Award-winning French accordionist Richard Galliano did for European folk -- specifically, the early 20th century French ballroom dance form known as musette -- what his mentor Astor Piazzolla did for the Argentinian tango.
But Galliano's music cannot not be limited to musette. He reimagined and revitalized that musical tradition as a jazzman would, expanding its emotional and harmonic ranges to reflect modern sensibilities and opening it up to improvisation. In addition to his many recordings of musette, Galliano has collaborated with an international cast of musicians including Piazzolla, Biréli Lagrène, Jan Garbarek, Michel Petrucciani, Wynton Marsalis, and Toots Thielemans. He has also accompanied some of the most innovative French singers, including Brigitte Fontaine, Juliette Greco, and Charles Aznavour. Ultimately, Galliano has such a distinctive style that he intentionally blurs genre lines. He has been an active recording and performing artist since the early '70s. His 1995 album Laurita and 2008's Mare Nostrum are generally considered his most important recordings.
Born in France of Italian forebears, Galliano began playing accordion (as his father had) at a young age. He later picked up the trombone and studied composition at the Academy in Nice; he also fell in love with jazz as a teenager, particularly cool-era Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, and had made it his primary focus by the late '60s. Making a living as a jazz accordionist naturally proved difficult; fortunately, after moving to Paris in 1973, he landed a position as conductor, arranger, and composer for Claude Nougaro's orchestra. He remained there until 1976, and went on to work with numerous American and European jazz luminaries, including Joe Zawinul and Ron Carter.
After meeting Piazzolla, Galliano refocused on his European heritage and set about reviving and updating musette, widely considered antiquated at the time. He signed with Dreyfus in 1993, and the label gave him enough exposure to cause a stir first in his home country, then among international jazz and world music fans. Regular recordings followed, some with clarinetist/soprano saxophonist Michel Portal, some with guitarist Jean Marie Ecay, and some with his favorite rhythm section of bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark and drummer Daniel Humair (after Jenny-Clark's untimely death, Rémi Vignolo took his place).
In 2001, Dreyfus released Gallianissimo, a compilation drawing from his seven albums for the label, and a new recording, Face to Face, a duet recording with French pianist and vocalist Eddy Louiss. In 2004, after several global tours and reissues of some of his earlier albums, Blues sur Seine, a duet offering with cellist Jean-Charles Capon, was released on La Lichere; he also appeared as a soloist with Josefine Cronholm on Blue Hat by Søren Siegumfeldt's String Swing and Concerts with Portal. These were followed by 2005's Ruby, My Dear by the New York Trio: Galliano, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn.
In 2007, Galliano delivered Solo on Dreyfus as well as Mare Nostrum, co-headlined with Paolo Fresu and Jan Lundgren, and Luz Negra, a tango album by his own sextet. By all accounts, Galliano, in his touring, composing, and recording appearances, had become prolific on both sides of the Atlantic. The accordionist recorded with Charlie Haden, Mino Cinelu, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba on 2008's Love Day: Los Angeles Sessions, and back in Europe with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra on Ten Years Ago; both were issued on Milan. Galliano signed to Deutsch Grammophon, where he cut a trilogy of classically themed recordings: Richard Galliano: Bach in 2010, Nino Rota in 2011, Antonio Vivaldi in 2013, and Mozart in 2016.
The tango and bal-musette accordionist returned to jazz in 2014. Sentimentale was recorded for Resonance and produced by its founder, George Klabin. The studio band consisted of pianist/arranger Tamir Hendelman, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Carlos Del Puerto, and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. That same year he issued Tangaria and Au Brésil for Milan. In 2016, Galliano issued the celebrated double-length New Jazz Musette on Ponderosa Music & Art, fronting a quartet featuring Philippe Aerts on double bass, André Ceccarelli on drums, and Sylvain Luc on guitar. He followed with the intimate duo concert date Live at the Theaterstübchen, Kassel with jazz bassist Ron Carter for In + Out Records. His second date that year was a duet recording with percussionist Jean-François Durez entitled Piazzolla, Satie: Jean-François Durez Meets Richard Galliano on Indesens, which hit the middle rungs of the French folk music charts. In 2018, Galliano teamed with pipe organist Thierry Escaich for the duet offering Aria on Éditions Jade. ~ Steve Huey & Thom Jurek, Rovi