From his folk beginnings with Caterina Bueno in 1978 to the present collaborations: this is Riccardo Tesi’s story characterized by passion and curiosity which, from Tuscan traditions, accompanied him to English, Basque, French, Jazz and ballroom dance cultures.
1. In 1981 you dedicated a whole album to the diatonic accordion, which is your instrument. Why did you choose it?
I have seen this strange instrument for the first time during a concert of Canzoniere del Lazio, a 70’s ethno-jazz-rock group where Francesco Giannattasio played. He has been the first musician to use the diatonic in a not traditional field even if he abandoned his career as a musician to became a famous ethno musicologist. He is the true Italian organetto pioneer since he has given this instrument a new revival approach.
I started in 1978. When I was 22 I replaced Giannattasio in the band of the most important Tuscan folk singer, Caterina Bueno, during a show focused on traditional dance, where the diatonic accordion played a central role. In that period I played guitar not so well, so I decided to learn to play this different instrument and I became very good soon. That experience has changed my life.
At the beginning it has been very difficult because there were no teachers, albums, methods, internet. I have done all by myself and this helped my own style to develop. My passion for the melodeonon was great and it has been filling my life.
2. Your style is both archaic and new, a mix of lyricism and virtuosity which exalts the qualities of accordions and similar instruments testing their sounds and blends. How could you keep your balance among so many styles?
It’s a matter of integrity. I believe it’s necessary to respect our own identity and be honest. I was born in a town, grew with progressive rock, listened to jazz and then I started to focus on popular tradition of countryside. First of all I played a traditional language, such as tarantella or saltarello, with my diatonic accordion. It has been very educational for both technique and language. Then, after my second album, with Ritmia group, I have started to search for my own music, working hard at composition. Tradition is still my great sources of inspiration but my personal view has became my way.
3. Thanks to several important collaborations you have crossed geographical and musical frontiers. What are your unforgettable experiences?
More than 30 years of career there were a lot of experiences. On one hand there is my cooperation with the French mandolin player Patrick Vaillant. This creative and versatile musician has driven me to a very different point of view, from musician to instrumentalist, influencing my present style.
On the other hand the diatonic accordion trio Trans Europe Diatonique (1993) with the English John Kirkpatrick and the French Marc Perrone, then replaced by the Basque Kepa Junkera. It has been a special occasion to share different feelings and techniques about our instrument surrounded by a joyful atmosphere. I have had a similar experience with Samurai, a European quintet characterized by the Finnish Markku Lepisto, the French Bruno Le Tron, the Belgian Didier Laloy and the Irish David Munnelly. Same mood but a very different approach to both instrument and music because of our distant generations. Then there was Banditalina where I have bravely reached my deep musical ideas.
Finally the marvelous singer-songwriters Fabrizio De Andrè and Ivano Fossati who taught me about production, balance, precision. It was a beautiful music school working with them.
4. Cameristico was born the past year. The diatonic accordion meets the classical sound of piano, clarinet and violoncello in order to rediscover a great part of your repertoire. What about Cameristico?
Claudia Cappellini, in charge of culture at the Town of Quarrata, was asking for an original project to be presented inside the frescoed hall of Villa La Magia. That place suggested me a more classical and chamber sound so I decided to focus on some of my past materials of 2007 such as three pieces of the album Presente Remoto. I called Damiano Puliti, the violoncello player I have been working with him for many years, Michele Marini, a young clarinet player with a solid jazz career and the pianist Daniele Biagini coming from Pistoia as well, graduated both in piano and Jazz music, with whom I have done all the arrangements and orchestrations. The repertoire is almost original but I have given new life to three old pieces which sound very good with this group. The album “Cameristico” has been published in Italy by Materiali Sonori and is available on line thanks to Itunes and other digital shops.
We are very happy because it is appreciated and has been positively presented by International radio such as BBC but also National Australian, Swiss and Belgian radio and our RAI3 where Cameristico is February best album!
5. Since 1980 you have been focusing on teaching and researching for a proper pedagogy about popular instruments and in particular about the diatonic accordions. You wrote the first Italian textbook and organized lessons both in Italy and abroad. How has the approach to the diatonic accordion changed?
Of course new generations have the great opportunity to know the worldwide stylistic richness and variety of the diatonic accordion thanks to internet. In the last years, the technical average level has incredibly grown thanks to a strong pedagogical activity. In general, the influence of tradition is progressively disappearing in favor of a much innovative and creative spirit which looks for new sounds and musical ways. The diatonic accordion is slowly becoming a protagonist not only for popular music. So I’m optimistic.
6. You are a musician, a composer, an arranger, a researcher: who is the best position in your opinion?
Maybe musician because includes also the other roles save researcher which belongs to my past activities. I love working at composition, arrangements, creations. I’m interested in the process going from the starting idea to the final piece. Live performances are exciting as well because they are a sort of confirmation of a whole work and are full of adrenalin.
7. Several prizes both in Italy and abroad. After years of successes and results, what’s your objective today?
I always think about future! Now I’m absorbed in Cameristico Live. Then there are the new Banditaliana and Samurai albums. Moreover, the 20th June I’m rediscovering some dance room classics thanks to “Un ballo liscio” show at Ravenna Festival. I‘ll be there with Banditaliana and Fanfara Tirana, an explosive Albanian band. I hope I’ll keep on playing all over the world because I love traveling. Then album, productions, partnership, so that music, music, music!
This article is available also in: Italian