Jazz violin

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French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty is an influential jazz-rock fusion performer

Jazz violin is the use of the violin or electric violin to improvise solo lines. Early jazz violinists included Eddie South, who played violin with Jimmy Wade's Dixielanders in Chicago; Stuff Smith; Claude "Fiddler" Williams, who played with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy. Joe Venuti was best known for his work with guitarist Eddie Lang during the 1920s. Georgie Stoll was a jazz violinist who became an orchestra leader and film music director.

Improvising violinists include Stéphane Grappelli, Noel Pointer, Jean-Luc Ponty. While not primarily jazz violinists, Darol Anger and Mark O'Connor have spent significant parts of their careers playing jazz, while Sara Caswell, Scott Tixier, and Jeremy Kittel are equally fluent in both progressive and traditional styles of jazz. Violins appear in string ensembles or big bands supplying orchestral backgrounds to many jazz recordings.

The violin is a bowed string instrument with four strings usually tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola, cello, and double bass. A violinist produces sound by either drawing a bow (normally held in the right hand) across one or more strings (which may be stopped by the fingers of the other hand to produce a full range of pitches), plucking the strings (with either hand), or a variety of other techniques. In jazz fusion, violinists may use an electric violin plugged into an instrument amplifier with electronic effects.

Swing to bebop[edit]

Stéphane Grappelli founded the gypsy jazz Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt before World War II.

Jazz violin began in New Orleans in the early 1900s.[1] Arrangements for ragtime orchestras had parts for violins in which they were as important as the other instruments.[1] The violin was a lead instrument in the recordings of A. J. Piron[2], whose trumpeter Peter Bocage also played violin.[1] Alphonso Trent and Andy Kirk employed violinists in their territory bands.[1] Stuff Smith played violin as a member of Trent's band in the 1920s and tinkered with acoustic and electric means of increasing the volume of the instrument.[1] Claude Williams alternated between guitar and violin when as a member of the Count Basie orchestra.[1] In Chicago, Eddie South was violinist and music director for Jimmy Wade.[1] South was accompanied by Juice Wilson when both were members of the Freddie Keppard band.[1] Violin is one instrument Edgar Sampson performed on as a member of the Fletcher Henderson band in the 1930s.[1] Angelina Rivera was a classically trained violinist who worked with Josephine Baker and Spencer Williams.[1] W. C. Handy conducted an orchestra with a three-violin section that included Darnell Howard.[1] Paul Whiteman's jazz orchestra a had a string section that was led by Matty Malneck.[1] The bands of Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Earl Hines had string sections, though they didn't improvise.[1] Bandleaders who were also violinists included Leon Abbey, Clarence Black, Carroll Dickerson, and Erskine Tate.[1]

Violin became a solo instrument in jazz largely through the efforts of Stuff Smith, Eddie South, Stephane Grappelli, and Joe Venuti.[1][2] Venuti was in a popular duo with guitarist Eddie Lang beginning in the 1920s.[1][2] Grappelli was a member of the gypsy jazz group Quintette du Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt.[1][2] In the 1930s when swing was dominant, other violinists included Darnell Howard, Ray Nance, Ray Perry, Svend Asmussen,[1] and Michel Warlop.[2] Perry and Ginger Smock provided a link from swing violin to bebop.[1] Examples of bop violin in the 1950s include Dick Wetmore and Harry Lookofsky, who was in the NBC Orchestra led by Arturo Toscanini.[1] Jean-Luc Ponty played bop violin in the 1960s as did Elek Bacsik in the 1970s.[1]

The violin is well-represented in modern jazz and improvisational music.[3] Mark Feldman is one of the leading performers in modern and contemporary jazz violin, along with Mat Maneri and Jean-Luc Ponty. Regina Carter regularly appears in readers' and critic's polls at Downbeat magazine while playing in an earthy, R&B-influenced style.[4][5]


