Louis Richardet, Grégor and others. He also played with a number of visiting American musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Garland Wilson, Eddie South, Charlie Lewis, Josephine Baker plus many others that appeared or lived in Paris during the interwar years. He led his own small band for most of this time and was very much in demand as an accompanist for many of the most popular singers of the day such as Maurice Chevalier, Danielle Darrieux, Johnny Hess, Josette Daydé, Pierre Dac, Georges Guétary, Tino Rossi, André Claveau, Elyane Célis, Léo Marjane, Lucienne Boyer, Mireille, Charles Trénet, Édith Piaf, Lucienne Delyle, Jean Tranchant, Pierre Mingand and Irène de Trébert. During this time he made a number of recordings for Disques Swing (Swing Records), the world's first label dedicated only to jazz. He also recorded for a number of other companies, especially when playing for Raymond Legrand (Columbia) and while backing up popular vocalists.
Around early 1940 Warlop started working as a permanent member of the Raymond Legrand Orchestra, the most popular big band in France during the early to mid 1940's. Warlop got called up for military service in April or May 1940 and soon became a German prisoner of war. He was released and returned to France late in February or early in March, 1941 because of his health problems with tuberculosis. After a short visit home he went to Paris and took up his old chair in Legrand's orchestra. He also recorded with the Jazz Dixit and his own Septuor a Cordes (string septet) from time to time. Both of these units were made up of other musicians in the Legrand organization. The septet was very unusual in having four violins, two guitars and a string bass as its basic makeup. From time to time there was also a piano, drums and even a harp but not all appeared on each recording. In 1942 he recorded his Swing Concerto, which was recorded with a large concert orchestra. It took up both sides of a 30cm/12 inch 78 RPM disc that ran for seven and a half minutes. Disques Swing did not issue it and it sat in the vaults until it was finally released on a CD in 1989. The work showed off Warlop's skills in both the classical and jazz realms but left a mixed impression on listeners. There was no doubt of Warlop's abilities but the mixture of classical and jazz was considered to be too strange. Oddly enough, another violinist recorded the same work with the same orchestra on the Columbia label and it was released to the public in 1943 but sold poorly. The same session also produced Le Noël du Prisonier, another longer work that was released on Columbia rather than on Disques Swing. Legrand's orchestra was extremely busy during the war years with recordings, broadcasts and touring around France for personal appearances. During 1941 Legrand's orchestra made a movie called Mademoiselle Swing (released in 1942) with Irène de Trébert. Warlop was the middle of the three violin players in the band for the film and can be heard on short solos in several instances. The film is available on DVD in France and only in French. In July and August 1942 they went to Germany and played for French POW's and laborers that were working there. They did not play for the German public or military during this tour. In 1943 Warlop made his last recordings as a leader but stayed active in music, continuing on with Raymond Legrand. After the war many French musicians and singers were accused of supporting the enemy for appearing on German-controlled radio, playing for German troops or touring in Germany. Many musicians were banned for various periods of time. Warlop had to sit out for two months and Legrand for one year.
Warlop never played again in Paris or recorded after this incident. He toured as a soloist and in small groups in the south of France until he died at the age of 36 in 1947. His last engagement was with Jimmy Réna's small group at the Grand Hotel Superbagnières above Luchon. His tuberculosis had finally caught up with him along with his heavy consumption of alcohol and cocaine. Warlop played on around 400 different recordings while he was active. In most of them he was just one violinist in a large orchestra, usually backing a vocalist. On some of these records he got to solo but he was otherwise inaudible. His jazz records were quite different. Warlop played with a distinctive tone that set him apart even while playing with his peers South and Grapelly. Warlop also had an uncommon intensity and passion that never failed to come through in his own recordings, at least from the Polydor session of 17 April 1936. Warlop's best known jazz recordings under his own name are Magic Strings, Crazy Strings, Christmas Swing, Taj Mahal, Tea for Two, Retour (Return, to celebrate his return to music after returning from captivity), Kermesse, Tempete sur les Cordes (Storm on the Strings, his best seller), Nite, Modernistic, Loubi and Elyane. He also recorded two tunes as a guest artist with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (Swinging with Django and Paramount Stomp) plus as one of the three violins on Lady Be Good released under the name of Trio des Violons. Both of those recording dates were in late 1937.
Warlop was married to and later divorced from Fernande ('Nandette') Richard but there were no children. He also had no brothers or sisters. A few of his cousins are alive today, living in or near Douai, France.
Warlop's father owned the Pâtisseire Warlop (Warlop Pastry Shop) at 160 rue de la Mairie in Douai, France until his retirement in 1944. The shop has passed through several different owners since then. It is known as the Pâtisserie Cucci today. The Cucci's are well aware of the shop's heritage and you will see a publicity photo of Warlop taken for Disques Swing in 1938 hanging over the entrance to the kitchen.
- Film, Mademoiselle Swing, 1941
- Michel Warlop Discography by Jean-Claude Alexandre and Pierre Carlu, unpublished as a book but available online here: http://perso.numericable.fr/pcastera/Douai/WarlopDisco.htm
- Daniel Nevers on the liner notes of various LP's and CD's issued on Pathé, EMI and Frémeaux & Associés from about 1983 to the present.
- Jazz Hot, number 13 (new series), April, 1947.
- Jazz Magazine, number 25, March, 1957.
- Michel Ruppli, AFAS Discographies Volume 1: Disques Swing, AFAS, 1989. ISBN 2-905343-05-2.
- Amis de Douai, revue de l'Office de Tourisme, Tome XII-No. 7, June–July–August 1997.
- Gérard Régnier: Jazz et société sous l'Occupation. Editions L'Harmattan, 2009, ISBN 978-2-296-10134-0.
- Pierre Guingamp: Michel Warlop (1911-1947) – Génie du violon swing. Editions L'Harmattan, 2011. ISBN 978-2-296-56137-3.