Invented in 1829, the accordion came to be embraced by people in North America early on….
Soon, up in the mountains and down in the bayous….
in big cities and in small towns….
in the country and in the deserts of the West, as well as deep into Mexico,
on the Great Lakes and the Great Plains…
in the northern states and Canadian provinces….
and through the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean….
the accordion thrived…
it entertained, delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….
Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion were French educated Creoles from the South, just a few years after the instrument was invented.
Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite “house concerts” and parties in Louisiana.
Young people were eager to make some noise with the accordion. Although it was expensive, it was new and it was radical. With its bellows providing the “lung power”, the accordion impressed women, who saw that they could participate and make music with this rather tiny, relatively light weight and very expressive instrument.
Because it was loud enough for sound to be carried above the “din”, the accordion was heard in music that emanated from front porches, weddings, social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..
The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. The piano keyboard was added as was the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords.
The accordion grew larger, but the changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to find it easier and faster to learn the instrument.
The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….
….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of immigrants
The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville
The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………
The Death of Amede Ardoin
In the transitional years from the Great Depression forward into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics wanted their children to play the songs of their homeland on the accordion, and the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church services. Because of this, the accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons.
The accordion, with Anita Carter, was used by Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.
The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….
Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, founding a new genre of music known as “Country & Western” music. His Western Swing Band was the first to wear the spangly “Nudie Suit” that came to be associated with Country music.
The piano accordion became synonymous with smoothness and proficiency. The big band scene had died off, but small combos in swanky clubs became a new kind of venue.
Around 1960, the bubble burst for the accordion in America and the instrument’s sales plummeted to a fraction of what they had been a decade before. Publishers of accordion music had failed to provide new music for young people to play on their accordions because they didn’t want to pay songwriters for current hit tunes to be reformatted for the piano accordion. In the 1950’s, they were part of the establishment that didn’t trust or support rock ‘n roll or any aesthetic associated with it. They preferred to push the same European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency, classical music was the promoted path. Because of this short sighted business model, during the fifteen years that the instrument was extraordinarily popular, the piano accordion became misidentified as being a European instrument.
In America in the 1960’s, ‘The Times They Were A-Changing’ and the immigrant’s children had grown up. Americana music was taking them in a different direction and young people needed to participate. The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South. The war in Viet Nam and the draft angered America and its students. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Much of the music of the 1960’s were songs about life and death issues that were impacting young people during that era. It had a message and an edge– the accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians who created it. In spite of the history of the accordion in North America, the establishment wanted to make sure that the accordion was not going to be a part of any undercurrent or rebellion, as it had been in Argentina. They deliberately chose not to cultivate, especially, outspoken African Americans as legitimate players of the piano accordion in current music, or women, who were routed into teaching the instrument. They stopped marketing and promoting the instrument to them, because, with white males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar in significant numbers. they were afraid that the future of the instrument could be left in the hands of African Americans and women.
Curiously, accordion players became afraid to sing with their instrument in that era, which they had freely done in the 1940’s. So, young people could not see how the piano accordion could be used to make their music, and found no one inspiring that could play or sing with it their way. There was nothing new coming out of the accordion community and no one to emulate. Young people saw the piano accordion as part of something that they loathed and their strong feelings were transferred to the instrument. So, instead of finding this very expressive instrument worthy, talented musicians simply went on their way and found other instruments with which to express their angst through their music.
The establishment chose to wait it out, banking on the return to sensibility when the war was over and rock music died out, and women, well, were just done trying to be men. In the rest of the world, the accordion didn’t receive this treatment and actually thrived alongside, both the electric and acoustic guitar. It’s not the fault of the guitar for existing that the accordion became almost extinct, but rather, fear and censorship.
When the well seems to run dry, go to the source–New Orleans.
New Orleans is not afraid of the music or the musicians that create it. That is why it is the epicenter for the development of major new genres of music.
Zydeco music emerged in the 1960’s from New Orleans where the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.
