INTERVIEW WITH JORGE CALANDRELLI
By Jeannie Pool (2007)
JP: Your great grandfather wrote a dictionary of philology?
JC: Yes, that’s right. Philology, you know, is the study of language and literature. An Italian gentleman, who lived in Rome and studied at the Vatican, my great-grandfather was an expert in ancient and modern languages. An outstanding scholar, he was commissioned by the Argentinean government to write a dictionary, so he moved to Buenos Aires in the 1870's. He completed his dictionary through the letter “N” before he died, and it was a magnificent undertaking―a great work of art.
JP: You obviously inherited his love of and facility with languages. You speak many languages, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian and French, and seem to be comfortable anywhere in the world.
JC: I have had the good fortune of being able, as a musician, to travel and see the world. I have worked in Germany, Denmark, Spain, England, Switzerland, Japan, China, (Taiwan) and almost all South America.
JP: Did your parents support the idea of you becoming a musician?
JC: Not at first. My father and grandfather were both medical doctors. I think my father thought I would be a doctor, maybe a lawyer, but once he accepted the fact that I wanted to be a professional musician, he and my mother encouraged me to study every aspect of the craft. He said, “If you are going to be a musician, you'd better study everything in music, from the beginning to the end.”
So I studied with private teachers piano (Guillermo Iscla) harmony and counterpoint (Carlos Guastavino) and composition, form and aleatory techniques. I also had incredible support from my mother, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 94. She was the most adorable person and I loved her dearly. My father, grandfather and uncle all played instruments by ear. My mother had studied piano and played frequently in our home. I remember her playing beautifully Debussy and Faure since I was very young. My father loved music and was a brilliant chess player. Every Saturday when my brother and I expected to receive our allowance, our father would make us sit and listen to acts of a Wagner opera with him. After what seemed to be forever, he would finally give us our allowance and we ran off to see a John Wayne movie… He probably did this because he was nervous that we loved jazz and he wanted us to be “cultured people”. As a result, I ended up not liking Wagner’s music for most of my life, although eventually I rediscovered him with a new appreciation – Wagner was a fantastic composer.
JP: How old were you when you began playing the piano?
JC: I was four. I played by ear and tried to play anything that I heard. Beginning at age 8, my brother and I had formal lessons and played the classics, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Of course, I played tangos, and being from Argentina, the music I heard as a child was incredibly diverse―tango, samba, bossa nova, jazz, and classical. I organized my brothers and sisters in a vocal quartet and we learned to sing four-part arrangements. My parents were happy about this because we could sing for company in our home. One of the songs we sang was “Dream,” and later in my life I made an arrangement of this tune, based on the arrangement I had done when I was a teenager. I wanted to be an arranger even then, I guess.
JP: As a teenager, you had a jazz trio?
JC: Yes, and I went to Europe with my trio when I was 19. We played Brazilian bossa nova and jazz. We were in Germany for a year. Can you imagine, someone raised in the society of Buenos Aires, having an opportunity to spend a year in Germany? We played everywhere. I knew Germany better than most Germans. We also played in Stockholm, Lisbon, England,…[where else?]……When we were playing in Switzerland, the music director of Radio Geneve pushed me to do my first arrangements. I started to study on my own, beginning with Russell Garcia’s book on arranging. The moment I heard the first arrangement, I almost fell on the floor. It was absolutely the biggest thrill of my life. I realized at that moment that I wanted to be an arranger.
JP: What an auspicious beginning for a career.
JC: At age 22, I went back to Argentina and met Astor Piazzola. He heard my trio and encouraged me to seriously study music. He was a superhero in Argentina. He was a powerful performer and always had the best musicians. We were playing in Club 676 and he was the headliner, with his fantastic quintet. He said, “Jorge, I like those harmonies. They are very good. You should study and become a real musician.” At the same time, I started to work for record companies as an arranger and conductor and continued to study music. My piano teacher was Guillermo Iscla. I continued my music studies into my thirties—in fact, I’m always studying music.
JP: How did you happen to come to the United States?
JC: I had the opportunity to come to Los Angeles in 1968 and met Clare Fischer, who changed my harmonic concept completely. When I heard his big band, I thought I was in heaven. There were six saxophones and I was completely mesmerized. I went to a couple of recording sessions while I was there and the caliber of the musicians was so amazing. I said to myself, ‘I’m going back to Argentina. I need to study a lot before I come back to the United States.” It took me about ten years to prepare. I went to the studio every day. I did an album a week. What a great experience. By the time I was ready to come to the United States, the record companies with whom I had worked, gave me letters of recommendations, so when I arrived in New York to live, I immediately started working. My first recording was at CBS with Andre Kostelanetz, recording in a church with a 65- piece orchestra. I was so excited to be with those musicians. When I came to the United States, I came with a bag of dreams and chords. In 2008, I’m celebrating 30 years of a professional career in this country.