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The fabulous career of a Greek musical original: George Cardamis (1919-2014)

By on April 16, 2014


A pioneer of jazz in Greece (and often called the “Benny Goodman of Greece,”) George Cardamis became famous in the late ‘40s and throughout the ‘50s as a clarinet and sax alto soloist. Born in Corfu-the island of musicians-he was involved with music from a very early age, with violin being his first instrument.


He arrived in Athens in his 20s and soon after the war he formed his own band and worked at the best nightclubs of Athens–attracting the Athenian elite who would go to the clubs “to listen to Cardamis,” the same way nowadays they go to clubs to listen to famous singers.

Indeed, it seems incredible that a musician who never travelled abroad developed such a refined sound just from the sounds of the vinyl he was exposed to!


Besides his fame as a superb exponent of jazz clarinet and sax, he also composed several pop hits of the era in swing, bolero, rumba, mambo, tango. Among his hits are the swing songs “S’EHASA MA EGO THEN SE KSEHASA (1948),” “IRTHES” “POS THELO NA SE KANO DIKI MOU (1951),” “OLI MAS ZILEVOUNE (1945),” as well as his great bolero hit ” GIATI NA SE LATREYW TOSO (1950).” Also his song “POS NA GYRISO MES THN PLANEFTRA KERKYRA MOY” became historic and was sung by most Corfuans in memory of the bombardment of Corfu in September, 1943. Later on, in the ‘80s, George Cardamis himself arranged it as a symphonic piece and it was premiered in Corfu with a symphonic orchestra under the title “NOSTALGIA.”

He continued performing with his own band till the late ‘60s, a period when bouzouki music started dominating the attention of middle and high society in Greece and becoming the “in-thing.” The result was that musicians who played horns and clarinet gradually found themselves without jobs for lack of demand. Most of them had to give up their main instrument and replace it with guitar or bass guitar or piano or keyboard.


George followed the same trend and in the ‘70s made the transition from a bandleader and player of clarinet and sax to playing solo piano at well-known hotels (Hilton, Mon Parnes, Divani, among others).

After the transition, he did not seek publicity but, most importantly, he did not adopt the new style of music that was spreading–simply put it was too PLAIN for him. As he used to say, “They are taking us back to cantathes (cantabile songs popular before the war).”

His love for music (with first and foremost jazz) was immense: a born musician who remained faithful to the music he loved and of which he was a great exponent. It is, though, because of his not seeking publicity and not blending with the new trends in music that George Cardamis has not YET been recognized in Greece for who he was and what he offered (in my eyes, the greatest pioneer of the jazz of the Swing Era in Greece).


That is why I am thrilled to be given the opportunity through YouTube to rectify that and do justice to George Cardamis’ invaluable offerings. The two swing big-band pieces you will hear on YouTube are for the time being the only samples I have of George’s playing. They are from his weekly radio program in the early ‘50s, THE GEORGE CARDAMIS SEXTETTE, which presented top-notch modern voices of that era such as Nana Mouskouri,Yiannis Voyatzis (who started his career with George’s band at the famous jazz club Green Park), Rena Vlahopoulou, Sotos Panagopoulos, Jimmy Makoulis, Zoitsa Kouroukli and many more.
Later on, after listening to the great American clarinetist Tony Scott, George improved his sound even more by adding that irreplaceable breathy sound to a sound that was already gorgeous.


Oh, by the way, George Cardamis is my father. And by the way I’m finishing a tribute CD with the title “George Cardamis’ Hits Revisited” to be released the winter of 2014 with top-notch vocalists Yiannis Papastefanou, Roula Vassos and Olympia Milonas (my daughter) taking part. Also, Melissa “MJ” Jimenez, singing sensation of this year’s American show “The Voice” is singing along with her father–the excellent musician and vocalist Horacio Jimenez–some of the songs in both Spanish and English.


Spiro Cardamis

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