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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. Galliano reimagined and revitalized a musical tradition, expanding its emotional range to reflect modern sensibilities, opening it up to improvisation learned through American jazz. In fact, Galliano was more of a jazz musician than a folk one, although he blurred the lines so much that distinctions were often difficult to make. Born in France of Italian stock, 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 Chet Baker, Joe Zawinul, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Michel Petrucciani, and Jan Garbarek. After meeting Astor 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. This was 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: J.S. Bach in 2010, Nino Rota in 2011, and Antonio Vivaldi in 2013.
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. It was released in September. ~ Steve Huey & Thom Jurek, Rovi