INTERVIEW: Vincent Peirani

Vincent Peirani at the 2014 Suedtirol azz Festival
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Alison Bentley talked to Vincent Peirani on1st July 2014, before one of his gigs at the Suedtirol Jazz Festival in Northern Italy. The French accordionist won the Django Reinhardt Prize for best French jazz musician in 2013. He talked about his "Thrill Box" and "Belle Époque" CDs (2013 and 2014, both ACT Music), and about playing jazz and classical accordion.

Alison Bentley: It was your father who introduced you to the accordion?

Vincent Peirani: Yeah, I mean, ‘introduced’ is very… he forced me (laughs). But it’s okay, I’m happy now.

AB: Was your father a musician?

VP: He was a musician, but he stopped when I was born. He used to play the accordion, saxophone, guitar, clarinet, flute, he was a singer. I was really enjoying music, so I said, ‘Okay! I wanna play music- I wanna be a drummer.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re gonna be an accordion player.’ I thought it was a joke, I said, ‘No way!’ It was almost 20 years ago. My father is almost as tall as me, so I was a good soldier, I obeyed. He was the Commander. So it was horrible! (laughs) Every time he put the accordion on my knee I was crying. But I discovered Classical music, and he saw that I was really touched by this music- Bach, Mozart. He said, ‘You can play it on the accordion.’ So he took me to a new teacher. As I fell in love with the music, I started to discover the instrument and the possibilities for myself- and it’s not so bad! So this is the story about how I met the accordion.

AB: You wanted to be a drummer. Do you find that you’re attracted to the rhythmic side of the accordion?

VP: Many people say I have a special rhythmic approach. For me it’s just unconscious. But I agree, because first of all when I started jazz, the first thing I transcribed was drummers. I was listening to Weather Report, Art Blakey, so I transcribed the patterns. I started to try to transfer what I heard to the accordion. I’m always into the rhythm. Every time. But I will never be a drummer.

AB: You liked [French jazz fusion band] Sixun?

VP: It was funny because at this time I was very sick, so a friend came to the hospital and brought me some CDs- Sixun and Bill Evans. I was WOW! I was just a teenager and I played classical music. I was into Rage Against the Machine, Offspring. I said, ‘It’s not classical music, it’s not rock, what is it?’ My friend looked at me and said, ‘You have a lot to do – it’s jazz music.’ I said, ‘Okay, after this sickness I’m gonna learn this music.’

AB: Which other jazz musicians are you inspired by now?

VP: At the moment I’m listening to hip hop music, a band from France- Milk Coffee and Sugar. But just before I was listening to Gerald Clayton the jazz piano player. Then some flamenco. It’s not only jazz. On my phone I have Danilo Perez, Hélène Grimaud- she’s a classical player- Jeff Buckley, a lot of Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Michel Portal.

AB: It’s eclectic.

VP: Always. What I usually say is- my speciality is that I’m not a specialist. I’m always curious about music and I try to play music in my way. I don’t care about the style. There is no borderline.

AB: Did you transcribe Classical music for the accordion yourself?

VP: Yes- it was a kind of game because in Classical accordion you can take the piano or orchestral part and just play it. I wanted to transcribe it. It took a long time- some Bach Preludes or Fugues- from CDs. I wanted to learn it like this so the music was in my mind, instead of just reading. I didn’t know it at the time, but I tried to have this jazz approach. I remember, for example, a piece for orchestra by Saint-Saëns. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll write down what I need to play instead of taking arrangements from other people.’

AB: You recorded some CDs with cellist François Salque- I read that he likes to make Classical music his own, in the way Hungarian Gypsies do.

VP: Yeah, maybe it’s a kind of Gypsy style, because to follow it I took some classical roots, some flamenco roots. The Tsiganes who are travelling– they stay in a place, and say, ‘Okay, what’s the music here? Okay, now it’s my own, on we go.’- like a vacuum.

AB: Sometimes your accordion sounds like a church organ or string quartet.

VP: I don’t say, ‘Okay, now I’m gonna play like a church organ,’ you know? I’m always searching for something. Sometimes I find it, sometimes I don’t, and if it sounds like something else, why not? The important thing is that it’s the sound we wanted. The instrument is an instrument. It’s a piece of wood with some iron stuff. It could be a clarinet or another instrument, but the most important thing is to find the path to express yourself. For me it’s with the accordion.

