25 April 2005
NY Jazz Report's Will Wolf sat down with pianist, composer, and band leader Pablo Ziegler, today's leading proponent of "New Tango," for a chat about his past, present, and future. They met at a quiet restaurant around the corner from the Blue Note, where Ziegler will be appearing in June with his quartet and harpist Edmar Castañeda. His CD "Bajo Cero" with Quique Sinesi was just re-released on Zoho.
Will Wolf: I'd like to go back a little in time, if we could, to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, where you were born and where you, at least part of the time, still live. I know when you were a young teenager you started to play in jazz groups.
Pablo Ziegler: Yes. At the age of fifteen.
WW: Could you tell me a little bit about the jazz groups that you were playing in, what particular jazz music you were playing, where you were playing, what kind of clubs, what kind of venues?
PZ: I started at the age of fifteen with a local group, jazz group. We were playing some kind of hot jazz, Dixieland with a small group, local group in my neighborhood.
WW: When you say small group, you were playing the piano , of course. What other instruments....?
PZ: I played the piano. And we had the very classical Dixieland instruments: trumpet, clarinet, trombone, bass or tuba, and drums. Something like that. I played with this group for awhile, and I remember we were playing some venue with this group, and at the same time a very famous jazz orchestra was also playing, at the same venue.
WW: In Buenos Aires?
PZ: In Buenos Aires, yes. In the same place that I was playing with this domestic, local jazz group.
WW: What was that group, the famous group?
PZ: The famous group was one of the most successful jazz groups at that time, in the seventies. No, in the sixties, sixties. I was born in '44. 1959, 1960. I'm talking about that year.
WW: They were from America?
PZ: No, no, no, Argentina. At that time, hot jazz and Dixieland was very, very successful in Buenos Aires. There were a lot of groups playing that music. For that reason I learned about jazz at that age.
WW: There were a lot of clubs, then, in Buenos Aires that played that type of jazz?
PZ: Yes, clubs and some theaters, too, that played this music. And this famous orchestra wanted me to audition with them. And I went to some rehearsal, and I did this audition with this orchestra, and I started to play the piano with that orchestra. With them I really learned about jazz, a lot.
WW: Were you replacing another pianist?
PZ: I replaced some other pianist.
WW: Were you listening to jazz at all at home before that time?
PZ: Yes, of course.
WW: Because I know your father was a violinist in tango bands. Was he listening to jazz? Was there jazz around the house?
PZ: No, no, no, no. The jazz was my personal interest. Because my friends, my young friends at that time, we started to listen to Duke Ellington, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, those kind of guys. And I learned all about jazz with that big successful orchestra.
WW: It was a big band?
PZ: It was a big band, yes. Two trumpets, cornet, trombone, tuba, banjo, drums, and piano. It was an octet, something like that. And they played also some Duke Ellington tunes, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, all that kind of music.
WW: Before you started playing with the small local group, and then you graduated to the larger group, but before that when you were in the conservatory, did you study jazz at all there?
PZ: No, no, no, no. I only studied classical. I started at the age of four. For ten years, nine years, really. Just classical. And my father taught me about tango. And I started to play first, my first pop music was tango.
WW: And how old were you then?
PZ: From age four. It was some tango melody that he taught me with two fingers on the piano with the violin, the melodies.
WW: Was it always the piano that was interesting to you? Did you ever have an interest in, for instance, he played the violin, did you ever fiddle with that?
PZ: No, no, no, no. From that age I was interested in piano music.
WW: And you played a lot with your father?
WW: Did he play other music?
PZ: No, he played, he played tango music.
WW: Because Buenos Aires is the home of tango, he stayed there, he didn't travel around the world playing tango music, or did he?
PZ: No, no, no, no. He stayed in Buenos Aires. He was playing with some local tango orchestras, tango bands. I remember one of those was the Columbia tango orchestra, from the label, Columbia label. Also at that time, the RCA tango band, from the record label.
WW: When you got out of the conservatory, you were fourteen or fifteen years old, you started to play in the local jazz band, were you teaching then?
PZ: No, no, no no. I continued to study. I took private lessons with a huge piano teacher with a chance to become a concert piano player.
