• LOCATION 37 | The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I

    Isadora Duncan and Stéphane Grappelli

    This host is the original San Francisco free-spirit, Isadora Duncan.

    It's by abandoning convention that you can create something completely new. Boy, was she unconventional for the turn of the 20th century. A bisexual advocate of free love who had children from two different fathers out of wedlock. An athiest, adopting communism right after the Russian revolution, and baring her breasts to convince a Boston audience of her authenticity.

    She invented modern dance, incorporating more natural gestures, and childlike skipping and leaping. Though now she is still, Isadora continues to provoke movement, because her dance schools have spawned thousands of adepts. Her philosophy gives these students limitless license to explore what their bodies can express, on and above ground.

    Walk down the steps now and continue straight ahead across the opening to the other side.

    Make your way to the other half of the East-facing wall, pointed in the same direction as Isadora's.


    On the fifth column, bottom row, look for number 417 and get ready to grin, for you're about to meet one of my favorite people here, Stéphane Grappelli.


    One of Isadora's students, in 1914, was a bright six-year-old boy, the son of an Italian immigrant. World War I interrupted his dance lessons, so he took up a new artistic pursuit: the violin. By 15 he played music full-time on the street to earn a living. Grappelli eventually found steady work in a pit orchestra of the Gaumont theatre projecting silent films. He wanted to play the new jazz music, but there was more demand for other instruments, so he learned the piano.

    Feel free to look around in the Columbarium as I tell this funny anecdote…

    Playing as an anonymous piano accompanyist for years, his band mates never knew about his hidden talent. One day, his bandleader wanted to spice up the sound on 'Dinah,' and asked him if he could do anything else. Can you imagine that? It was as if pitcher Babe Ruth was asked if he could also handle a bat. The bandleader was blown away by his violin. A new lead instrument for jazz was born, with an unexpected sound, cheery and delightful.

    This sound met its mate when Grappelli founded the legendary Hot Club with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. They invented a new style, which wowed audiences for more than a decade. Django's virtuoso riffs ran while Stéphane's quick clever notes sang, dextrous without being showy. What smiles they spawned! What ageless euphoric recordings!

    In jazz records after Django, it would be much easier to list which illuminaries Grappelli DIDN'T play with, than who he did. His happy sound was a lovely compliment to that of any of his contemporaries, including Michel Petrucciani, who we’ll meet in tour 2. Like Henri Salvador, Grappelli remained active right up until his last years, finally laying down his bow for good at 89 years old.

    There are many more personalities in the Columbarium, like the African-American author Richard Wright, at number 848 five columns to the left of Grappelli, or prima donna soprano Maria Callas, at 16258. However, this is where The Chairfather tour 1 ends.

    If you've had your fun for today, from the North side of the Columbarium you may turn right and exit out the Gambetta gate that you came in. The main road to the gate is called ‘Avenue des combattants étrangers morts pour la France.’

    If you would like to meet some more personalities, like Jim Morrison, and hear their tales, turn left and join me at the South West corner of the Columbarium to begin the second walk of the three-part Chairfather tours. You may want to download the companion photo book, called The Chairfather onto your smartphone. It’s available wherever eBooks are sold.

    Wherever you go from here, I thank you for choosing to start going places with me, Joe Start, on The Chairfather tours. Let me know what you thought by rating the tour on the app, or by visiting voicemap.me. Please share the tour page on social media to help your friends around the world discover walks near them.

    For more travel, adventure and humor, visit StartGoingPlaces.com Thank you!

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The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I