Paris-based violinist Florin Niculescu can do it all.
An acclaimed jazz and classical player with deep "gypsy-jazz" roots, he makes his proper solo debut in the U.S. at Spoleto's Jazz series.
Niculescu was born in Bucharest in 1967, and grew up within a family of supportive professional musicians. His father, Corneliu Niculescu, spent years as the main violinist and collaborator of pan flute superstar Gheorghe Zemphir. His mother was a pianist. His sister played the cello. And his uncle was a violinist in the Bucharest Orchestra.
"My father was my first violin teacher," Niculescu says in his official bio. "We started to work seriously when I was four or five years old. Thanks to him, I acquired a strong base."
As a young boy, he studied in Bucharest, learning from a variety of Romanian soloists who recognized his talent and tuneful sensibilities. Playing proficiently in school groups and chamber music orchestras polished his skills as a classical player. Performing with family, friends, and local masters as a young soloist at casual gatherings encouraged improvisation.
At age 23, Niculescu left Romania for France and settled in Paris. In 1995, after many collaborations and projects with Parisian musicians of all shades, he joined an ensemble led by the late Babik Reinhardt, son of jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt. The experience led him toward a number of challenging and adventurous musical projects within the gypsy jazz scene.
He traveled to NYC in 2000 to participate at the first Django Reinhardt Festival alongside Biréli Lagrène, Babik Reinhardt, Jimmy Rosenberg, George Benson, and Bucky Pizzarelli. The event is documented on the album, Django Reinhardt NY Festival: Live at Birdland.
The violinist spent much of the 2000s playing with the groups Pearl Django and Lagrène's Gipsy Project before officially going solo. On his most recent solo album, Florin Niculescu Plays Stéphane Grappelli (BluJazz), he and his backing band — pianist Peter Beets, bassist Darryl Hall, and drummer Bruno Ziarelli — pay tribute to one of the all-time great jazz violinists, late Parisian musician Stéphane Grappelli, a man who did wonders to help establish the violin as a jazz instrument. Grapelli and Djano not only shared a love for early-20th century American jazz and gypsy folk music; they actually performed as bandmates for years in a band called Quintet du Hot Club de France.
In one fiery review, European jazz critic Jakob Baekgaard said, "One hearing of Niculescu's homage to Grappelli sends the listener back to the old recordings of the Quintette du Hot Club de France."
For Niculescu, carrying on with this distinctive blend of Django-style swing, postwar continental jazz, and modern string band improvisation requires a deep knowledge and respect for the vintage tunes and a confident sense of innovation and reinvention.