WW: So that was always in the classical vein?
PZ: In the classical vein, yes.
WW: But you always had that interest in jazz, you didn't want to let that go, the jazz, because it was so exciting?
PZ: Yes, yes. First, I was playing tango but when I learned the jazz music I became crazy about it.
WW: You kind of became obsessed.
PZ: Obsessesd, yes. And I liked to improvise. And eventually, I started to arrange music for that large band. At that time I had to learn a lot about Duke Ellington arrangements, about Dixieland. I did, I remember I did, one of my arrangements for that band was recorded on RCA Victor, the disc, I remember the old one, the 78 rpm.
WW: Did it have a name, that band, do you remember?
PZ: Yes, The Kansas City Stompers.
WW: The Kansas City Stompers. And it was made up of mostly Argentinian musicians.....
PZ: Argentinian musicians. Buenos Aries was very interested in jazz music from the old. old time, because I remember, there exists tango bands and jazz bands. Jazz bands don't play tango, you know, in Argentina. One of the journalists from the BBC, the London BBC, asked me, "Why in Argentina are there two different kinds of orchestras, one orchestra to play only tango, and the other band to play Latin, or jazz, which is strange." And I told him, also, they hate each other. The tango music, the tango musician, "jazz is a gringo music." And the jazz musician, "we consider the tango a minor music. We consider the traditional tango a minor music, a cheap music." I remember that.
WW: Is that tension still there, between those musicians?
PZ: I think so. No. Probably. Maybe, in the traditional way. The tangueros playing traditional tango, the musicians playing traditional tango. But the jazz musician now plays some tango melodies, like tango standards, to improvise, even me.
WW: At the time when you were playing with the Kansas City Stompers were you spending any time in the tango dance.....?
PZ: No, no, no, no. At that time, I hated the tango. No, no ,no ,no.
WW: You didn't like it?.
PZ: No, no, no, no. I didn't. No, no, no, no. The jazz, once I knew jazz, that was music, that is what I liked. After four years I started to learn the modern jazz music, bebop. After four years I stopped with the band, and I started to play with some quartet, bebop quartet. I know the jazz music from the beginning.
WW: What was the instrumentation? Did you have a tenor saxophone?
PZ: No, no. Some guy playing trumpet. Same guy from the Kansas City Stompers. A wonderful musician, he played trumpet and cornet, we had jazz guitar, bass, and drums. Some kind of, that kind of quintet. Playing in some jazz clubs, learning about bebop. We were working a lot, because at that time it was full of jazz clubs, small jazz venues, theaters.
WW: At that time, in the sixties, bebop was very hot in Buenos Aries. Were there groups coming from here, from the United States?
PZ: Yes, of course. I met, I had some kind of interview in the dressing room with Bill Evans. I remember Bill Evans with Eddie Gomez. I remember it was Sunday, in the morning in a huge theater in Buenos Aries, in downtown. It was a strange concert, Sunday in the morning, he was playing with Eddie Gomez, and Joe LaBarbera, the drummer. I remember another time with Joe LaBarbera and Marc Johnson. I was speaking with him, Bill Evans in the dressing room.
WW: Did he have much to say, he was a pretty quiet guy, wasn't he?
PZ: Yes. We were talking about his influences, Ravel, Debussy, and other impressionists. I was crazy about Bill Evans, of course. He was one of my mentors. And a thousand more piano players were crazy about Bill Evans.
WW: Any other pianists.....?
PZ: I remember Lennie Tristano.
WW: He came to Buenos Aires?
PZ: No, no, no, no.
WW: But he was somebody you listened to?
WW: So you were buying then, when they didn't come to Buenos Aires at that time, bop was so popular, you were listening to a lot of the records?
PZ: Yes. And there were a lot of American bands coming to Buenos Aires. Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band, I remember.
WW: What is the jazz scene like now?
PZ: It is still very active, very active. There are a lot of jam musicians playing jazz. Tango now is very, very popular. But jazz is popular, too. Also, when I play in Buenos Aires, I play mostly in the jazz side, not the tango side. The tango side is still a little traditional. There are a lot of tango orchestras playing for dancers.
WW: When you're in Buenos Aires now, do you, you said you play in the jazz side, do you go to the jazz clubs?
