Marcel Azzola (10 July 1927 – 21 January 2019) was a French accordionist, credited with using his rare technical mastery of one of France’s most emblematic instruments to adapt it to the world of jazz.
Marcel Azzola was born in Paris in 1927 to Italian parents: his father, Giuseppe (a builder, 1896–1978) and his mother, Angelina (1901–2002) both came from Bergamo. Marcel had two elder and two younger sisters. His parents had moved to France in 1922.
His father had conducted a mandoline orchestra in Italy, and Marcel, like two of his sisters, learned to play the violin. He abandoned the instrument after a year. In 1936, he began playing accordion, after he became familiar with the accordion orchestra of Pantin. Six months later, he started lessons with Paul Saive, who had been the music teacher of Jo Privat. Soon after, Azzola started taking lessons from Attilio Bonhommi instead. He accompanied Bonhommi during jazz concerts, first as a percussionist, and later as an accordionist.
At 11 years old and having just finished his primary education, Azzola became a professional accordionist. At first he played with the Aveugles de Pantin, but soon he switched to the "Orchestre de l'Amicale Accordéoniste de l'Humanité", a politically leftist orchestra. In 1939 he won first prize in the junior category at the Concours de Suresnes. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Azzolas moved with Bonhommi to Draillant in the French Alps. Only his father Giuseppe remained in Pantin. After a year the family returned to Paris, and Azzola started taking lessons with Médard Ferrero. At the same time, he worked as an in-house accordionist in many bars in Paris.
In 1943, he left Ferrero and studied under Jacques Mendel, until Mendel, who was Jewish, fled Paris in an unsuccessful attempt to hide from the Nazis. Azzola also became friends with Geo Daly, then still an accordionist but later primarily a vibraphone player. Daly introduced him to contemporary American jazz; most of Azzola's education up that point had cantered on classical music and French musette and chanson.
After the liberation in 1944, Azzola continued to work in multiple bars and for organisations including the American headquarters of the Red Cross in France. He taught himself to play the bandoneon. In 1946, he travelled through Germany for six months to play for American soldiers.
His classical culture, his ability to decipher, made him from the late 1940s a highly sought after studio accordionist. In 1949, he participated in the recording of Sous le Ciel de Paris by Edith Piaf. Then in the 1950’s he recorded his first songs for Barclay Records and started collaborating with some of the greatest names of the French chanson, including, Barbara, Yves Montand, Boris Vian, Gilbert Bécaud and Juliette Gréco. He also played with European jazz musicians Stéphane Grappelli and Toots Thielemans. He played on some soundtracks and his music can be heard in multiple Jacques Tati movies including Mon Oncle.
Here's "Petit Eideweiss" from above 1956 EP
He accompanied Jacques Brel on his last three albums. During the recording of Vesoul, the latter overheard and amazed by the solo improvisation that Marcel Azzola does then sends him his cult apostrophe "Chauffe Marcel, chauffe!". The expression, launched in full recording of the song, has entered everyday language. He also record a hundred of film scores.
If anyone felt that was not quite right and proper, he had only to show them his collection. He possessed dozens of accordions, many rich and rare. Most came from Parisian antique shops, some were presents.He displayed them in brass-framed glass cabinets, and online he gave virtual tours. All the latent nobility of the instrument was on display there: its ancient lineage, from Laotian and Chinese metal-reed pipes, and its aristocratic birth in the early 19th century, as an instrument for fashionable drawing rooms.
He was made a Commander (the highest rank) in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. This high-class musician was also a charming man, praised for his kindness and modesty. "He always had respect for people," says Philippe Krümm.
Azzola had suffered for a very long time from Dupuytren's disease in the right hand. As the ailment worsened, his activity reduced considerably in recent years. He spent most of his time in the manor house of Villennes-sur-Seine which he shared with Lina Bossatti, talented pianist and violinist, where he died in January 2019 at the age of 91. (Edited from Wikipedia, The Economist & Lexpress.fr)