On the passing of accordionist Marcel Azzola, Brel's "Vesoul" sounded in all corners of l'hexagon (metropolitan France). Mentioned alongside the great names of French song, he was also a proponent of swing and a great defender of the accordion.
It’s the memory that fades – of the slang used by the tits de Ménilmuche (the Parisian street kids of the Ménilmontant district); of the Italian immigrants who had fled Mussolini’s warmongering; of nights at Balajo and the Musette balls; of certain French songs in which he accompanied the big names: Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Barbara, Boris Vian, Juliette Greco, Gilbert Bécaud, Jacques Brel …
In 1968, during the second studio session for “Vesoul,” Jacques Brel delivered the famous line “Chauffe, Marcel, chauffe” (“Heat it up, Marcel, heat it up”). Though this helped to boost his reputation at the time, to suggest that Marcel Azzola was only known through this remark would be near insanity.
Besides mainstream music – that we engage with not without pleasure – Marcel Azzola worked in the name of swing with the chromatic accordion and was an excellent improviser. It’s true that during his long career, he rubbed shoulders with musicians of the stature of Django Reinhardt (notably on Reinhardt’s last recording session), Stéphane Grappelli, Maurice Vander, Marc Fosset, Christian Escoudé and Didier Lockwood, to name just a few.
After training as a teenager under the famous Médard Ferrero, he formed a trio along with bass payer Patrice Caratini and guitarist Marc Fosset. Together, they fostered a special reputation, participating in the famous Paris Musette compilation concocted for the La Lichère label under the aegis of the Editor-in-chief of Jazz Magazine, Franck Bergerot (later reprinted by Frémeaux & associés in 2018).
“Panique,” “Explosion” and “Rue de la Chine” are three cherished jewels from this anthology that he recorded with his constant friend: the gypsy jazz guitarist Didi Duprat. Marcel Azzola himself composed the last of these. In it he describes the street in the twentieth arrondissement (district) where he was born on July 10, 1927.
In “Afro-Musette” Richard Galliano makes an appearance, considered by many to be Azzola’s successor on the pathways of the jazz accordion. Here, this points to Marcel Azzola’s role as a harbinger of the talent of future generations. He was also a strong activist who pushed for the Conservatoire national supèrieur de musique (National Conservatory of Music) to accept the accordion in 2002, and encouraged the young Vincent Peirani to take up his mantle.
Marcel Azzola was open-minded – he didn’t neglect the world of classical music, either. The duo he created in 1982 with the pianist Lina Bossanti (who was a pupil of the concertists Yves Nat and Alfred Cortot) was still performing in the final few months leading up to his passing.