PZ: No, not too much. No, I prefer, I'm a frequent visitor of the NY jazz clubs. The 55 Bar , small places like that.
WW: You like the small, intimate places, you prefer those?
PZ: Sometimes when my friends play in Birdland or Blue Note or Iridium, Jazz Standard, I go there.
WW: Let's continue on with, after you were working with the Kansas City Stompers, and then playing the bop, when did Astor Piazzolla......?
PZ: I met for the first time with Piazzolla when I was thirty two, thirty three years old. Between my bebop time to Piazzolla, I was playing a lot of jazz music. After the bebop, I was impressed by the jazz rock musicians. That's my time, the jazz rock. Through Chick Corea, through Herbie Hancock. I became one of the Herbie Hancock addicts.
WW: You were playing an electronic piano?
PZ: Yes. At that time, I bought a couple of Fender Rhodes.
WW: And did Piazzolla see you in a club somewhere, how did he find out about you?
PZ: Because he heard about me, because I was playing with one of my first trios, Pablo Ziegler Trio or Terceto. I was playing also, combining classical music with jazz, and some of Piazzolla's tangos with jazz, and Ravel or Debussy with jazz. And my trio became successful, too. I was playing a lot, in a lot of jazz clubs, theaters, television shows.
WW: And this was all in Buenos Aires?
PZ: Yes. At that time, at the same time I was playing a lot in the studio, recording as a studio musician.
WW: Did you enjoy doing that?
PZ: Yes, of course. It was part of my musical training. From the Kansas City Stompers to Piazzolla, I was playing all kinds of different music styles, jazz, Latin, also. I learned a lot of Latin with Cuban guys.
WW: You hadn't met Paquito D'Rivera yet?
PZ: No, no. Not at that time. That was later. I met Paquito with the Astor Piazzolla Quintet here, playing here in NY, the first time that I met him. It was a long history, a long musical history.
WW: At this point were you traveling?
PZ: No, no, because we were a country full of music, full of clubs and venues to play. Before Piazzolla, I had some concert tour to the United States, with some singer, Latin singer, Argentinian singer to LA a couple of times, Brazil. That's it.
WW: So then once you joined Astor Piazzolla.....
PZ: 1978. I received a phone call.
WW: He called you on the telephone?
PZ: He called me, Piazzolla's guitar player, Oscar Lopez Ruiz.
WW: He called you?
PZ: He called me, " Piazzolla wants to see you because he is interested in that, in you."
WW: Were you surprised?
PZ: It surprised me, yes, of course. It was like if you received here a call from Miles Davis. It was the same situation. Because he was for us a musical idol.
WW: You had no hint, you had no idea?
PZ: No, no. Because at that time I wasn't playing tango, I was playing jazz. Jazz. Jazz rock. Latin. But not tango. Not in the professional way. I was only playing tango when I was a kid.
WW: With your father.
PZ: With my father. And I thought he's looking for a different kind of piano player, not a tango player. You know?
WW: And he was.
PZ: He was. He heard about my classical training. Classical and jazz training. That's really, was me.
WW: How long did it take from the time you got the phone call.....?
PZ: No, no. I met with him the next day and I was playing in the Piazzolla apartment. I remember I played one of the Piazzolla cadenzas, piano cadenzas that I heard, and he said, "Oh, you remember this. Oh, okay." He gave me only a bunch of music, "We are, in ten days we are going to have the first rehearsal." My god. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it.
WW: So it seemed a little overwhelming?
PZ: At that time, I was recently married, with my wife. And I told her, when I saw her, this is impossible. In twenty days, it's hard to learn, it's very difficult music. It's like ten piano concertos in twenty days, too, too, it's extremely difficult. No. It's too much for me, too much.
"You can, you can."
WW: Your wife said that? She gave you encouragement.
PZ: Yes, she pushed me." No, this is too much. It's too much, too much." It's not only, at that time I had very good training to read music, but this is not only reading Piazzolla's music, no. In ten, in twenty days I was worried, with, and I remember our first rehearsal, he was very happy, which was [sighs] a release for my soul.
