One of France's best kept secrets is pianist Michel Sardaby. Born in Martinique in 1935, Sardaby moved to Paris in the early 1960s and has recorded there as well as in New York and Tokyo with a range of leading American and French jazz artists. A bluesy, soulful player, Sardaby gently coaxes all of the feeling out of a song, especially his originals.
According to Choc's, a French blog, Sardaby lives in Paris and still has the piano his father gave him as a child growing up in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique. His father was a dealer of Pleyel & Co. pianos and owned a cafe. At 13, Sardaby began taking lessons but found the teacher strict and intolerable. He quit, but by then he was already a skilled player. In Paris in 1964, he realized that reading and writing music was essential, so he studied at École Boulle.
Throughout his career, Sardaby traveled periodically to New York to visit, work and record. On one of those trips in February 1975, he recorded Gail with Richard Davis (b) and Billy Hart (d), with Leopoldo Fleming on percussion on one track. On the album, Sardaby plays acoustic piano and the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Most of Sardaby's albums are hard to come by, which is why I was gratified to see that Gail has been reissued on vinyl by World Seven, a subsidiary of Europe's Africa Seven group. The album of Sardaby originals has been remastered especially for vinyl and then pressed on heavyweight vinyl, at Sardaby's request.
There's something so seductively French about Sardaby's playing. Whether on ballads, like the title track, or up-tempo numbers, like Spindrift, Sardaby is always looking to celebrate beauty. That's what happens when you listen to as much Duke Ellington as he did as a child. On Gail, Sardaby is like a haute couture designer, treating the piano as his model. He hems, pins, takes the melody in here or there, and constantly finds ways to tweak a song to maximize its elegance.
On Gail, Sardaby is a master of understated design.
JazzWax tracks: In the U.S., the reissue of Michel Sardaby's Gail is available only on vinyl. You'll find it here.