Pianist Pablo Ziegler grew up with the tango music of his native Argentina, but the America jazz that seduced him as a teenager gave him the tools to take tango in a new direction.
Ziegler, who performs with his New York-based Pablo Ziegler Trio tonight at Baylor University’s Roxy Grove Hall, injected improvisation and jazz harmonies into the traditional rhythm and melodic lines of the dance-driven tango.
Tonight’s concert program encapsulates the birth of what became known as New Tango. Four selections come from famed tango composer Astor Piazzolla, in whose quintet Ziegler played from 1978 to 1988, with 10 of Ziegler’s own compositions spanning the 1980s to 2000s.
Ziegler, 68, discovered jazz as a 15-year-old attending Bueno Aires Music Conservatory, where he first encountered jazz through recordings of American musicians and fell in love with it. He became a professor of piano, but continued to play jazz.
In 1978, his jazz playing — and classical-jazz compositions — caught the attention of Piazzolla, who was experimenting with ways to breathe life into the Argentina dance music.
“I told him, ‘Astor, you have to know that I’m not a tango player.’ He said he was looking for someone who could help him improvise and recreate tango in a different way,” Ziegler said in a phone interview from New York.
Playing with him tonight are bandoneonist Hector Del Curto and guitarist Claudio Ragazzi, seasoned tango and jazz musicians.
Fusing tango and jazz created a new sound for fans of both traditions and Ziegler said listeners always provided the true test of his music. “The audience is the final judge,” he said. “This kind of music really works with the people. It’s not complicated.”