Without a doubt, The Beatles were the “eight hundred pound gorilla” in the room during the 1960’s.
2012 was the “Comeback Year” for the piano accordion.
The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.
Not the end…….
Bio courtesy of Rachelbellmusic.com Rachel Bell is an accordion player, tunesmith, and music teacher from the wilds of Pennsylvania. She is in demand throughout the United States and beyond for concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and workshops.
Over a decade of musical travel has landed her smack-dab in the middle of some of her most exciting projects ever. A vibrant and versatile collaboration with Karen Axelrod, exquisite violin and viola sounds from Eric Martin, a rich and energetic contra dance band called Seaglass, and a slew of French-focused music and dance adventures with Susan Kevra are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent addition has been a joyful musical partnership with Becky Tracy, and other combinations often round out the mix.
Rachel Bell grew up playing the piano and spent her college years studying music education and classical piano. As a college freshman, she surprised even herself when she picked up a piano accordion and “accidentally” fell in love with it. Rachel now enjoys a busy gig schedule playing concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and festivals.
Rachel’s bands include Alchemy, Peregrine Road, Old World Charm School, Seaglass, Eloise & Co. and a slew of other combinations. She plays tunes from France, New England, Scotland, Ireland, England, Quebec, and beyond, as well as songs, original compositions, and even crazy roots-rock arrangements. Recently, Rachel has been collaborating with Susan Kevra to compose new tune/choreography combinations to send out into the English country dance repertoire.
The past few years have been bursting with big changes, big travel, and exciting new musical collaborations. After six years as a public school music teacher, Rachel finally let go of that last shred of normalcy and launched into full-time freelance musicianhood. Her obsession with French music and dance led to three music-focused overseas trips, and her obsession with finding the perfect instrument led to the purchase of an incredible tone-chambered Beltuna that sounds exquisite. During June 2016, in the midst of playing piles of camps, gigs, and festivals, Rachel released her debut solo album, Tone Chamber. This recording highlights the versatility of the accordion and boasts and impressive cast of guest musicians.
Rachel’s playing is infused with a contagious enthusiasm for her instrument and a deep love for the musical traditions she carries. Her passion is to share with others the delight she finds when immersed in this music, ushering them into a place where their toes can’t help tapping and their ears are dunked in strawberry jam.
Whenever she’s not playing accordion or chasing after waterfalls, Rachel is busy instilling the joy of music in children of all ages. Through her Crab Apple Jam Music Studio, Rachel offers everything from mommy-n-me musical playgroups for toddlers to piano lessons to dulcimer clubs. Rachel’s upbeat, engaging teaching style is grounded in 9+ years of public school teaching experience and 2 years of Montessori School teaching experience. Every Crab Apple Jam Music Class is packed to the brim with hands-on, creative experiences that build musical skills as well as essential life skills. Children are captivated by the rich array of puppets, ribbons, songs, dances, dulcimers, boomwhackers, bells, drums, and more.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana In Houston, Texas, the weather is frequently hot and the tamales are even hotter. But, those who choose to live in such a climate don’t shrink from heat, they just find cool ways to compensate for it. One of the coolest bands to arise from steamy Houston is Buxton. Originating from LaPorte, Texas, the Americana band is comprised of Sergio Trevino on guitar and vocals, Jason Willis on guitar, mandolin and pedal steel, Chris Wise on bass, Justin Terrell on drums and the recent addition of Austin Sepulvado on guitar and piano accordion.
It’s the accordion that gives Buxton its distinctive Alt-Country/ Folk sound that draws the listener in. An accordion has a way of doing that, if one knows their way around the instrument. It’s evident that Austin Sepulvado adds the elements of sweetness and yearning that perfectly counters and complements the vocals of Sergio Trevino. The vocal talents of Trevino along with his wistful resemblance to an iconic era of Texas music, compelled the Houston Chronicle to award Trevino Best Male Vocalist and to award the band, Buxton, Best Folk/Americana band.
