Accordions Worldwide Celebrity Interviews, Mario Balestra interviewed by Renzo Ruggieri
Celebrity Interviews

by Renzo Ruggieri (1st September 2006)

Q. Who is Mario Balestra? Tell us briefly about your artistic life?
A. I was born in Castelfidardo; I have graduated in Harmony and Counter-point studing in the Lanaro Academy (Rome) and at 20 years old, I began to work with the Barzizza Orchestra in Rome. In 1964, I was able to move to the United States where I studied Modal Harmony applied to jazz with the Anthony Zano at the prestigious School Music of Boston and later with Lee Evans at Columbia University of New York. I also studied jazz accordion Anthony Zano.

For 30 years, I taught accordion and jazz and played with many of the most important American entertainers and artists like: Maurice Chevalier, Joan Crawford, Carlo Bergonzi, Franck Sinatra, Gloria, Al Di Meola, Steve White, Carl Moscowitz, Eddie Monteiro, Gelso Pellegrini, etc.Al Silver Orchestra, The Duke Quintet, John Koening Big Band, Art Van Damme, etc.

I came back to Italy in 1997 to make concerts with different Italian jazz players and also, I am in demand as a member of jury in numerous international competitions. The collaboration with the accordion manufacturing firms of Castelfidardo has also carried me on tour in Germany and China.

Q. Why the accordion?
A. Because my father Claudio opened his own factory in 1934 “Claudio Balestra e figli”. Therefore I grew up with this wonderful instrument.

Q. Why the jazz music?
A. At age of 14 years old, I was already collecting Art Van Damme records, after which came Leon Sash and others. Living in New York for many years and playing professionally with so many great Jazz performers, meant I felt even more the wind of jazz music - truly emotional.

Q. You have published a lot of music through very several important publishing companies. How do you compose your music?
A. I have written a lot of music for “Berben “,”Physa”,”Barvin”,”Piccoli”,”Gaja”. I'm composing what I feel at the moment, and I'm looking for a diversification with the concerts and contests, as these were the reccomendations of my accordion teacher Anthony Zano. To the young ones I reccomend seriousness and perseverace with your studies.

Q. We know that you are writing an engaging jazz book for accordion. Can you talk about it to us?
A. It is basically modal Harmony exercises, with an abundance of scales and chords and many years of musical experience, that should have great application for jazz students.

Q. During your long career as a concert player, have you collaborated with any prestigious accordion factory and what can you tell us about?
A. As a young man I was engaged with the “Mario Pigini Accordion Factory”. Recently, thanks to two brothers, old friends of mine, Mr. Ivo and Lido Polverini, and their sons, who trust my collaboration, I'm going around the world from Frankfurt to Shangai where, besides playing at music fairs and promotions, lately the Polverinis have organized concerts at the music conservatories as well.

Q. How has the American experience influenced your style?
A. I grew up with this discipline in New York where I met and afterwards, I studied jazz accordion with a fabulous player, Al Astone. But just as fruitful was listening to the top class musicians I worked with such as guitar players, piano players as well trumpet and sax players, any instrumentalist and any singer too. You can always be learning from top professionals and from each one, I've learned something valuable.

Q. Who where the real models among the accordion players and from which one have you been influenced the most?
A. As I mentioned earlier, I started off listening to Art Van Damme and his influence has been immensely positive. Once in the United States, I've found quite a few great players like Leon Sash, Joe Frontiere, Bobby Wina , Tony Dannon, Frank Marocco, Eddy Manteiro and many others from which I collected writings, casettes, disks, CD's etc. While the most influence came through my teachers Al Astone and Tony Zano, both were determining that I play my own style/way and I gathered ideas and learned something valuable from all of these great accordionists.

Picture right with Art Van-Damme and Peter Soave.

Q. Your future programs?
A. On request I'm participating as a jury member in quite a few competitions. Having lived for so many years abroad, I'm not so well know in Italy at the moment, but I'm very busy collaborating with the Polverinis for everything I can do to setup a good advertising for their excellent products.

Q. What is your definition of the art?
A. It is when the artist knows how to express oneself in creating emotion, all of this requires not only to be a talent but also many years of serious studying and in musical experience, a lots and lots of listening to achieve the greatest musicality.
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