AB: Are there any jazz accordion players that you listen to?

VP: Of course! I studied jazz, and at the beginning I was listening to Richard Galliano- actually he comes from the same city. It was just amazing. After a year and a half, I thought maybe it’s better for me not to be so addicted. In France you say, we have this illness like Scofield-itis or Metheny-itis. I had Galliano-itis. There’s also Marcel Azzola, Jean-Louis Matinier, Marc Berthoumieux -actually all French, but I was a big fan of Hermeto Pascoal too. He played keyboard accordion. There’s also Sivuca from Brazil.

AB: What about swing, like Art Van Damme?

VP: I heard some of his recordings but it was not my thing. It was classic, really great, but I didn’t get goosebumps!

AB: How do you write music?

VP: When I’m writing music, it’s more for people. I’m thinking of the people I’m playing with. I hear the music, the way they play, the sound- it starts like this.

AB: You wrote a piece for Michel Portal. [3 Temps pour Michel P]

VP: Yeah, also on the Thrill Box [2013] album (REVIEWED HERE) there is one song, Hypnotic. It fits Michael Wollny perfectly, because I heard him playing his tune Hexentanz. I knew it was for him. There is something very special in his music- very cinematographic.

AB: You have a Brad Meldhau piece on Thrill Box.

VP: I’ve heard a lot of his CDs, but this tune in particular… I was checking some stuff on YouTube and I found a solo concert in Vienna. It starts with this tune, [Waltz for JB] and I was like- pow! And I transcribed it, and then I tried to find it on a record. No record of this tune. It was just- okay, this is a piece I love, here it is in my music book. And then with Thrill Box I said, ‘I can do this one with just the double bass and piano,’ because when Brad Meldhau played it solo, it was really magic. I tried just to play the melody as simply as it is: very modest, humble, because this melody is amazing.

AB: Your first recording was with Les Yeux Noirs- was that Bulgarian music?

VP: More from Romania – it’s an Eastern European style.

AB: You have a tune that like on your Thrill Box album. [Balkanski Cocek]

VP: Yes, I think it’s in 9! I was with Les Yeux Noirs for three years maybe? I travelled all around the world with this band. We were on tour, always. It brought me a lot of music from this part of Europe. It was really a great experience for me.

AB: You sing as well. You sing along with all those incredibly fast phrases.

VP: I try to sing! I’m always singing inside. Sometimes I just open my mouth, you know, and it gets out! I don’t feel like I’m a singer. I’m working on it. (Laughs)

AB: You recorded Vagabond [2011] with [guitarist] Ulf Wakenius and [singer] Youn Sun Nah.

VP: We did this album very fast. I went to the studio- just one afternoon we played- okay, perfect. I don’t know what I did. Good music, bad music? It was so fast. The project was- okay, let’s play live music, jazz music. It was a really great experience.

AB: Tonight you’re working with [singer] Serena Fisseau.

VP: Tonight she’s going to sing in Indonesian but she also sings in English, Brazilian, French. And when she’s singing in English or Indonesian, the resonance is just completely different. So for me it’s very interesting, because I can’t play the same way when she is singing in English or Indonesian.

Alison Bentley: Your duo with [saxophonist] Émile Parisien- have you worked with him for a long time?

Vincent Peirani: Not so much, because we met in 2009. We play in drummer Daniel Humair’s quartet (REVIEWED AT 2012 JAZZDOR HERE). The duo has been together about a year and two months. But we spent a lot of time on the road together. We have a strong connection. When we played together the first time it was like we’d already been playing for 10 years. I’m not sure I can find this kind of stuff with everybody. So we recorded this album Belle Époque [2014]. Tonight, we’re going to play as a duo. I’ll play in a duo with Serena too, and then a trio, so it’s a kind of small journey. We’re going to play some Sidney Bechet, Abbey Lincoln, original compositions, some Brazilian tunes- so we just have to find a way through. A kind of unity- I hope we will find it, but I think it’s okay for tonight!

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