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Franck Amsallem was born in 1961 in Oran, Algeria, and then grew up in Nice, France. His parents, having repatriated the family piano, started him at seven on classical piano, which he gave up a few years later. His large family and the cramped apartment were not propitious surroundings for the old teacher�s stale lessons. However, the family owned a large collection of 45 records wherein Ray Charles mixed with Glenn Miller and the Four Tops. As a result, he was seduced in adolescence by the sound of the blues and swing, and started taking music lessons at the Nice Conservatory. Considered too old for the piano (!), he signed up for classical saxophone and soon earned a first prize.
But the piano remained his first love. Word of his ability spread on the Cote d�Azur, and he worked often in Monte Carlo, learning hundreds � maybe thousands � of jazz standards. I have always, above all, loved all American music. At 17 years of age, John Lewis chose him for his documentary, The Music Lesson. Having jammed offstage at the Nice jazz festival with Jerry Bergonzi, Mike Brecker and Richie Cole, he was encouraged to move to the USA to hone his skills and learn. He made the move without blinking an eye and entered Berklee College as an undergrad in 1981. At 19, I did not see myself backing up pop singers in Paris and playing jazz on the side, which was what everyone was doing then. Like the song says, it was all or nothing at all.
In Boston, Franck quickly faced the limits of any school system, but, seduced by Herb Pomeroy�s big band and by his composition and arranging classes, he stayed at Berklee for three years, earning numerous awards. Still, the longing for more excitement was always there, and at the beginning of 1986 he moved to New York City.
There are many good pianists out there, but good pianists who are equally good composers � that is what makes the difference. He then took lessons in composition for jazz orchestra with Bob Brookmeyer at the Manhattan School of Music and lessons in classical piano with Phil Kawin. Their influence stayed with him for a long time. The experience added up � the true New York Jazz Experience � first as an accompanist, and then as a leader: learning the art form of jazz like the greatest have done before you, matching your skills against those of the best musicians of their time. Second prize at Jacksonville�s Great American Jazz competition. Third prize goes to Brad Mehldau.
�All that was great, but a career as a leader was just too tempting.� In 1990 at 28 years of age, with the help of the Fondation de la Vocation and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Franck recorded �Out A Day,� a trio with Gary Peacock and Bill Stewart. Critics are laudatory; �There is every reason to expect excellence from this young pianist, still in his twenties, who prepared with such discipline for his first recording opportunity. The promise of good things to come is based on the considerable appeal of this recommended CD (Cadence)�. �We are in danger of gushing and embarrassing ourselves. Sample this wonderful recording at all costs (Penguin guide to jazz on CDS)�.
Next came a long collaboration with saxophonist Tim Ries. �Regards� earned four stars in Downbeat, and Jazz Times found the CD �compelling.� �Is That So,� a duo with the equal participation of Leon Parker, is noted in the French press by the Inrockuptibles; �Years Gone By,� with Daniel Humair, earned rare praise in the French press (four stars from Jazzman, three keys from T�l�rama). �On Second Thought,� distributed by Na�ve, is unanimously heralded as a CD of rare intensity, a live recording where everything comes together successfully without a hitch.
Franck has performed in many of the big festivals, from Juan les Pins to Pori, from Nice to Molde. He has also backed Gerry Mulligan, Charles Lloyd and Harry Belafonte; recorded with Bobby Watson, Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman; and performed in the bands of Maria Schneider and Joe Chambers. He has composed numerous pieces for big band and for string orchestra. I love the variety of situations, learning as you go along, challenging every solution, nothing ever preset.
In the fall of 2003, now living in Paris with his wife and daughter, Franck is returning to the trio form with Summer Times, featuring Johannes Weidenmuller on bass and Joe Chambers on drums.
Recent engagements: 2002: Tour w/Joe Chambers Millenium sextet, quartet appearances in Belgium, Switzerland, France and the USA.Trio gigs in Holland and Portugal. 2003: Festivals in Mexico, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Canada, USA 2004: Festivals in Mexico, Belgium, France.
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