May 22, 2024

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Michel Sardaby: Gail – One of France’s best kept jazz secrets: Video

One of France’s best kept jazz secrets is pianist Michel Sardaby. Born in Martinique in 1935, Sardaby moved to Paris in the early 1960s and over the years has recorded there as well as in New York and Tokyo with a range of leading American and French jazz artists.

A bluesy, soulful player, Sardaby has a way of gently coaxing all of a song’s feeling to the surface, especially when playing his own lyrical compositions.

According to Choc’s, a French blog, Sardaby still lives in Paris and has the piano his father gave him as a child growing up in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. His father was a dealer of Pleyel & Co. pianos there and owned a cafe. At 13, Sardaby began taking piano lessons but found the teacher to be strict and intolerable. So he quit, but by then he was already a skilled player well on his way. In Paris in 1964, he realized that the ability to read and write music was essential, so he studied at École Boulle.

Throughout his career, Sardaby traveled periodically to New York to visit, work and record. On one of those trips, in February 1975, he recorded Gail with Richard Davis (b) and Billy Hart (d), with Leopoldo Fleming on conga on one track, for Japan’s Debs label. On the album, Sardaby plays acoustic piano and the Fender Rhodes electric piano. The results remain magnificent.

Most of Sardaby’s albums are hard to come by now or cost a fortune, which is why I was gratified to see that Gail has been reissued on vinyl by World Seven, a subsidiary of Europe’s Africa Seven group. This album of Sardaby originals has been gloriously remastered on heavyweight vinyl, which Sardaby requested.

There’s something so seductively French about Sardaby’s playing. Whether on ballads, like the title track, or uptempo numbers, like Spindrift, he’s always on a journey to celebrate beauty. That’s what happens when you listen to as much Duke Ellington as he did as a child. On Gail, Sardaby is like a haute couture designer, treating the piano as his model. He hems, pins, takes the melody in here or there, steps back and thoughtfully finds ways to tweak a song to maximize its elegance in an understated way. In the end, the music compels you to feel, and I found myself listening to this one over and over.


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