Friday, October 23, 2015

Violinist Eddie South (1904 – 1962) - A Striking Musician, Part One

Georg Lankester writes a survey of the career of violinist Eddie South. Below follows the first part of the article, the second part will be published later. 

Eddie South (1904-1962)

In my stories on jazz musicians who played with guitarist Django Reinhardt, this time the  focus on the great American violinist, composer and arranger Eddie South.

We have to go back to the USA where Edward was born in Louisiana on 24 November 1904.Growing up he proved to be highly talented, since he was able to play the violin rather well at an early stage.

Like many others from the South, his parents went to Chicago when he was still young. And the prodigy (that’s what he was) was soon registered at the Chicago Music College in order to follow a classical music study. Unfortunately he had to finish it after one year, because of his skin color. There was no place for a black person, independent how well you could play. Realizing this Eddie switched to the jazz scene which was fully under development then.

A New Direction

Darnell Howard
He meets clarinetist Darnell Howard who teaches him the principles of jazz playing and also Charles Elgar. With both musicians he starts to perform.

He then gets work by joining the well-known orchestra of Erskine Tate, as well as the band of Mac Brady. Somewhat later he becomes the leader of the Syncopators with trumpet player Jimmy Wade. He joins this orchestra which plays in the popular Moulin Rouge Café from 1923-1927. It is with this band that he made his very first recordings for the Paramount label (in 1923). 

Based on his experiences and full of enthusiasm he now forms a small group without brass players, not very common then, and he calls them The Alabamians. The line-up is violin, piano, clarinet, guitar and drums.

Eddie South and his Alabamians
The next year he also works with Erskine Tate and joins the quartet of guitarist Mike Mckendrick as well.
Mike McKendrick
After some recordings for Victor with his own formation Eddie leaves for Europe where he will stay from 1928 till 1931. Like many other Americans he makes a tour through the UK and visits France frequently where Paris is becoming the city of the European Jazz (due to the Hot Club de France initiatives).

South, however, always keeps his interest in classical music and during his European stay he registers at the Conservatory of Paris to practice violin. His teacher there is Firmin Touche. But he also frequently visits Russian cabarets where famous Roma musicians play such as Jean Goulesco. Eddie is highly fascinated by gypsy Music.

In the autumn of 1929 he travels to Hungary to follow a study at the Music Academy of Budapest, one of the leading colleges for violin. One of his teachers is Prof. Hubay – a friend of Franz Liszt – who is also strongly influenced by Hungarian gypsies.

In the Roma composition Two Guitars which Eddie recorded in Paris (1929) for HMV one can hear him switching to the gypsy style, sometimes showing blues influences as well.

Meeting Django in the South of France

A young Django Reinhardt
In the spring of 1931 Eddie can be found in the French ‘Riviera’ where he performs in Cannes in the popular Bianco’s Night Club.  And it is there that he meets Django Reinhardt who travels around with his wife Naguine in order to earn some money. This contact was organized through the intermediary of bass player and band leader Louis Vola.

Somewhat earlier the guitarist and his brother Joseph had, for the first time in their life, heard American jazz records after they had met painter Emile Savitry. Both brothers were excited when they listened to Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Django was quite impressed by Eddie South’s violin playing which included both blues and gypsy elements. Maybe this experience was the basis for the long association between guitar and violin shown in the Hot Club Music in the years to come.

In Cannes they were performing several times together. But also Eddie was surprised to discover Django’s feeling for improvisation and his fabulous rhythm, so they enjoyed playing together.

After a few months Eddie South went back to the States and restarted his performances in Chicago with his Alabamians. Those years he also accompanied various American singers. But in 1937 he travelled again to his beloved France. Paris was full of musical events and had become a real European center for jazz, stimulated by the World Exhibition which was visited by 34 millions of people. Eddie was there officially invited by the Hot Club de France and….soon he would meet Django again.

Georg Lankester

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