When it comes to French accordion player Richard Galliano, it can be said that he did for the European music tradition what his mentor Astor Piazzolla has done with the Argentinian tango – he elevated the Mediterranean folklore on a level of an art form and he erased the borders between different traditions. What sets him apart from the others is his approach i.e. the subtleness with which he seduces or strays from the current trends when he works with contemporary jazz idioms. This was very evident at his performance at the Bitola World Music festival when his repertoire featured music by Erik Satie, Nino Rota, bal-musette and jazz music, delighting the people in attendance.
“Before the concerts I don’t usually make a set list and I’m usually guided by the emotions I feel when on stage, and as always the set list fills by itself during the concert. I’ve been playing with Tangaria for the last 10 years and we know each other very well, which makes it easy for them to adapt to the moment when I stray away carried by my emotions.”
The bandoneon, which is his primary axe of choice, is a very interesting instrument. Its sound perfectly expresses sad emotions and no wonder that the two musical traditions that are intimately connected to this instrument, the Argentinian tango and the French musette, regularly treat subjects such as bad love, bad luck, sadness and loss. But Galliano is a creative composer and improvisator, and his music carries in itself sorrow, joy and optimism. He succeeded in achieving something that many before him did not, to make this instrument equally accepted in various musical contexts where it was previously ignored in – the jazz festivals and classical halls.
“The bandoneon is my instrument. The one I perform with is 50 years old and it was a gift from my father. I also play other instruments, like the piano, trombone, but the bandoneon is in my heart.”
His music shows the extent to which jazz has expanded its horizons, because in his music not only does he put together the traditions of tango, musette and jazz, but other sounds from other world traditions as well.
“I feel good in all genres and I have no issues whether what I do is jazz, Argentinian tango or French musette. For me, any kind of music is good enough if it is melodic, if it swings and if it is the right music. Both the music of Count Basie and Johan Sebastian Bach suit me fine. I really have no problems with that and I feel comfortable in any style. Many would want to learn only by imitating what others are doing. I think that is wrong. They can only be very good imitators, but the music they create has to be theirs. Regardless of the style, you have to be able to express yourself.”
Galliano has worked and performed with many musicians from around the world that operate with a wider palette of styles. Among others, he has worked with some of the giants of jazz like Chet Baker, Ron carter, Joe Zawinul, Michelle Portal, Wynton Marsalis and Gary Burton with whom he shares the love for the music of Astor Piazzolla. They both recorded music tributes for this music giant.
For him, Astor Piazolla was a friend, mentor and spiritual father, and they became close because of their southern ancestry, since both of their parents were from Italy. Piazzolla’s influence inspired Galliano to concentrate more on the French tradition, both folk and classical.
Piazzolla not only created “tango nuevo”, but he also inspired Galliano to create the “new musette” or his own style. “The new musette” is waltz-like with one foot in jazz and the other in classical or traditional music. Much like Piazzolla’s music neither his music cut ties with the tradition, nor it closed the door to contemporary music.
On the one hand, classical music influenced him tremendously. In the ‘60s he has won twice at the “World cup for playing accordion” by performing Bach, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Gershwin.
“For me the greatest jazz musician ever was Johan Sebastian Bach. He was one of the greatest improvisers and is the one who invented jazz. Bach was great and I can’t compare myself with greatness such as his. But I try to be like he was, i.e. to be myself, someone who believes in what he does. When I’m in my hotel room I practice by playing Bach. But, why him? Because with my instrument I play music that Bach had written, and in his time that instrument did not exist. Therefore, it is such a perfect music because of which I can improvise on it and use it for practice in my hotel room.”
Galliano doesn’t try to be the best accordion player in the world, but to offer the audience the best of himself, and to perform music “from this part of the world,” which means he draws inspiration from different traditions – Italian, French, Mediterranean.
“I’m a traveler, and what I’m doing are my long and big travels. I want to transmit what I love, and in the first place, my love towards the people that come to hear me play. Through my compositions and instruments I want to transmit those emotions and to tell a tale.”
photo: Bekim Mustafa