Rootstock 2017 Interview: Franck Amsallem

 Acclaimed jazz pianist and composer, Franck Amsallem, has been on the road for 35 years, since the age of fourteen. During his early career he was an alien, a legal alien, a Frenchman in New York, finding incredible success between the music sheets and notations with his one true love – Jazz. Since 2002, Franck moved to Paris and, today, has taken up residency as the nation’s in demand jazz cat performing at the city’s revered music spots. In between these bookends, Franck’s tunes have traveled the planet, been performed by iconic players and received standing ovations in the world’s most revered venues. And the journey isn’t over yet. On Sunday July 9th, Franck travels to Rootstock… 

Q. Franck, it’s an honor. What are you up to today? Writing, recording or performing?

“As usual its a little bit of everything, but for the next few weeks I’ll be performing. I play jazz in Paris, mainly but next week I’ll be on the Côte d’Azur performing in Monte Carlo, Nice and then Cannes. Then, the weekend after that, I’ll be traveling to Sweden, then back to Paris and then I’ll be coming to Burgundy… to Rootstock.”

Franck Amsallem Sings: A life in music. The acclaimed jazz pianist and composer has been on the road for 35 years

Q. You’ve spent your life on the road. But have you ever been to Burgundy?

“Well, honestly, as far as I can remember, I have only been to Burgundy once. I played at the Festival de Beaune in 2003, at the Theatré de Beaune. It was fabulous. Now, I know I’ve never been to Château de Pommard … but I have certainly drunk much of the wine.” 

Q. You obviously enjoy playing live. Does it ever get boring or tiring? 

“Playing live is my favorite part of being a musician. But, of course, you have to be prepared. You have to make sure everything is working well – your fingers, your mind, your voice, your sound equipment. It’s a 24hr job.”

Q. You and your new band must be very tight now…having played so much together recently. 

“My brand new trio is…sparkling. Extraordinary. A group that plays every night gets better every night. My bass player, Viktor Nyberg, is from Sweden He is major, a really fantastic musician, a beautiful, advanced player. One of the best I have heard. The drummer, Gautier Garrigue, is very much in demand, plays with lots of people, has that New York feel that I love; very aggressive, yet extremely measured and not overwhelming. He plays with restrained aggression! He’s exactly how I want my drummer to sound. For our Rootstock show, I’m going to play a mix of standards, old songs and new compositions with a few vocal numbers also. Just the way I do in Paris.”

Prodigy: Born in French Algeria, Franck grew up in Nice

Q. You began playing the piano at age 7. What made you fall in love with the piano, or music, and then jazz, specifically?

“What I love about music varies every hour of the day. The thing I love the most? Being able to share the feeling of playing American music with other, especially as someone who lived there for more than 20 years. I have a special kinship with African-American music, in particular. I just love that music, I didn’t grow up listening to anything else other than jazz. The reason I am a musician is because I play jazz and the way I want to play. In a nutshell, for me, the reason a good musician is a good musician is because he strongly believes that what he does is the best thing he could do. And I believe that is what happened to me. “

Q. Living in Brooklyn, New York, in the eighties, must have been exciting. Everyone knows that jazz in New York is some of the best in the world. Who were your idols?

“Tough question. There is a lot that can be said about a lot of people. Anyone who plays with Miles Davis, probably from 1945 to 1975, is a legend. Anyone associated with that music during that time, and then anyone who came out of Miles Davis’ band and who formed a band on their own, whether its John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Chick Korea, Tony Williams, Charlie Parker, they were all my major influences. Horace Silver and John Lewis….the list goes on. You know, my time in America was major, very long and very fruitful. I just tried to do as much as I could, I wanted to mix playing with as many people as I could with trying to absorb the music that l love – which is Jazz. I tried to be as open-minded as I could, which is not always easy and just tried to absorb the music of my favourite musicians. When I moved back to France in 2001, I kept both residences for a long time. Little by little my presence in New York waned and I established myself in Paris.”

I Write the Songs: Franck is the recipient of major awards in both the U.S. and France, including the NEA composition fellowship, Great American Jazz Piano Competition, ASCAP award, Fondation de la Vocation, FACE cultural exchange

Q. Jazz is your main love. But do you write or perform other styles?

“I love all sorts of music, I adore classical, but I don’t perform them. I love some RnB, some forms of Rhythm and Blues but I don’t really perform them, I could, but I only have one life and there aren’t enough hours in the day!

Always on the Move: Franck, Gautier and Viktor are currently on “sparkling” form

Q. You’ve had a life in music with many highlights. What’s a standout moment where you think “Wow!”

“There have been quite a few highlights. I’ve had the chance to play with quite a few major jazz musicians, Charles Lloyd, comes to mind, immediately. I could record with Gary Peacock, Joshua Redmond, Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Chambers, Sonny Fortune, Bobby Watson. I’ve had the chance to lead my group in Europe a few times for major tours. One of my albums that was made during one of those tours, On Second Thoughts, I felt we aptly captured the music I wrote, which was a significant moment.”

On the Record: Franck has recorded nine albums as well as a major collaboration on Blue Note USA, called “New York Stories”

Q. Your most-recent album, Franck Amsallem Sings Vol. II was released in 2014. Do you and your trio have any plans to record and release any new songs this year?

“I’ve just finished recording a solo piano album. I don’t know when the release is going to be but hopefully sometime this Fall. Its for the Jazz and People label, which have done a compilation of 10 different pianists playing on 10 different albums only in Paris. I’m one of these 10 pianists. I am also preparing to record my trio, the same trio that will be playing in Burgundy at Rootstock. We are going to start recording towards the end of the year when we have the funding.

Q. Last question. You’ve played everywhere. But have you played a gig in a vineyard before? Clos Marey-Monge is looking forward to welcoming you…

“I have played many gigs in many vineyards! But, regardless, I am really looking forward to performing at Rootstock. I’ll be there all day and all evening – as long as I wake up in the morning! I have a gig the night before in Paris!  Rootstock could be an interesting crowd… people are coming not just for the jazz. That’s always interesting….”

32 More Bars Indeed: Franck has performed solo, as a duo, trio and quartet

For more information on Franck Amsallem, head on over to 

For more information on Rootstock, and to purchase your tickets, please head on over to

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