Look at this painting of the most famous violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini, at the height of his powers in the early 19th century. Concertgoers and fellow musicians alike whispered that Paganini must have had a pact with the Devil, which would explain his ghostly appearance, the wild feats of technique he tossed off in concert, the astounding flexibility that allowed him to perform those feats, his devotion to his vices of women and gambling and the transporting passion for music that fueled it all. The painting gives a hint of this: pale, sunken-cheeked, dramatically thin, he grips his violin and bow fiercely, preparing once again to play like no one before him ever had.
Now look at jazz violinist Regina Carter. She’s comfortably dressed in New York City all-black, except for thick black-and-gray striped wool socks that look extremely comfortable on a Gotham day marked by icy downpours. Sporting dreadlocks and a gold nose stud, Carter sits, legs splayed on a colorful rug in her cozy apartment. Her ready smile plays across her lips, and her frank eyes easily meet yours in a way that was probably foreign to Paganini. Carter laughs readily yet talks seriously about respect and history.