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Take Five With Franck Amsallem

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Franck Amsallem: Mickey Mac: Franck Amsallem has been a professional pianist and composer for over 30 years. As a leader he has released seven cds, all of which have received rare critical acclaim. His sideman credits have included some of the great names in jazz: Gerry Mulligan, Charles Lloyd, Gary Bartz, Sonny Fortune, Bobby Watson, Jerry Bergonzi, Rick Margitza, Tim Ries, Joe Chambers, Maria Schneider, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Harry Belafonte. He has played many venues throughout the U.S. and Europe including the Village Gate, the Knitting Factory, Birdland, Blues Alley, Sweet Basil, Pizza Express (London), Porgy and Bess (Vienna), the Pori, Molde, Red Sea, Parc Floral de Paris, Nice and Antibes Jazz Festival (where he shared the bill with Earth Wind and Fire). The recipient of major awards (NEA composition fellowship, ASCAP award for young composers, Fondation de la Vocation) in both the USA and France, Franck recently toured throughout Germany, Mexico, Central America, South America and South Africa, as well as major concerts in Holland, Portugal, Israel, Croatia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Armenia and Lebanon.

2008/9 tours include China (solo), Algeria, Holland/Belgium, Israel and a 5-city tour of Peru, including two concerts at the Lima jazz festival. More appearances included the Jazzavienne festival in a 6-piano program with Martial Solal, solo concerts in Vilnius, Lithuania and clubs in Paris.

THE LONGER STORY

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 on classical piano at seven, which he gave up a few years later. The large family, the cramped apartment weren't at all propitious surroundings for the old teacher's stale lessons. Still, however, the family owned a large collection of 45 RPM records where Ray Charles mixed with Glenn Miller and the Four Tops. In all logic then, he was seduced in adolescence, by the sound of the blues and swing and started taking music lessons at the Nice Conservatory where, 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. Soon the news spread on the Cote d'Azur, and he worked in Monte Carlo, learning hundreds or maybe thousands of jazz standards, "I have always, above all, loved all American music," and in 1979, at 17 years of age, John Lewis chose him to be his student for a French documentary "La leçon de musique." Having jammed offstage at the Nice jazz festival with Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, Arnie Lawrence and Richie Cole, he was then encouraged to move to the USA to hone his skills and learn. He made the move without a blink and entered Berklee College 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."

Franck stayed three years in Boston and earned numerous awards, performing in Herb Pomeroy's big band and attending his composition and arranging classes. Still the longing for more excitement was always there and at the beginning of 1986, he moved to New York City.

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