Michael Zisman

Michael Zisman
Birth name
Michael Zisman
Berne, Switzerland
Jazz, Tango, Latin
Main Instrument
Years active

Michael Zisman Biography


I grew up in a musicians family and soon chose that path to be my own as well. My dad’s tango band inspired me to pick the Bandoneon as my instrument and I love it like a part of my own body to the current day. I played mainly Argentinian tango until I started incorporating jazz, my other great musical love into my playing.

After studies in Argentina with Nestor Marconi I studied at the Swiss jazz school with great teachers such as Bert Joris, Andy Scherrer, William Evans, George Robert, Frank Sikora, Billy Brooks and many more.

Highlights of my career up to now would be collaborations with greats like Paquito D’Rivera, Al Di Meola, Billy Cobham, Leopoldo Federico, Bert Joris, Israel Philharmonic, Odense Symphony, Brussels Jazz Orchestra and Swiss Jazz Orchestra. What I love most, is playing in my various duos. Amongst them the ones with my dad, Daniel Zisman (vl), with my long time friend and colleague Sebastien Fulgido (g), with the great Matthieu Michel (flg) and with my lovely wife Annapaola (vlc).


The Best of Michael Zisman

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“Michael is the future of tango, royal heir to our music.”
– Leopoldo Federico

“Michael Zisman is the one jazz bandoneon player.”
– Paquito D’Rivera

“Dear Michael:
Your music is tasteful, creative and sensitive; it is smart and catching.”
– Franco Ambrosetti

“This kid is Piazzolla, he’s Mozart…!”
– Roberto Goyeneche about Michael Zisman, 1993

“Michael Zisman is already a veteran performer, playing tango and jazz
just as his hero astor piazzolla did in his tender youth…”
– The Boston Globe, 1999

Interview with Michael Zisman

Earlier this week, Festival Archive was able to touch base with one of our all-time favourite Bandoneon players, Michael Zisman. Here’s what he had to say…

If somebody has never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them in one sentence?

A personal blend of Argentinian Tango and Jazz with focus on strong emotional expressivity.

Who were your main musical inspirations growing up?

Astor Piazzolla, Anibal Troilo, Carlos Gardel, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Sherman Brothers, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Alan Sylvestri, Traz Damji, Michael Jackson, George Duke and many more.

What made you decide to become a Bandoneon player and are any of your close family musically talented?

My dad is a professional violinist and his work with his tango band in the late eighties and early nineties inspired me to pick up the Bandoneon and tango music at the relatively early age of 9.

On a weekly basis, about how much time do you spend practising?

The answer to this one is not pretty. Summing it up: not nearly as much as I would want to. Unfortunately, there’s just so much else to do in the every day life of an independent musician.

Do you attend sessions, if so, what do you think makes a good session?

Again I don’t nearly attend as many sessions as I’d like, for lack of time which is a real shame. Sessions are a great way to learn while having fun. In my humble opinion a good session is one where people are open to carefully listen to one another and interact accordingly.

Do you have a fixed preparation regime before going out on stage? How do you cope with nerves?

I don’t. I just go out there and give my best. I try to feel the mood of the audience, tune in to it and give them all I got, trying to make them have a good time.

I never really struggled with my nerves until just the last one or two years or so. I am learning to cope with it, mainly by trying to improve my breathing on and off stage.

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

Pretty well, I guess. I’m used to making tons of them each time I play and over the years I learned to just not hold on to them too much with my mind, or else it may block me for the rest of my performance, so basically I try to move on immediately after making a mistake and focus on the next phrase.

What has been your most memorable gig?

Impossible to say. To me every gig is unique and memorable in its own way. I try to play every one of them, as if it were my first and I seek to reinvent myself each time. Of course I don’t always succeed at that.

Which is the one place where you’ve always wanted to perform?

Many of them e.g. either one of the great jazz clubs of New York, a Hollywood movie, Vegas…

If we were to walk into your studio, what equipment are we likely to find?

Vintage microphones and pre-amps. Unfortunately I don’t own any, but I like to use them for their warm sound qualities.

Which famous present day musicians do you admire the most and why?

I would have to say Herbie Hancock. For his stylistic diversity and his overall awesomeness.

What’s it like being a professional musician, playing gigs, releasing CDs, etc.? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?

Being able to do what you love for your profession is a rare gift even though the lack of financial stability that often goes with it can be draining. Traveling and being away from your loved ones is the hardest part. I have been extremely lucky in my career so far, I have already accomplished far more than I would have ever dreamed of and I am infinitely thankful for that.

How do you balance your music with other obligations? – Besides music, what else are you into?

Balancing music with other obligations is a thing of impossibility. One of them falls short, always. Besides music my main interests lay of course in my family and friends and then in physical excersise which is the single most important thing to cope with the strains of life on the road.

What are you goals and aspirations for the future?

I’d like to record a solo album next and then in the words of the zen master: “we’ll see.”

What advise would you give any aspiring musicians wanting to make a name for themselves?

To the ones planning to study music, I would probably advice them against it and encourage them to find a job that gives them some sort of financial safety and leaves them some time to play music on the side. To the ones already starting out in the business I would say: stay true to yourself, stick to your own thing without worrying too much what everybody else is doing.

Who are your top all time favourite jazz musicians?

Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Matthieu Michel and many more.

Please tell us a little more about any singles or albums you are currently working on…

I am currently promoting my new albums: Zisman/Fulgido’s “Soul Tango Invasion” feat. Billy Cobham and a live album with the Swiss Jazz Orchestra feat. Paquito D’Rivera, Claudio Roditi and me. Plus, my next duo album is under way. Also, I am currently preparing for a mini tour of combined solo concerts with chick corea in May which I’m really excited for.

We would like to thank Michael for taking the time to talk with us, we hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about this talented musician. Remember to check out Michael’s website for further details on upcoming gigs, album releases etc.

Thank you Michael and best of luck with your future endeavors.

The Festival Archive team
– Comprehensive Jazz Festival Information Worldwide

Author: Paul Thomson