According to the accordion

Genre-busting Richard Galliano continues to charm the world

RICHARD GALLIANO (front) and his band.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
RICHARD GALLIANO (front) and his band.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ask most Israelis of a certain vintage – let’s diplomatically put that in the “senior citizen” bracket – about the musical context they most readily identify with the accordion, the quick-fire response would probably pertain to the campfire and merry, and often boisterous, group chanting of old Israeli folk songs scene.
Ask most jazz fans what they think about the same instrument, and they may very well raise at least one eyebrow.
Then again, if they have heard of Richard Galliano, let alone actually heard him do his thing, their facial expression would, more than likely, develop into a wide smile.
That, no doubt, will be the response of Galliano’s Tel Aviv Museum audience on Thursday (10:30 p.m.), when he takes the stage there as part of the 30th edition of the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival.
I must confess, several moons ago I was also among the doubters as to the accordion’s place as a bona fide means of producing jazzy sounds and rhythms, but Galliano had my jaw heading south when I caught his act, quite a few years ago now, at the Jerusalem Theater. Since then I have seen him play on a number of occasions and he never fails to set the pulse racing.
Over the years the now 69-year-old French master instrumentalist has charmed audiences the world over, in all sorts of settings and with various repertoires and styles, putting out around 60 albums in the process. His impressive discography includes high-class collaborative outings with such luminaries as late jazz bassist Charlie Haden, iconic jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, French jazz guitarist Sylvain Luc and Swedish jazz pianist Jan Lundgren.
Galliano’s performing and recording musical hinterland also takes in classical music. In 2016 he recorded an album of Mozart works, and he has discs devoted to pieces by Bach and Vivaldi, too.
And, just in case you were beginning to wonder about the Frenchman’s genre limitations, there is also a 2011 CD of scores written by celebrated Italian soundtrack composer Nino Rota, who wrote the scores for such blockbusters as The Godfather and Federico Fellini’s La Strada and La Dolce Vita, as well as numerous operas, ballets and orchestral compositions. The Galliano Plays Nino Rota project featured a jazz quintet, with the Frenchman also playing trombone. The man simply knows no artistic bounds.
THE SON of an accordionist, Galliano’s principal career path appears to have been predestined.
“It was while listening to my father playing, and accompanying him at his places of concert and ball, that I discovered the music,” he recalls. The youngster may have been enthused, but still lacked the actual corporeal means of following suit. Then again, a child’s imagination can compensate for all sorts of physical shortcomings. “To imitate him, I built small paper accordions and pretended to play,” he explains.
Galliano took up the unwieldy contraption at the tender age of four, drawn to its looks as much as by its seductive sonic textures. “I was immediately fascinated by the mother-of-pearl buttons, the thousands of keys that represent the registers. It reminded me of a portable organ. The sound I preferred was the flute register – it’s a soft, tender sound that carries the heart. I also loved being able to imitate the sound of the wind thanks to the bellows of the accordion. This instrument is a poem all by itself.”
The youngster was no slouch on another oversized instrument, which relies on the passage of air to make itself heard, either. Galliano feels his work with the trombone has had a formative impact on his development as an artist, and also on his approach to his main instrument. He says the textures and feel of the trombone, as well as its physiology, influence his accordion playing. “I won the 1st prize of the Conservatory of Nice in the trombone class in the ’70s. In a way, this instrument came to feed my way of playing. The column of air that is used when playing trombone works in the same way as the bellows of the accordion. Both require a mastery of this air to achieve the correctness of the sound. Sound is – for all instruments, including the voice – the soul of any artist; it’s what left when you leave a theater or when you turn off your CD player.”
The Frenchman has no time for people who try to set neat demarcation lines around genres and styles, especially those who relate to the accordion as a sort of bastard means of proffering jazzy material.
“I don’t even want to mention this ‘jazz police,’ because they are the antithesis of art – they are not in creation but in destruction,” he declares. “To say that the accordion is not a jazz instrument is to say that we should categorize people, genres, lock them in a mold. Jazz welcomes everyone and excludes anyone unsuited to freedom.”
While Galliano helped to bring the spotlight back to the accordion, he is not the first to bring the instrument into the jazz fold, by quite a few years. American musician Art Van Damme, for example, was well into jazzing up his squeeze-box back in Chicago of the early 1940s, while peerless gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt incorporated an accordionist called Gus Viseur in his lineups as early as the 1930s.
Galliano lauds their pioneering work and suggests we focus more on the doer than the means. “If you listen to Art Van Damme, Gus Viseur, Django Reinhardt... you will realize what the accordion has brought to jazz. As with all instruments, everything depends on who plays it, of course. I think it’s more a matter of liking than instrument. Don’t you believe?” I do indeed.
Besides his work in jazz-oriented formats, Viseur was one of the leading lights on the musette scene which developed out of merry dance music of the late 19th century, with the main role originally performed on bagpipes. Galliano makes a habit of dipping into the genre himself, and bringing it bang up to date. The band he will be playing with at the Tel Aviv Museum goes by the name of the New Musette 4tet, with the accordionist doubling up on the harmonica-like mellow tone, Jean-Marie Ecay on guitar, Bruno Rousselet on double bass, and Jean-Christophe Galliano on drums.
The foursome Galliano is bringing is, he says, part of his never-ending search for new avenues of artistic expression. “The idea of the New Musette was suggested to me by [Argentinean composer and bandoneon player] Astor Piazzolla, who himself had created the ‘tango nuevo’ in Argentina. I took this path trying to extract the roots of the musette and adapting it to my experiences and the times of today. This movement is constantly renewed, and it was also a response to the ‘jazz police’ who wanted to exclude this instrument from the jazz, while we know that music has no borders.”
Amen to that. Meanwhile, Galliano is heading back this way again this Thursday, to bring his inimitable accordion wizardry and unbridled passion to a, no doubt, expectant and adoring Tel Aviv Museum audience. The Frenchman says he is delighted to be back, after “dozens” of appearances here over the years, at “jazz festivals, kibbutz chamber orchestras. The first times were with my friend-singer [legendary French singer-songwriter] Georges Moustaki. I have always loved the warm welcome of this country.”
For tickets and more information: *9080 and