Edward Otha “Eddie” South was born in the confusingly named town of Louisiana, Missouri in 1904. Encyclopedic entries on Eddie South are short and consistent, being content to merely state that if it were not for the universal racism of the time, this classically trained musician would have been a “top classical violinist.” This carries an element of truth, but what we should examine more is the assumption in this statement that western classical music, composed and performed by mostly white people, is the height of culture to which all musicians must aspire, and go no further.
Regardless, Eddie did manage to straddle both worlds of classical and jazz, incorporating swing, Latin, and Romany/Hungarian styles in his compositions; I like to think that in contemporary times he would have been more celebrated, and would have been able to be even more experimental with his musical style . In the 1920s, he performed often with Erskine Tate (in whose early band was a young Louis Armstrong) and Jimmy Wade. A tour from 1928-31 brought him to Budapest and exposed him to Hungarian and Roma (gypsy) music; upon his return to the States, his first record was a “hot” arrangement of the Jenó Hubay piece “Hejre Kati,” which became his signature tune. In listening to a recording of it, I was led to more of his “hot” versions of Kreisler violin standards, which I am including here. After hearing “Praeludium and Allegro” this way once, I can’t imagine it any other way.
At some point he studied at the Paris Conservatory, and his 1937 Paris sessions with Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, and Michel Warlop remain his most highly regarded jazz recordings. A 1937 recording of Bach’s Double Concerto with Grapelli is one of the earliest known jazz interpretations of Bach’s music. Throughout all the playing, you can hear his utter mastery of the instrument and ease at “fusion” of styles that ultimately creates something bigger than the sum of all its parts. Eddie South continued to perform and record into the 1950s, and died on April 25, 1962. #blackcomposers #jazzviolin