Franck Amsallem was born in 1961 in Oran (Algeria), and then grew up in Nice, France. His parents, having repatriated the family piano, started him on classical piano at seven, which he gave up a few years later. The large family, the cramped apartment weren’t at all propitious surroundings for the old teacher’s stale lessons. Still, however, the family owned a large collection of 45 RPM records where Ray Charles mixed with Glenn Miller and the Four Tops. In all logic then, he was seduced in adolescence, by the sound of the blues and swing and started taking music lessons at the Nice Conservatory where, considered too old for the piano (!), he signed up for classical saxophone and soon earned a first prize.
But the piano remained his first love. Soon the news spread on the Cote d’Azur, and he worked in Monte Carlo, learning hundreds or maybe thousands of jazz standards, I have always, above all, loved all American music, and in 1979, at 17 years of age, John Lewis chose him to be his student for a French documentary La leçon de musique. Having jammed offstage at the Nice jazz festival with Jerry Bergonzi, Mike Brecker, Arnie Lawrence and Richie Cole, he was then encouraged to move to the USA to hone his skills and learn. He made the move without a blink and entered Berklee College in 1981. At 19, I did not see myself backing up pop singers in Paris and playing jazz on the side, which was what everyone was doing then. Like the song says, it was All or Nothing at All.