Accordionist, conductor, composer
Richard Galliano is an accordionist and composer who has taken the traditional music associated with his instrument and transformed it, bringing the accordion to unconventional and nontraditional musical genres. He is also a major proponent of musette, the Parisian dance hall music that was France's counterpart to the Argentine tango. A review of his work on the Label Bleu website noted, "Under his fingers, this often underestimated instrument reveals an extraordinary nobility and richness."
Born on December 12, 1950, in France, Galliano grew up in Nice. His father, Lucien, was born in Italy; he was a musician and accordion teacher, and under his tutelage young Galliano began playing the accordion when he was four years old. He later learned to play the trombone and studied trombone, harmony, and counterpoint at the Academy of Music in Nice.
Broke Out of the "Accordion Ghetto"
Galliano continued to play the accordion, and stayed with the instrument throughout his musical career. He was always interested in music that traditionally did not include the accordion, such as the jazz of Miles Davis and the bop of Max Roach and Clifford Brown. He was particularly fascinated with Brown's trumpet playing; in an article posted on the 2005 Sata-Hame Soi Accordion Festival's website he noted, "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." Although he knew that the accordion was not normally used in jazz, he improvised and adapted his instrument to these styles, and when he was 14 years old he began playing jazz with Daniel Goyone and Bunny Brunel, two friends from the Nice region of France.
However, as the Label Bleu website noted, the accordion has traditionally garnered little respect in the musical world, particularly in the jazz world, where it did not seem to fit in. According to the website, Galliano "seemed to be condemned to the accordion ghetto" and "had to face ironical looks and remarks about his instrument."
One of his teachers, Claude Nobel, encouraged him to continue playing jazz, and introduced him to the music of Italian accordionists such as Fugaza, Volpi, and Fancelli, and to Americans such as Art Van Damme and Emil Felice, who played with Benny Goodman. Galliano spent much of his spare time hunting for recordings by these artists, although finding them was difficult; most stores only had works by traditional accordionists playing a traditional repertoire.
Galliano persisted in his desire to widen the use of the accordion and bring it to new musical genres. He won a variety of prizes in local accordion competitions, and moved to Paris, where he was lucky to make contact with famous singer Claude Nougaro. From 1973 through 1976 he worked as conductor, composer, and arranger for Nougaro's big band. He wrote on the Soi Hame website, "Finding myself leading an orchestra like Nougaro's was an experience which left a 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 though my compositions are mainly instrumental."
He later worked with a variety of musicians, including Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Enrio Rava, Jan Garbarak, Michael Petrucciani, Philip Catherine, Toots Thielemans, Pierre Michelot, Didier Lockwood, Eddy Louiss, and Joe Zawinul.
Rediscovered French Heritage
While he was in Paris, Galliano also met famed accordionist Astor Piazzolla. According to the Sata-Hame Soi website, Piazzolla told him, "Your image as a jazz accordionist is far too Americanized. 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." In an article in Accordion World, reprinted in the Free-Reed Review, David Keen quoted Galliano as saying that this idea struck home, and that he thus decided to take a "parallel path" to Piazzolla's: to take folk and popular music and transform it into music that is "precise, orchestrated, thought through, and written down. The problem remained of finding a group of classical musicians who could play a tango, a waltz, or a ballad with swing."
Although Galliano had spent much of his life hating musette, the outdated but traditionally accordion-heavy music of 1930s Parisian dance halls, he realized that it was part of the accordion's heritage, so he decided to follow Piazzolla's advice and revive and modernize musette. On the Label Bleu website he noted, "Today, I am creating the New Musette because I believe that this music should not anymore be played like in 1930, and I play this music mixing in it my strongest influences: Piazzolla, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Debussy." He added that Piazzolla "guided me and helped me understand the need to retain my identity. Up until he died [in 1992] we were inseparable. He opened my eyes and gave me the utmost confidence in this instrument."
Galliano recorded an album in Finland titled Solo in 1989, then moved to Label Bleu in France to record New Musette in 1991. In 1993 he moved to the Dreyfus label, and has had an exclusive contract with them ever since. He has released several albums with Dreyfus, all featuring collaborations with other musicians.
For the Record …
Born on December 12, 1950, in Le Cannet, France; son of Lucien Galliano (an accordion teacher). Education: Attended Academy of Music, Nice, France.
Conductor, composer, and arranger for Claude Nougaro's big band, 1973–76; worked with a variety of musicians, 1976–89; released Solo, 1989; New Musette, 1991; Viaggio, 1993; Laurita, 1995; New York Tango, 1996; Blow Up, 1998; French Touch, 1999; Passatori, 2000; Concerts Inedits, 2000; Gallianissimo! The Best of Richard Galliano, 2001; Face to Face, Dreyfus, 2002; Piazzolla Forever, 2003.
Addresses: Agent—Jean Michel de Ble, Ginga Productions, Chaiseray, 72310 VANCE, France. Website—Richard Galliano Official Website: http://www.richardgalliano.com.
In January of 1994 Galliano formed a trio with Daniel Humair and J.F. Jenny-Clark. They performed at clubs, concert halls, and festivals throughout Europe.
In 2003 he released Piazzolla Forever, a live recording from his sold-out tour of the same name. The album, his most successful so far, received rave reviews from critics, including a four-star rating from DownBeat magazine. As a result of the album's success, Galliano performed a three-night concert series at New York City's Lincoln Center. He also toured throughout Europe. In a review of one of these concerts, Bernard Snook wrote in the Free-Reed Review, "His deeply personal understanding of Piazzolla's extraordinary musical vision was realized with rare insight, and the whole performance was charged with strong vibes of energy … that had an incredible power to reach out, enchant and elevate his audience." Snook also summed up Galliano's artistry by writing, "Galliano's music really sings, and he uses the instruments he loves with a soulful touch to reveal … every expression of deep human feeling, creating an intense emotional impact with his listeners."
(With Philip Catherine, Pierre Michelot, and Aldo Romano) New Musette, Label Bleu, 1991.
(With Lolo Bellonzi, Michelot, and Bireli Lagrene) Viaggio, Dreyfus, 1993.
(With Joey Baron, Pelle Danielsson, Michel Portal, Toots Thielemans, and Didier Lockwood) Laurita, Dreyfus, 1995.
(With Lagrene, George Mraz, and Al Foster) New York Tango, Dreyfus, 1996.
(With Michel Portal) Blow Up, Dreyfus, 1998.
(With J.F. Jenny-Clark, Daniel Humair, Remi Vignolo, and Andre Ceccarelli) French Touch, Dreyfus, 1999.
(With soloists from the Orchestra della Toscana) Passatori, Dreyfus, 2000.
Concerts Inedits (three-CD box set of late 1990s live performances), Dreyfus, 2000.
Gallianissimo! The Best of Richard Galliano, Dreyfus, 2001.
(With Eddy Louiss) Face to Face, Dreyfus, 2002.
Piazzolla Forever, Dreyfus, 2003.
Billboard, September 17, 1994.
Variety, June 12, 2000.
Dreyfus Records, http://www.dreyfusrecords.com/ (January 25, 2006).
Label Bleu, http://www.label-bleu.com/ (January 25, 2006).
"Richard Galliano UK Tour," reprint from Accordion World, May/June 2004, in Free-Reed Review, http://www.ksanti.net/free-reed/reviews/galliano_uktour.html (February 20, 2006).
Sata-Hame Soi Accordion Festival 2005, http://www.accordions.com/finland/2005/galliano.htm (January 25, 2006).