Grammy-winning violinist/composer Mark O'Connor and his trio to perform at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts


Gifted violinist and composer Mark O'Connor and his Hot Swing Trio will perform a tribute to jazz legend Stéphane Grappelli on Friday, March 28 at 8 p.m. at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.

Mark O'Connor, who has recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Wynton Marsalis, is regarded as one of the most gifted contemporary composers in the United States. Influenced by both French jazz master Grappelli and Texas fiddler Benny Thompson, he manages to tackle their disparate genres in the effortless style of a true original. His Hot Swing Trio includes two other polished jazz musicians, double bassist Jon Burr and guitarist Frank Vignola.

O'Connor's unusual ability to hopscotch across genres has gained him much attention from audiences and the music press. Commenting on the playlist for a 2000 concert, a New York Times reviewer marveled that he was "giving his listeners a complex, sophisticated piece of early-21st-century classical music and then knocking them dead with the brown-dirt whine of a Texas fiddle."

In the Quick Center performance, the Hot Swing trio will feature pieces by Grappelli, the late violinist whose career spanned from his early pairing with guitar icon Django Reinhardt in the 1930s to his work with Stanley Black in the 1990s.

Born in Paris in 1908, Grappelli first took up keyboards, but soon began formal violin lessons. By the mid-1920s, he played in dance bands in Paris, gradually concentrating on jazz. Within a few years he met Reinhardt and formed The Quintette du Hot Club de France.

Shortly before World War II, Grappelli settled in London and played with another jazz legend, pianist George Shearing. He worked again with Reinhardt for a short time and later recorded with other violinists, including Stuff Smith and Joe Venuti.

Though his contemporaries considered him a gem as a solo artist, Grappelli's name was known mostly because of his collaborations. That all changed in 1973, when he appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival with Diz Disley and Denny Wright. Grappelli was a sensation. For the next two decades he toured extensively, playing to appreciative audiences in some of the world's finest venues. Many of the recordings he made in the 20 years before his 1997 death are considered essential to the history of jazz violin.

O'Connor has long been a fan of Grappelli's, but he certainly didn't hear him during his youngest years. Born in Seattle, O'Connor grew up in a home filled with classical music: His mother wouldn't allow any other kind. Having started on guitar, he switched to violin after seeing a PBS performance by Itzak Perlman, Jean-Luc Ponty and Doug Kershaw.

"I didn't know how happy and rhythmical the violin could sound, and I wanted one, although it took me three years to get it," he told The Boston Globe.

O'Connor started composing at age 13 and has recorded and performed steadily throughout his career. His first recording, "Appalachia Waltz," is a collaboration with the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and double bassist Edgar Meyer. He won a Grammy in 2001 for his "Appalachia Journey" and his latest album, "Hot Swing," is a live recording with Burr and Vignola.

Burr has toured and recorded with many jazz masters, including Grappelli, Stan Getz, Chet Baker and Buddy Rich. His own quartet has played Birdland, The Blue Note and other top New York City venues and he has served as bass chair for Broadway's "Me and My Girl," "Grand Hotel" and "Gypsy."

Frank Vignola has been playing guitar since he was five years old. By 13, he was performing professionally. He's well-versed in Grappelli's musc, having played in a tribute to the Quintette du Hot Club de France at Michael's Pub, filmmaker/clarinetist Woody Allen's favorite New York City jazz haunt. No stranger to the touring scene, Vignola has played with Allen, Les Paul, Lionel Hampton, John Lewis.

Tickets to the Quick Center performance are $30, with discounts for students and senior citizens. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396. For more information, visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on February 27, 2003

Vol. 35, No. 213