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Vasilis Saleas was born in the city of Mesolonghi [in the western region of Roumeli] in 1928. This was during the era of famous Greek folk clarinetists such as Kostas Giaouzo, Kostas Karayiannis, Yiannis Kyriakatis, Nikos Karakostas and other great folk artists. Vasili Saleas brought forth a different style of playing. He was also responsible for showing that the folk style of playing clarinet was not only an instrument that played folk music during village celebrations but an instrument which could be a part of any orchestra or ensemble or of any recording group. That was the legend of Vasili Saleas. Saleas was a name among music circles in Greece that touched everyone everywhere.
In America, where he lived, performed and recorded for a period of eight (8) years [mostly in New York City clubs in lower Eighth Avenue], he was visited by all the great soloists from various countries of the world [who they themselves were performing in and around New York City] and was deified by them. Not one, not any folk musician placed him second in importance. He overshadowed all musicians, they respected him, but also feared him. Saleas was also a proud person such as George Koros [the finest folk violinist of Greece] or Yiannis Vasilopoulos [one of the greatest Greek folk clarinetists] who would always play his best. That’s how Saleas was as a person and musician. When he wanted to, not any clarinetist could come close to his artistry. He was the best during his years in America and was highly praised by everyone.
In Athens, he performed with all the famous instrumentalists and vocalists in all the well-known "folk music clubs" [kentra] such as the "Zougla" [the Jungle], "Elliniko Glendi" [Greek Party], "Kavoura" [the Crab Club], "Itia" [the Willow Tree], and at "Souli" [name of a historic village in northern Greece] which was a famous Athenian club located in a cellar on Marni Street. It was here that all of Athens would come to hear Saleas perform.  In addition to his phenomenal dexterity and playing style on the clarinetist, he had an imposing personality. He was always well-dressed, a "merakli" [that is a person who wishes the best of everything] and always wore several gold rings. His one weakness was beautiful women. During his stay in America, he was showered with dollars by fellow Greeks. However, when he returned to Greece after spending eight years in America, he didn’t have a cent to his name. He spent all of his money on dancers and singers in his ensemble. As a musician, Saleas could be considered a little egotistic, but as a person he was an excellent person, kind hearted and compassionate, and very proud of and interested in his Gypsy heritage which he supported in every way he could. During the German occupation of Greece during World War II [1941-44], he was an important figure in the Greek resistance Movement. For this reason and for his stance against the military takeover of Greece [1967-1973], Saleas was well remembered for his words and deeds.
He has played on thousands of recordings with all the best Greek vocalists such as Yiota Lidia, Stelios Kazantzides, Polly Panou, Vangelis Perpiniades, Georgios Meintanas, Dimitris Zachos, Georgia Mittaki, Georgios Papasideris, Mitsos Aranakis, and countless others. Saleas also composed many of his own songs. Among these were «Μια Μελαχρινη» ("Mia melahrini") [A Dark-complexioned beauty], «Βαλε τα Μαυρα, Υιαννουλα Μου» ("Vale tα mavra, Yiannoula mou") [Dress in black, my Yiannoula], and others. Saleas came from a family of famous musicians. He had two brothers who also were famous clarinetists: Gerasimos Saleas and Nikos Saldas. Both brothers are (I believe) still playing. His nephew, Vasilaki Saldas, is among the finest folk clarinetists in Greece today.  Vasilis Saleas died of incurable cancer on the 18th of November, 1971. It was an extremely sad day throughout Greece. More than 10,000 people attended his funeral and hundreds of instrumentalists and vocalists escorted him from his home. It is sad to say that each successive mayor of Messolonghi [the city in which Saleas was born] did absolutely nothing in his honor. The least that could have been done was to honor him with a city street named Vasilis Saleas.
Taken from:
Σπυρος Φ. Δημητρακακης και Αγγελος Ι. Τσιοπελακης, << Το πορτρετο επμηνευτων και οργανοπαιχτων του δημοτικου μας τραγουδιου>>.
Αθηνα, 2004, Pp. 105-6
By: Sotirios (Sam) Chianis

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