Around the World: Hungary’s Laszlo Gardony

23 Jun

Pianist Laszlo Gardony

Laszlo Gardony's 1994 album Breakout

Pianist Laszlo Gardony was born in Hungary in 1956 — the year the Soviet tanks crushed an uprising there — and he trained at the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest. Like Bartok, he emigrated to the United States seeking freedom — Bartok from the Nazis in World War II, Gardony from a Communist regime that he felt stifled his musical expression.

But after that the similarities fail. Bartok was older and lived barely past the end of the war, composing in trickles. Gardony thrived in his move to the States, receiving a scholarship to Berklee and joining the faculty there after graduation. As an artist, he expanded his audience and earned critical acclaim. It might be wider if he had produced more than nine albums in the last quarter century, but if you’re a jazz fan not familiar with his work, you should be.

“My circumstances in Hungary weren’t allowing me to take the music as far as I wanted it to go,” Gardony told Downbeat’s Bill Milkowski on the liner notes to the 1989 album The Legends of Tsumi. “I had become a professional but I really wasn’t able to play the music I wanted to play. It was mostly just sessions and gigs.  I really had no connection to the spiritual side of music with this type of playing. It got very predictable, so I decided to make a break.”

Moving to the U.S. was his big break, but he didn’t let go of his homeland entirely.   “. . . in some sense Hungary is a musical melting pot, because it has been the center of so much commotion over the centuries — lots of wars and migrations,” Gardony told Berkshireweb.com’s Seth Rogovoy in a 1996 interview. “The whole Hungarian philosophy was that whoever lives here is considered Hungarian, and therefore there were lots of influences mixed in to the culture.”

You can hear them in Gardony’s music, which he plays with a seeming ease that belies his talent. And you can see Gardony with that full head of hair — more often if you’re in his adopted New England, where he performs more frequently.

Allaboutjazz.com’s Tom Greenland: “Who said, ‘those who can’t do teach?’ It’s not necessarily true, as some of the best jazz musicians can be found hiding out in institutions of higher learning. Laszlo Gardony is a case in point.”

A link to Gardony’s solo rendition of Mahalia below:

sources: lgjazz.com, wikipedia.org, berkshireweb.com

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