WW: When you first met with him, before you started rehearsing, did he in any way outline to you his philosophy for you? In other words, did he say I'm adding you as a piano player because I want you to do, I want you to integrate some jazz improvisation? Did he say anything like that?
PZ: No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. Nothing. That was one of my, because at that time, Piazzolla's music was some kind of chamber music, everything was written.
WW: He chose you for a reason?
PZ: Yes. From my first rehearsal, I started to add some funky tango rhythms. He told me, "Yeah, yeah, continue, yes. I like that. Yes, this is the way." And I know that with the guitar player, Oscar Lopez Ruiz, another jazz fan, we transformed all the Piazzolla rhythm into something more spicy. Spicy music, more funky. My training, yes, in jazz rock. Funky, and I started to improvise in the back, and at the same time Piazzolla started to do only the chords in the work, he gave me the permission to improvise with his music. And after several years, he started to improvise, too.
WW: He wasn't improvising yet, at that point?
PZ: No, no. No. He was a music reader.
WW: So when he hired you, he had the idea, that's why he hired you, and then at the same time he let you do.....
PZ: But he, no.....
WW: It influenced him........
PZ: Yes. But because he came from Europe before the second quintet, before our meeting, he came from Europe very sad at that time, because his experience with some octet, electronic octet with jazz musicians, very young jazz musicians, more like rock musicians in Europe was not very good for him. He was not happy with that experience.
WW: He didn't like the results?
PZ: He didn't like the results. He came from Europe very sad on a cargo ship. And he decided to form again a quintet.....
WW: On a cargo ship?
PZ: Yes, on a cargo ship.
WW: Why was that?
PZ: Because of the money.
WW: I wasn't sure. So that's what it was, it was a financial thing. So then once you joined up, his mood changed, because now he was happy with the direction of the.....
PZ: Yes, he was happy because, it was a combination between that quintet with violin, bandoneon, guitar, bass, no drums. You know, the second Piazzolla Quintet. And that group was the group that really was one of the keys to Piazzolla's music in Europe. I was playing all the jazz festivals in Europe, Montreux.....
WW: So once you joined up, your whole life changed. Because you were traveling all over the place.....
PZ: My whole life changed. Yes. Mostly I was living in Europe, in France, in Paris. In 1983 I was thinking of moving to stay, and to live in France. Because it made no sense coming back and forth.
WW: Did you move to France, then?
PZ: No. We decided finally to stay in Buenos Aires because all the political situations changed. It was the first democratic presidential election after the military, the military process. The military process in Argentina lasted ten years, costing Argentinian lives, more than 30,000 people were missing.
WW: When did you decide to maintain a residence here, in Brooklyn?
PZ: Seven years ago I decided to move here, to stay here.
WW: Part of the time.
PZ: Yes. My intention was, I am actually an American resident, but I go back and forth, because my family decided to stay in Buenos Aires. Because I got the green card five years ago, and at that time for different reasons, my family decided to stay in Buenos Aires. Now my daughter is living here, she is in Florida.
WW: What are some of things about NY that you like that precipatated your moving here?
PZ: Yes. I remember I visited NY in the Piazzolla times, when I was playing with Piazzolla here, recording here. We did with Piazzolla here the "ZERO HOUR" CD, the "LA CAMORRA" CD, also the fantastic "CENTRAL PARK" CD with Piazzolla. And we were frequently playing here, in the 80's and it impressed me, you know NY, this is the city of NY. Also, because of my jazz knowledge, my interest, still my interest in jazz. Now I play, okay, my music and Buenos Aires music, but through all the, I have a lot of jazz influence in my music, you know that.
WW: Do you, your writing process, do you write in Buenos Aires and here? Is there a difference in the result?
PZ: I write everywhere. With my computer. [Laughs.] All over the world. But, it changed my mindset , of course, the fact that I live here.
WW: Let me go into the creative process a little bit, for a moment. When you said you use your computer, when you come up with an idea for a tune, do you whistle it, hum it, do you write it out and put it in the computer? Or do you, how does that work?
