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Joe Venuti Joe Venuti

Giuseppe “Joe” Venuti is widely regarded as the first great jazz violinist. Born to Italian parents who immigrated to the States; he learned classical violin as a child, the fruits of which can be clearly seen in his exciting melodic and rhythmic technique. At school in Philadelphia in 1913 he met guitarist Eddie Lang; and they started playing together, at first playing polkas, inventing and trading variations, quickly moving into jazz. It was a fortuitous and rewarding partnership. From 1926 to 33 they made many recordings, in a variety of small band line-ups, becoming internationally famous, not least because the novelty of the guitar/violin combination.

Venuti's technique was groundbreaking; he had a sharp, bright tone, excellent intonation, and an ability to play in any key, anywhere on the violin. He developed what has become known as the “violin capo” technique, using his first finger as the root and fifth of whatever key he was playing in. This made playing in any key easy, as well as allowing double stops and rocking bow patterns anywhere up and down the neck.

He was probably the first violinist to popularize the “double shuffle” ( a 123,123, 123,123,12,12 pattern rocking across two or three strings, and extending across two or more bars) which was quickly adopted by western swing and later bluegrass fiddlers.

He made frequent use of clean, accurate harmonics; both true harmonics and the more difficult artificial harmonics (created by “stopping” the string with the first finger, and lightly touching the same string with the fourth finger, a fourth interval higher) He used frequent choppy double stops, and could do extended swinging pizzicato solos. His playing was always punchy, aggressive, inventive and playful. Perhaps his most famous technique, rarely copied because it's at the same time very difficult and completely wacky, was to unfasten the hairs of his bow, then wrap them round the top of his fiddle, with the bow underneath.

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Album Joe & Zoot & More by Joe Venuti

Joe & Zoot & More

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