What is it? Award-winning French button accordionist Daniel Mille skillfully taps the keys and buttons, backed by sax and cello.

Why see it? A masterful player, Mille is admired in Europe for his melodic compositions, musical agility, gentle playing style, and unpredictable instrumental detours. As a young musician in the southeastern city of Grenoble, the music of France and northern Europe influenced his musical ideas. After short terms at the provincial Conservatoire National and the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, he released his first album Sur les Quais in December 1993. Upon its release, he received the French International Jazz Trophy for a First Album and was named the Year’s New Hope. On his recent album, Après la Pluie, there is an impressive variety of styles — from jazz and gypsy music to classical and folk. Mille makes his U.S. debut with a trio featuring Stéphane Chausse on bass clarinet and clarinet and Eric Longsworth on cello.

Who should go? Francophiles, fans of gypsy swing tunes, and admirers of exotic music by such artists as Django Reinhart, Stéphane Grappelli, and very old French folk music.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA • $30 • 1 hour • May 30-June 2 at 7 and 9 p.m. • Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100

Fresh Air from France: With an accordion in hand, Daniel Mille crosses genres


“Aprés la Luie” from recent sessions
Audio File

Browsing through award-winning French accordionist Daniel Mille’s recent collection, Après la Pluie (Universal Music Jazz), is like slowly drifting down the Isère River in Alpine France, under a brick bridge where a small troupe of mild-mannered local musicians with colloquial brogues play acoustic folk tunes and improvised embellishments overhead.

Certainly, the accordion is an essential component of traditional folk and dance music all over Europe, and Mille enjoys pulling from every corner for his original compositions.

He was initially attracted to playing the accordion after receiving one from Father Christmas. He remembers, “My father dreamed I would be a musician. Contemporary French music of that time … I did not know it. My parents listened to Duke Ellington and Count Basie. I was listening to The Beatles like the rest of the kids my age. My parents also listened to accordion music on TV on Sunday mornings.”

Playing different styles of folk and dance music, classical pieces, traditional jazz, and other styles influenced Mille’s current musical ideas — both as a soloist and in ensemble situations. Out of this blend, his own style of playing and technique gradually developed into something quite dynamic and expressive.

“All those musical experiences influenced the musician that I am today,” he says. “I was influenced by French chanson [a French art song of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance], pop, tango, Brazilian music, Ravel — and jazz, of course. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s something important to me: the place given to the melody, improvisation, and the importance of silence … of breathing and space.”

Born in the southeastern city of Grenoble, Mille studied at the National Region Conservatory and the Paris Musical School before settling in Paris in 1985. He began teaching at the C.I.M. (the Paris Jazz School), and in 1993 recorded his first solo album, Sur les Quais. Upon its release, he received the French International Jazz Trophy for a First Album and was named Year’s New Hope.

Usually with additional guitar, percussion, contrabass, and woodwind, he regularly performed at many festivals throughout France. He has also toured abroad, through South Africa, the Caribbean, Japan, Canada, Morocco, Hungary, China, and South America. In recent years, he’s composed and recorded soundtracks for French films, television programs, and theater productions as well.

The sounds and concepts on Mille’s recent work feature a variety of styles working throughout, which is quite impressive.

“Currently, we’re a trio without percussion,” he says of the group headed for Charleston. “It’s a nice combination.”

Such instrumentation barely resembles the bebop configurations most Americans are familiar with. But this French-based reinterpretation of several styles is mixed together at once.

“My approach to composition has changed over the years,” he says. “It’s my second job — a new passion — but it’s the same challenge. It’s new and at the same time, usual. My music comes from jazz musicians who play together with me.”

Mille makes his official U.S. debut at Spoleto this week, and he looks forward to the performance, which will feature his own compositions and a piece composed by late Argentinian bandoneón player Astor Piazzola.

Such worldy music is what the Wachovia Jazz Series is really all about. The flow of Mille’s music will certainly invite the jazz audience to get on board.