is the accordion guru. With his incredible hands and his musical
feeling the instrument has reached a level of expression and sound never
before heard, catching the attention of audiences and the best musicians in
the world. Richard Galliano was born in Le Cannet, France, on
December 12, 1950.
He was drawn to music at an early age, starting with the accordion at 4,
influenced by his father Lucien, an accordionist originally from Italy,
living in Nice.
After a long and intense period of study (he took up lessons on the
trombone, harmony and counterpoint at the Academy of Music in Nice), at 14,
in a search to expand his ideas on the accordion he began listening to jazz
and heard on records the great trumpet player Clifford Brown. "I copied all
the choruses of Clifford Brown, impressed by his tone and his drive, his way
of phrasing over the thunderous playing of Max Roach". Fascinated by this
new world Richard was amazed that the accordion had never been part of this
"Then I started to look into it and one of my teachers Claude Noel, a rebel
when it came to the accordion, helped me discover the Italian masters (Fugazza,
Volpi, Fancelli) and the Americans like Art Van Damme and Ernie Felice who
played with Benny Goodman in 1947. I spent my teenage years searching for
records by these musicians at a time when all you could find in record shops
was only traditional accordionists.
I wanted to play in a different way. And I knew this existed in the States
and in Brazil. After years of study and apprenticeship, in 1973 came the big
decision. He finally made up his mind to take the plunge and go to Paris
where he had a strock of luck. He very quickly made an important contact in
the shape of famous singer Claude Nougaro. For threee years he played the
roles of conductor, arranger and composer with that orchestra. "It was
rather like my Berklee School; finding myself leading an orchestra like
Nougaro's was an experience which left its mark on me. With him I especially
learned the importance of melody. When I compose at my piano now I imagine I
am writing a song even if my compositions are mainly instrumental".
After Nougaro an important meeting with the great Astor Piazzolla. With
Piazzolla, Galliano realized that he hadn't gone to Paris to play second
fiddle to other people, but to invent a kind of music which, altough deeply
rooted in tradition belonged to him, and him alone. And Piazzolla told
Galliano: "Your image as a
jazz accordionist is far too Americanised.
It's no good at all. Rediscover your French roots. You need to take up the
New Musette, just as I invented the Tango Nuevo".
A sudden invitation to turn back the clock and start all over again. "Musette?
It wasn't an easy label to go along with. The genre of music was
backward-looking, outdated. It was as if you were to play accordion in the
style of the 1930's, as if Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix
never existed. Astor Piazzolla guided me and helped me understand the need
to retain my identity. Up until he died we were inseparable. He opened my
eyes and gave me the utmost confidence in this instrument which had gone
through all the changing fashions, suffered all kinds of rejection.
Today, at the age of 53, Richard Galliano can be proud. We have seen his
bellows rise and his talent soar alongside the best, unique musicians,
single and adventurous who like him have seen how to invent their own
original musical worlds.
Richard Galliano, direct heir to Astor Piazzolla, interprets, composes and
orchestrates music which seems to casually mix reminiscences of swing,
marked echoes of tango, French bistro waltzes, Bill Evans ballads, Keith
Jarrett improvisations and the afro-american lessons of Charlie Parker and
John Coltrane, all is performed with a pleasing chromatic taste which goes
back to best French tradition from Couperin to Debussy and above all to
Ravel. Richards greatest merit is therefore originality; synthesized all
these experiences into a new European music made up of jazz improvisation
and a great deal of Mediterranean tradition.
His second strenght is his use of the accordion (and the bandonéon), awkward
instruments which have always had a difficult life in jazz and cultivated
music. For years, the accordion was relegated to the lowest ranks of popular
music, a pity for its typical colour of melancholy would lend itself
wonderfully to creating atmospheres of blues. In the hands of Galliano the
popular accordion first acquires the polychromy of an orchestra, and then
the collected tone of chamber-like intimism.
Galliano's record and concert collaborations are as follows in no particular
order. He performed solo and as a guest in Joe Zawinul's group at Umbria
Jazz Winter '95 and Umbria Jazz '96 and then in the two editions of U.J.
Winter first in a duo with Charlie Haden and then with the New York Tango
Quartet, in both cases arousing unanimous enthusiastic public and critical
He has taken part in the last three editions of the Montreal Jazz festival;
in '97 solo, in '98 five concerts with 5 different projects and in '99 in a
trio with George Mraz and Al Foster.
Other collaborations: Juliette Greco, Charles Aznavour, Ron Carter, Chet
Baker, Enrico Rava, Martial Solal, Miroslav Vitous, Trilok Gurtu, Jan
Garbarek, Michel Petrucciani, Michel Portal, Toots Thielemans.
He has participated in numerous other international festivals including
Antibes, Montreux, Vienna, S.Francisco, North Sea, Melbourne, Tokio, Peking