French Jazz Musician Richard Galliano Goes Face To Face

The Story of a musician…

One of the great joys — and benefits — of listening to jazz is that it readily absorbs influences from around the world, and from many different musical cultures, not least from the rich musical legacy of France and Italy.

For many years the accordion was, for many, little more than a cliché of Parisian street life. But in Richard Galliano’s hands it swings as hard as any saxophone.

In 2001 Galliano made a recording with the French jazz Hammond Organ player Eddy Louiss, called ‘Face To Face’, which is an extraordinary mix of straight ahead jazz, tango and musette, which, once out of the confines of Paris and France, also takes on a hint of the musical heat haze of North Africa and beyond, with the very different keyboards melding together so well that at times it becomes difficult to separate them, until they peel away from each other like aircraft in a dogfight to play wonderfully laid back solos that are stuffed full of musical references.

Richard Galliano was born on December 12th 1950, in the southern French city of Cannes. His father, who was of Italian extraction — and an accomplished pianist and accordionist himself — taught his son to play both of those instruments before enrolling him, at the age of 14, into the Nice Conservatory, where he studied counterpoint, harmony, and the trombone, at the same time winning several international accordion competitions, playing anything from Tchaikovsky to Gershwin. He graduated in 1969 with a 1e Prix d’ Excellence.

But it was when Galliano heard the American jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown (he memorised all of that musician’s recorded solos) that his musical thoughts and ambitions changed, quickly realising that his future should, could, be that of a jazz musician.

What he also realised was that the accordion was an instrument sadly neglected in the jazz world (although he was probably aware of the British player Jack Emblow’s attempts to establish the instrument within the genre during the 1950s and 1960s); a situation he intended to change.

Throughout the 1970s, in Paris, he established a fierce reputation as an extraordinary accompanist, playing with such stars as Charles Aznavour, Juliet Greco, George Moustaki, and Allain Leprest, with whom, as the online jazz magazine, All About Jazz, points out he recorded the album “…Voce A Mano [which] won him the Grand Prix du Disque from the Academie Charles Cros…”. It also brought him to the attention of a sophisticated French listening audience. He was on his way.

By the 1980s Galliano was established firmly within the French popular musical establishment, of which jazz, then as now, played a huge part, enabling Galliano to use the accordion as a major solo instrument. An ability that not only brought him to the attention of the theatre going audiences of the Comedie Francaise — where he wrote and performed the music for a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream -but also to international audiences when he toured with such jazz luminaries as Chet Baker, Joe Zawinul, and Ron Carter.

In the 1990s Galliano created what he called the ‘New Musette’, which was a look backwards to the Parissienne ‘Musette’, a popular music of the 1880s and ’90s that centred around a bagpipe (a musette),plus clarinet, mandolin, saxophone, trumpet and bandoneon. Galliano’s New Musette group, which, apart from himself, consisted of guitar, bass and drums, became an immediate hit, attracting such guests players as Toots Thielemans (harmonica), who recorded with Galliano, and the aforementioned Eddy Louiss.

In the 21st century Richard Galliano has either been on the road with musicians such as Gary Burton, or in the recording studio, creating albums that mix various musical styles with his beautifully melodic jazz.

One of his more recent outfits is Quartet — which consists of, apart from Richard, Alexis Cardenas on violin, Philippe Aerts on bass, and Rafael Mejia percussion — creating some of the most exciting jazz of its kind ever heard.

Listen To Face to Face

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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