The history of the arts is replete with the names of seminal contributors who are synonymous with their chosen genre. There is, for example, generally no need to elaborate on the line of work of the likes of Beethoven, Rembrandt, The Beatles or Louis Armstrong. For anyone into Latin music, the same could be said of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinean bandoneon player and composer who took tango music and infused it with elements of classical music and jazz to create the nuevo tango style.
Astor’s grandson Daniel Pipi Piazzolla will bring some of that inherited, and crafted, magic to these shores on August 25 and 26 when he and his long-running Escalandrum sextet, together with silkily emotive vocalist Elena Roger, perform their Piazzolla Project 3001 program at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv.
Naturally, the improvised sounds that he and his jazz band put out are heavily seasoned with the music he grew up with, which was passed down to him through the genetic route.
“Argentinean jazz is different from the music that comes from the United States or Cuba or Brazil. It is our sound,” Piazzolla explains. “What we play is very much influenced by the music of my grandfather, and it is mixed with improvisations, new harmonies, new rhythms.”
The 45-year-old drummer may feed off his granddad’s legacy, but he is also constantly looking to take his craft to new places.
“Now jazz music is very global. Everything is mixed together. It is very nice. We play Argentinean jazz, but a lot of songs are in odd meters, like 7/4 or 5/4 or 9/8. It’s pretty, and pretty nice to play,” he says.
There are certainly plenty of Piazzolla pieces around to play.
“My grandfather wrote something like 3,000 pieces,” notes the drummer. “He is our hero. A lot of musicians want to play his music here in Argentina and all over the world. When I am on tour, I see a lot of orchestras and people playing my grandfather’s music on the street, in Europe, in Canada, in Latin America. It is tango, but I think for them it is jazz.”
Nuevo tango also bridges generation gaps.
“I played one time in Russia,” Piazzolla recalls, “and they told me that in kindergarten, the children sing the music of my grandfather. It is amazing. I am very proud.”
Piazzolla Sr. died in 1992 and managed to set his grandson on his musical way.
“I never played with my grandfather, but he bought me my first drum set, and he gave me his first bandoneon when I was 15,” he says.
Granddad also took the youngster along to get a close look at the nuevo tango magic in the making.
“I had the opportunity to go with him to his concerts in Argentina,” Piazzolla continues. “He always took me to his concerts. And I went to his house, and he talked to me a lot about music, and he gave me a lot of advice.”
The legendary composer’s tips have stuck with Piazzolla and informed his artistic development over the years.
“He told me important things. He told me I have to work hard and practice a lot and go with the best teachers and the best schools,” he says.
Since time immemorial, the older generations have had a tendency to largely denigrate the revolutionary ideas of the up and coming lot. But, it seems, Piazzolla Sr. was made of wiser stuff.
“He told me always to play contemporary music, new music, the music you hear on the radio,” says the drummer. “He told me that all the time when I was a child. I grew up with that. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to be with my grandfather. He was very busy, but he always had time for me, to take me to rehearsals and the sound check, everything. He was not an ordinary person. You get impact when you see him.”
But Piazzolla not only brings his grandfather’s magic to his craft; he is the product of his own era and imbibed much of the contemporary sounds that were around in his formative years.
“I listened to British and American rock – I like the Canadian group Rush and [British pop band] Police and The Beatles, but I was also into Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis. I loved the [second] Miles Davis quintet with [drummer] Tony Williams and [pianist] Herbie Hancock.
My first album was [live Miles Davis quintet release] Four & More. It was the first time I heard jazz music, with a rock sensation. It was incredible,” he recounts.
The drummer says he is looking forward to coming to Israel over with the band and Roger.
“We will play all the music I heard when I was a kid, when I went with my grandfather to hear him play. For me, it is very important to play that material,” he says.
True to his granddad’s spirit, Piazzolla will not just try to replicate the original numbers.
“We have some new arrangements,” he notes. “Elena is an extraordinary artist.”
Piazzolla feels his forebear would have applauded his new line of attack.
“My grandfather always wanted people to make his music different. We do that with a lot of respect. I am doing the things he told me,” he says.
Piazzolla Project 3001 will be performed on August 25 (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.) and August 26 (doors open 12:45 p.m., show starts 2:30 p.m.) at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv.