French violinist, violist and composer Théo Ceccaldi, 34, made a name for himself in jazz. He distinguished himself in particular with the trio Django, whose formation is a distant echo of the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France. Meet this born improviser, who won the Instrumental Revelation of the Year category at the Victoires du jazz awards ceremony in 2017, and is returning from a tour of Central America.
How did you discover music?
I come from a family of musicians: my grandfather was a violinist and my father is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and director of a music school. I have always immersed myself in folk music and oral tradition. My father worked a lot for the theatre. I attended rehearsals, went to festivals…when I was five I wanted to play violin and joined my father’s school in Orléans – an atypical school that brings together instruments rarely taught at the conservatory – notably bagpipes, accordion and electric guitar – and which welcomes very different audiences, including children, the disabled and the elderly. I grew up in a world where there were no aesthetic barriers and no music was sacred.
When did you start your formal training?
I started at the conservatory at the age of seven and discovered music theory, choir, a new form of discipline and a much stricter atmosphere, which sometimes discouraged me! I then went back to my father’s school, attending it the same time, and found a lot of pleasure in participating in jazz and funk workshops etc. There, I discovered improvisation, group music and the resulting competition, and began to experience music as a collective adventure while working on early compositions and listening to Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson etc. Then after my baccalaureate I went to the regional conservatory in Saint-Maur, then the regional conservatory in Paris to study jazz.
How do you compose?
I plan as much as possible when I compose: I know who I’m writing for, what I want to evoke, what architecture I want to give to the piece... I think a lot about the composition environment, or even the room in which the piece will be created – not just harmonies and rhythms, but spatiality and physical engagement. I like playing with the codes of jazz and contemporary music, and my idea of rock. I intertwine energies.
You are returning from a tour of Central America with the Django Trio. What does Django Reinhardt mean to you?
Django is a musician that I discovered quite young through Stéphane Grappelli, who was the leading violinist of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, the “privileged partner” of Django Reinhardt. Our make-up (violin, cello and guitar) is similar to that of Reinhardt (violin, double bass, three guitars). The cello makes it possible to introduce bass, as a double bass does, while getting closer to the human voice, especially when reaching for the high notes. What interested us in reworking a Django repertoire – who was anything but a conservative musician – was to question it by adding our experience of these instruments and our sound. Purists and more adventurous audiences can find themselves in different places. Everyone is on a journey to the unknown, and that is what excites me. We take them to surprising places.
What will you remember from your concerts in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico?
Our tour began very well with the opening of the Eurojazz Festival in Mexico in front of 5,000 people. The audience was extremely receptive and at the end of the concert we sold almost all the stock of records we had brought with us for the tour, which was supposed to last three weeks. Because of Covid, and despite some concerts, the next part was more complicated… which did not prevent us from experiencing wonderful moments, like the pop-up concert we improvised on the banks of the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. And then we finished on a disastrous note just before the borders closed, even leaving behind some forgotten clothes at the bottom of a washing machine!
What is the place of jazz in these countries?
In Central America, even more than in Europe and France, jazz is a niche music. The public is often very surprised at how we handle it. I had already toured Central America three years ago, and this time I rediscovered the same sensations, especially in countries that are not very open to the rest of the world such as Honduras and El Salvador, where the public is all the more curious and enthusiastic. What is interesting about these tours in partnership with the Alliances françaises is the special link they develop with local musicians, students and children. We exchange, we try to understand how music lives in this or that place.
Is the current health crisis pushing you to rethink your practice?
The impersonal tours where you go from anonymous hotel to anonymous hotel no longer make much sense to me. I am very interested in slow touring which, in addition to avoiding flying, provides the opportunity to perform in different venues: theatres, museums, concerts in apartments and on a small scale etc. I will soon have the opportunity to experience this with Velvet Revolution, the trio led by Daniel Erdmann, a Berlin saxophonist based in France, during a tour of Finland in December 2020. An unprecedented organisation, whose existence we owe to the director Charles Gil, who specialised in these new forms of touring.
What are your next projects?
In September 2019 I had the chance to spend 10 days in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa for “Kutu”, a project related to traditional Azmari music. I should go back next November to finalise the project and repeat it with singers. A tour is planned in France in March and April 2021, then in autumn 2021 in East Africa. A new adventure!
Théo Ceccaldi's tour in Central America during March 2020 was supported by IFTournées programm.
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