April 18, 2014

Daniel ‘Pipi’ Piazzolla, musician

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

‘There’s no way to play my grandfather’s music like he did’

By Luciana Ekdesman
Herald Staff

Buenos Aires, May 5, 1972
Teacher: Marta Bronstein (piano) and Rolando el Oso Picardi (drums)
Newspaper: La Nación, Clarín and Página 12 News TV programme: zapping, different programmes to see different points of view.
Soccer club: River fan
Social media: Twitter, (tired of Facebook)

A piano, a small drum set and guitars lie in the middle of the living-room. Minutes before lunch time, a plump cat stretches lazily on the sofa while a little boy watches local cartoons as his mother leaves to fetch her daughter from school. Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla — grandson of the famous Astor Piazzolla — received the Herald in a typical Argentine family environment. He has already scheduled shows with his band Escalandrum for next year in Israel, Canada and Brazil.

What’s it like to have a first name which has become a synonym for music?

I have learned to live with it. Ever since my kindergarten days I was asked about my grandfather and the same happens to my children today. I’m very grateful for my family who gave me free rein to decide what I wanted to do with my life, instead of what they thought I should do. As a child, I studied piano because I felt an inclination but then I gave it up, started playing rugby and nobody objected. Later on, I fell in love with drums.

When did you realize that playing the drums was really your thing and not something your family might have pushed you toward?

When I went to my first class and saw the drums. Just seeing it had such a strong impact on me. The second intense memory I have is about buying my first drumsticks. They use to come in those little bags before. I remember taking them out and falling in love with their woody scent.

Your grandfather died when you were 20. Do you take after him in any way?

Yes, we spent enough time together. He gave me my first drum. I think I’ve inherited his inclination to always want to make good music, avant-garde music, to study a lot, as well as the readiness to rehearse and try to make a more Argentine type of jazz.

What about your father, Daniel Piazzolla?

From my dad, I got the need to cherish my family. My dad is a musician but he chose a different path, he chose to be present, to be there for his family. My grandfather was a genius who was always touring and sometimes he just didn’t get to see his children that much. I try to keep a balance and this is something I owe to my father.

What are the benefits of working on the independent scene, where you also get to play to a full house on weekends and sometimes even during the week?

The best about playing outside the mainstream circuit is that nobody tells you what to do. When you start putting money in the middle, people get demanding. “Hey, I thought you played too many slow songs” or “The songs you played were too long,” that sort of thing. Here, nobody says anything. It’s either that the bar-owners we deal with are crazy or we’re all very passionate about music. I’m playing almost every night to pretty large audiences. People are starting to realize that the jazz we make here has its own identity and maybe that’s why they follow us. I also believe that people need more of these shows of spontaneous creativity and live music.

After winning the Golden Gardel (the top award of the Argentine music industry) in 2012, did you receive any offers from record labels?

No. No offers to record something that a label would have us do and no offers to record our own music either. It’s their loss, what can I say? The truth is, all of us jazz musicians record our albums in just one or two days and I think that, if a big record label includes jazz in their portfolio, it just adds value to their brand. This is what they do abroad, it’s an alternative. It might cost them money which they don’t get back, but they can collect it in another way.

Such as?

If they do it properly, they could produce your album, with the music you want, and then add a label guest to sell more. Like I said, we can record an album in a couple of days, while the mainstream groups that work with these companies take three months to go through the whole process (studio costs, catering, rehearsals, pandering to musicians, etc). We do it our way. I’ve already learned to accept this situation.

Did you expect to win the Golden Gardel? You were competing against major industry products...

I know, they have an entire system to back them up and I imagine a lot of the jurors are tied to that environment. When we won, I realized that the Gardel Awards are very transparent, in fact. If we won, it’s because people really vote and there’s no outside pressure or suggestions. It came as a surprise for us just to get nominated.

What’s more, you got it for Piazzolla plays Piazzolla, a tribute album to your grandfather...

Yes, I had never wanted to record my grandfather’s music, it was a matter of self-protection. And then one day I felt the need to do it: people were demanding it, the environment was demanding it. Fortunately it turned out well. I did it with Escalandrum, a group that had been working together for 12 years, and we used instruments very different from those my grandfather used. There’s no way to play my grandfather’s music like he did, you can get it right because there just isn’t anyone better than him.

It is difficult to include the drums when playing tango. How do you feel about this genre?

I’m OK with it. The drum is not held in high esteem in tango but the truth is I was lucky to play that music with the best musicians. I get a lot of offers to record because everybody knows I love to play jazz live. Since I was exposed to it from my infancy, I can play it.

Are drums and tango incompatible?

Well, the thing is, you have to know what you’re doing. When doing tango, most instruments play softly and the drums sound so loud. You have to learn to play softly and you have to know the genre.

What do you think your grandfather would tell you if he saw how you evolved in your profession?

I think he’d be happy for me. I imagine we’d do some things together but I guess we’ll never know.

Do your children follow in your footsteps?

Yes, I don’t push them into anything, but they have a strong inclination for music.

What do they do?

Mora sings and dances very well, she plays the piano and the guitar a little. Lorenzo likes the drums. Music is a profession you practise at home, you know? When I practise, for instance, I do it here and my children see me having a good time, they see me at it all day long and they want to copy that.

What do you think about artists dabbling in politics?

I’m not into that. I keep my distance from politics and prefer to keep my thoughts to myself and my family. I don’t like seeing people divided and politics divides people, while music is for everyone — except the military, of course. Other than that, as long as we live in a democracy, I’m happy.

Would you perform at a campaign rally?

I don’t think so, but I’d have to analyze the environment very well. I’ve had to do it alongside a few artists I was working with, but I just went as some musician’s drummer. You go and do your job but the one putting his name on the event is that particular musician, not yourself.

You’ve also played at one of the most famous weddings in recent times in Argentina: fashion model Karina Jelinek and businessman Leonardo Fariña’s wedding...

Well... that was a job I was hired for by famous local jazz singer Delfina Oliver. It’s part of being a musician.

How did your family feel when hearing Adiós Nonino played at the Dutch royal wedding?

My mum was watching the wedding live and when they started to play, she called my dad immediately. They were so moved. I saw it later and was just as excited. It was beautiful and very well performed. It was truly touching to listen to my grandfather’s music playing for the entire world to hear. It is very touching to see these penniless guys playing my grandfather’s music on the streets in Austria or to have Libertango played in Russian kindergartens. It’s impressive!

Many big names of international jazz played in Argentina this year. Why do you think that is?

It’s closely related to the genre’s upsurge in Argentina. More than 80,000 people went to the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival, where I’ve played five times. This festival is organized by people who know the genre and know what they’re doing.

Would you say the presence of international artists lowers the audience for local jazz musicians?

Not so much so any more. In the 1990s, in the time of convertibility, it was a bit tricky with many jazz musicians coming from abroad, it created a competition of sorts. Maybe because the audience wasn’t so large back then. Nowadays, their visits stimulate audiences.


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