PZ: At first I had just music paper that I was working with a pen and a pencil, that's it. Now, recently, I got the computer. Yes, I frequently write some ideas to develop. I was studying composition a lot in Buenos Aires. Piazzolla pushed me to study counterpoint. Because before Piazzolla I was writing, I was a normal regular composer, before Piazzolla. I was composing for films, television, everything, theater. I won some prizes there, in theater and music. I was composing, not tango, not Buenos Aires music. That was my big change. Piazzolla changed my mind in terms too, to play our, to put all my know how, musical know how at the service of the Buenos Aires or Argentinian music.
WW: And then after about ten years of being with Piazzolla, his health finally caused him to stop playing. What was that like at first, before you started your own ensemble? I guess you realized his health was failing, it wasn't a big surprise, was it?
PZ: Yes, after ten years, for all the quintet, it was a very big surprise, the heart problem that Piazzolla had. I remember the surgery time, the heart surgery. He dissolved the quintet because his doctor said you have to stop playing the bandoneon. Because it's a big, because I'm going to open all the bones,and he had a quintuple bypass. And he said, "Okay, I'm going to compose and to write, not play." He decided, because some friend pushed him, to play with the last sextet. At that time, I was just playing with my group, my first quartet. And with my first quartet in the 90's, '91, '92, I came here to play in some American festivals with my quartet. And at that time, Astor had the brain stroke, I remember. And at that time, I started with my music, my music, not Piazzolla's music. When I started with my quartet, I played my music, not Piazzolla's music, because Piazzola was alive. I decided to play my music. And he pushed me to compose. I remember in the 80's I frequently, I showed him some of my compositions. Piazzolla was a very good friend, and a very good teacher for me.
WW: I notice that you have a lot of different formations, the quintet, the quartet, the trio, two pianos. I know I've read for him, for Piazzolla, he preferred the quintet format, I beleive. He felt that he best expressed what he wanted to express with the quintet. How about you?
PZ: Yes, I love my, I prefer the small groups to play. My trio, or quartet, or quintet. That's it.
WW: I've noticed lately you play a lot with the trio.
PZ: Now. Now with the trio, the new trio, with the seven string guitar. It suprised me. Because it's fantastic. It's not easy because we have no bass, no drums. But it's more challenging.
WW: But you create the percussion in other ways.
PZ: In other ways, yes. We create a lot of different percussion. Now, I'm working inside the piano, with different, and I create ........
WW: When I saw you at the Jazz Standard (Read: Review) you were inside the piano.
PZ: Yes, yes, yes. But frequently with my trio and in Europe, the trio that from my last CD .....
WW: "BAJO CERO."
PZ: "BAJO CERO," yes. I was playing more and more, and discovering inside the piano different effects with the strings, but okay, which is fantastic, it's a challenge. But I prefer sometimes with the drums, too, no. It helps me. But the trio or quartet without drums is more authentic or more challenging. I don't know. It's really different. Okay, I love everything. In the other side with the classical, now I'm combining both sides, opening my arrangements and improvising in the middle, that kind of thing. That's interesting, too. But it's more flexible, the small groups, you know.
WW: I'd like you, if you'd be so kind, to tell me everything that you remember about your beautiful, haunting, eerie ballad called "MILONGUETA."
PZ: "MILONGUETA," yes. "MILONGUETA." You like "MILONGUETA." [Laughs.]
WW: I do.
PZ: I have a lot of American friends that really love "MILONGUETA." Because, I don't know why. I just, I did an arrangement for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Branford Marsalis. And Marsalis was playing "MILONGUETA" with his alto sax, it's fantastic. Fantastic combination. And "MILONGUETA" is a piece that I wrote, and I dedicated to Quique Sinesi, my guitar player. Quique started with me, in my quartet in the 90's, in 1990. He started with me in my quartet as my guitar player. After several years he moved to Berlin, to Europe. He invited me to play with him and we invited a bandoneon player, and the result is our last CD with Quique Sinesi and Walter Castro, "BAJO CERO." But I dedicated that piece, because at that time when I was composing, I decided to write a piece for my bass player, and for my guitar player, and for Quique Sinesi I wrote "MILONGUETA." [Hums the melody.] With some influence from John McLaughlin, Mahavishnu Orchestra because that phrase, there is some harmony in the middle, which reminds me of that [Smells.] perfume.