A standard violin and an electric violin with a cut-away body

Big bands are loud, but the violin is quiet. One person to address the problem was Augustus Stroh, who invented the Stroh violin in the 1890s that was inspired by the gramophone[1], with a horn connected to project the sound. In the 1930s, Stuff Smith experimented with electric amplification.[1][2] Since the 1980s an electric violin has been used in which a transducer is built into the instrument.[1]

Jean-Luc Ponty's attraction to jazz was influenced by Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which led him to the electric violin. Critic Joachim Berendt wrote, "Since Ponty, the jazz violin has been a different instrument" and compared his phrasing to Contrane's.[6] In 1967 he visited the U.S. for the Monterey Jazz Festival[7]

Ponty worked with Grappelli, the Mahavishnu Orchestra (succeeding Jerry Goodman), and Frank Zappa, and appeared on more than 70 recordings. His symphonic approach to jazz fusion made him a popular fusion artist of the 1970s. In 1972, he featured prominently on Elton John's Honky Chateau album. In 1977, he pioneered the use of the 5-string electric violin, with a lower C string. He sometimes also uses a 6-string electric violin called the violectra, with low C and F strings – not to be confused with the violectra he played from the late 1960s to the mid-80s which had 4 strings, but tuned an octave lower. Ponty was among the first to combine the violin with MIDI, electronic distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. This resulted in his signature, almost synthesizer-like sound. In 2005, Ponty formed the acoustic jazz fusion supergroup Trio! with Stanley Clarke and Béla Fleck.

In jazz-rock fusion styles, jazz violinists may use an electric violin. Jazz fusion groups use rock instruments such as electric guitar, bass guitar, electric keyboards, and drums; to compete with these loud instruments, violinists often use an amplified violin that is plugged into an instrument amplifier. Moreover, the use of an electric violin allows the violinist to apply effects such as a wah pedal, phaser, reverb, or a distortion fuzzbox, to create unusual new sounds.

An electric violin is a violin equipped with an electric signal output of its sound, and is generally considered to be a specially constructed instrument which can either be an electro-acoustic violin capable of producing both acoustic sound and electric signal or an electric violin capable of producing only electric signal. To be effective as an acoustic violin, electro-acoustic violins retain much of the resonating body of the violin, often looking very much like, sometimes even identical to, an acoustic violin or fiddle. They are often varnished with bright colours and made from alternative materials to wood.

The first custom built electric violins date to the late 1930s and were made by Victor Pfeil, Oskar Vierling, George Eisenberg, Benjamin Miessner, George Beauchamp, Hugo Benioff and Fredray Kislingbury. Most of the early electric violinists were musicians playing jazz and popular music. Electric violins usually have piezoelectric transducer pickups and/or magnetic pickups built into the body of the instrument. Like an electric guitar, an electric violin may also have volume and tone potentiometer knobs for controlling the sound of the instrument.

Like other electro-acoustic or electric instruments, an electric violin is often patched into a preamplifier, impedance-matching device, and/or a Direct Injection (DI box) box before it is routed to the PA system, electronic effects, or the instrument amplifier.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Glaser, Matt; Shipton, Alyn; Barnett, Anthony (2002). Kernfeld, Barry (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. 3 (2 ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. pp. 849–852. ISBN 1-56159-284-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Washburne, Christopher (2000). "Miscellaneous Instruments in Jazz". In Kirchner, Bill (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Jazz. Oxford University Press. pp. 658–660. ISBN 978-0-19-518359-7.
  3. ^ Iyer Voted Jazz Artist of the Year in DownBeat Critics Poll. Archived 2015-08-22 at the Wayback Machine DownBeat Magazine June 23, 2015.
  4. ^ "The 2014 Expanded Critics Poll". JazzTimes. 13 March 2015. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Regina Carter's Jazz Genealogy". NPR.org. 5 March 2014. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
  6. ^ Berendt, Joachim-Ernst (1976). The Jazz Book. Paladin., p301
  7. ^ "jean luc ponty". www.united-mutations.com. Retrieved 23 December 2018.

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