“Half A Native” is the latest offering for the band, Buxton, their first album since “Nothing Here Seems Strange“(2012). Previous works have been “Feathers 7” (2009), “A Family Light” (2008) and their first album, “Red Follows Red” (2005). “We take from a lot of different genres and present it in a way that I think is most honest for us”, Trevino says. “Half A Native is music for the search for home, the long journey to find somewhere, something or someone that makes everything fall into place.” After finding great success as a regional band, “Half A Native” was recorded in Los Angeles, a departure for Buxton, this time. It was both a business and creative decision to record the album on the West Coast and also to work with Producer Thom Monahan (Peter, Bjorn & John, Devndra Banhart and Vetiver).
As an Indie band, Buxton is seeking new musical directions, deliberately and subtly reinventing itself. “Half a Native” confirms that with each album, their true artistic identity is revealed more and more, making them one of the most interesting Americana bands to emerge in recent times.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana It’s not a stretch to call the Petrojvic Blasting Company an Americana band. While strong inflections rich in Eastern European folk tradition are identifiable, their music possesses a ‘here and now’ sensibility, drawn from genres rooted in North America. It is music that is original in style, and combines a consistent jazz groove with an infectious exuberance that propels it forward, like a funeral band blasting through the streets of New Orleans returning from ‘setting the body free’. The effect that The Blasting Company has on their audience is evident. With an electricity rarely felt, even in live performance, it is the very definition of ‘good time music’ and it is entertainment at its best.
Josh Kaufman, along with his brother, Justin, grew up in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area and as teenagers, regularly busked on the city’s street corners. It was through this process that their live performance edge was honed. In the classroom of the street corner, the multi-instrumentalists earned their passing or failing grades and could always count on making some money at the same time. It was there that they formed their first band, Albania Mania, and after relocating to East Los Angeles, founded the California Feetwarmers Jazz Band. Although now involved with many other successful projects, The Blasting Company persists as a live act performing in diverse settings such as open air farmers markets, art walks as well as gigs at night spots throughout Los Angeles.
Since arriving in Los Angeles only a few years ago, the brothers have continuously worked to establish a group of musicians with similar musical sensibilities. Usually, the Blasting Company consists of Josh on the accordion, two trumpets, a trombone, played by Justin, drums and sousaphone. A kind of “super-drum” is played by Corey Beers, percussionist for the Blasting Company, to which he added pieces. In addition to the drum, it consists of a rope, a cowbell and a washboard giving their music a dramatic dimension.
The Petrojvic Blasting Company participated in a collaboration between the Library Foundation of Los Angles, the Los Angeles Public Library and University of Southern California Professor Josh Kun, called Songs in the Key of L. A. The intention of the ambitious effort was to repurpose sheet music pieces from the 1840’s through the 1950’s stored in the Library’s archives, known as the Southern California Sheet Music Collection. The goal of the project was not only to preserve the collection, but to bring it back to life and create “a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music and visual art.” Along with other artists, The Petrojvic Blasting Company was invited to pick some sheet music, study it, and then interpret it in any style of their choosing. The finished products are available for free download from the website of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Josh, his brother Justin and The Blasting Company, composed the entire score and performed all of the music for Cartoon Network’s Over The Garden Wall. It is an American animated television miniseries created by Patrick McHale for the Cartoon Network that features two brothers who travel through a strange forest in order to find their way home. The show is based on McHale’s animated short film, Tome of the Unknown, which was produced as part of Cartoon Network Studios’ shorts development program. The miniseries, Over the Garden Wall was awarded an Emmy in 2015 for Outstanding Animated Program.
The Petrojvic Blasting Company also participated, along with its mastermind, Accordionist Jason Webley, in the Monsters of the Accordion Tour, a West Coast event.
Whatever musical direction the Petrojvic Blasting Company has taken since Josh and Justin busked on the streets of Nashville, the accordion has been present and central to their performance. Talented and savvy, they will, without a doubt, continue to create and find success in the strange land of music and film. But, these wandering brothers, like those in Over the Garden Wall, are forever seeking, trying to find their way home.