WW: You wrote that then in the early 90's?
PZ: I wrote that in 1989, '89 that piece. In the middle there is a piano, guitar cadenza, that now I've transposed for the sax, but the original was for my quartet.
WW: There's a nice version of it on the Joe Lovano, the album you did with Joe Lovano, the tenor player.
PZ: Yes, that version is fantastic. It's with Quique Sinesi, playing guitar. That version is fantastic. Sometime, when I have, this is a fantastic version, maybe in the future, it's not easy.
WW: Speaking of the future, what's happening with the "TANGO MEETS JAZZ" series? You'll be doing that again in December?
PZ: Through the same producer, Ettore Stratta and Pat Phillips, we are going to play here at the Blue Note. Not the "TANGO MEETS JAZZ" program, it's a quartet program with the Colombian harp player, Castañeda. That's in June, a couple of days, the 21st and 22nd. He's a very young, but very talented musician. He's played with Paquito D'Rivera.
WW: Do you have plans for the "TANGO MEETS JAZZ?"
PZ: Usually, we play in December at the Jazz Standard.
WW: Yes, do you know who will be with you this year?
PZ: Yes, yes. No, no. Not yet. That is for the producers, they choose. Probably, probably, I don't know, maybe, it's going, the Cuban trumpet player, Arturo Sandoval. Probably, I don't know.
WW: Are you going to be using the trumpet more?
PZ: I like, I was very happy with.......
WW: Randy Brecker.
PZ: Randy. Randy Brecker. First set he was learning, but in the second set he was [Kisses his fingers.] amazing. Especially with the fleugelhorn, oh, fleugelhorn, beautiful, he is a great jazz musician. He understood everything, he is a great musician.
WW: How about listening to music, what do you listen to?
PZ: I prefer to listen to jazz or classical. Sometimes, very old tangos, very old groups.
WW: What about jazz? Is it old groups, new groups, a mixture?
PZ: Sometimes, I always go to Bill Evans, or Coltrane to remember the best, jazz.
WW: You can't lose by listening to.....
PZ: No, you can't lose, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk. I remember one of my big influences was the young McCoy Tyner.
WW: He's going to be over at the Blue Note.
PZ: Yes, I know. But at that time. McCoy Tyner, he was playing all in quarters. I said, "Oh. What is this?" It impressed me. With Elvin Jones and Jimmy?
WW: Jimmy Garrison?
PZ: Jimmy Garrison. Could be.
WW: How about practicing, do you set aside a certain amount of time ......?
PZ: Yes, I try to practice every day. But sometimes that is impossible. Now I'm dedicating a lot of time to the computer, to compose. Because I need to have a new CD with the trio, two different CDs, with the Bajo Cero Trio, and with a new trio that I want to develop through the piano, through my personal.....
WW: What's the line up on that new trio, what instrumentation?
PZ: Some kind of jazz trio, piano, bass, and drums or percussion, but playing our music, because it's going to be different in terms of the jazz trios, different music, different. Maybe, I'm going to invite some of my friends.
WW: You're not sure, at this point, who will be the other members of that trio.
PZ: No. No, no. I have some ideas about some American musicians but I'm not sure.
WW: The "BAJO CERO" CD was just reissued through Zoho, yes?
PZ: The original label is Enja.
WW: It had come out in 2002 or 2003.
PZ: Yes, 2003, and reissued just this month on Zoho. The same CD and the same cover.
WW: You'll be leaving in a couple of days to go back to Buenos Aires.
PZ: Yes, I have some concerts there, there in Buenos Aires. And in June, I'll be coming back because of the Blue Note date. In July I have a tour to Spain. In Barcelona, there is a big festival there.
WW: When you're not traveling, do you think you probably spend half your time here, and half you're time in Buenos Aires?
PZ: It's a combination, four months here, four months in Buenos Aries, four months traveling. I prefer to stay here. But my music, my concerts, I follow my schedule, my concert schedule.
WW: Well, we'll see you at the Blue Note when you return here in June. Thank you very much, Pablo.
PZ: Thank you, William.
PABLO ZIEGLER Website
KAWECKI & WOLF REVIEW
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PABLO ZIEGLER Bajo Cero CD
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