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A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana 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…

northern states and Canadian provinces….

the accordion thrived, 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.

Early Accordionist

This photograph, taken about 1850, just 21 years after the invention of the accordion, indicates that the instrument was already being mastered by African American musicians in Louisiana.

Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite house concerts and elegant parties in Louisiana.

historical African American Accordionist

This musician, probably Creole from Louisiana is unknown to us, but from his fine clothing, he may have been well known in 1870

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.

Young woman with her accordion c. 1870

As this “steampunk” teen age girl looks directly into the camera, she proudly and defiantly displays her accordion c. 1870

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 or “button box”, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. It grew larger when the piano keyboard was added along with the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords. These changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to more easily adapt to the instrument.

Historical accordion boys

Brothers NYC c. 1900

The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….

Guido Diero 1910

Guido Diero studied the accordion in Italy,  immigrated to America and worked in a mine in Oregon.  Photo c.1910

PietroDeiro1920

Guido’s younger brother, Pietro, also studied the accordion. Both were very influential for the spread in popularity of the piano accordion in America, as performers and as music publishers. Photo c. 1920

….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of  immigrants

Violaturpeinen

Viola Turpeinen was probably the first woman accordionist to record, and certainly the first female accordion star in America. A second-generation Finnish-American, starting in the 1920’s she played the Finnish dance circuit in the upper mid-west region of Michigan / Wisconsin / Minnesota. Eventually based out of New York, she toured widely and it became a tradition for dancers to see her headlining travelling shows every summer. (Accordion Noir) c. 1920

The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

A father and daughters act c.1920’s

The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………

 

Lead Belly c. 1930

Huddie Ledbetter , known as  Lead Belly,  with his diatonic “Windjammer” c.1930

The Death of Amede Ardoin

amede-ardoin-1075

Amede Ardoin, a diatonic accordionist beloved in  Louisiana, was highly influential in Cajun music. Ardoin died from being horrifically beaten after performing at a white dance in Eunice, LA. This heart breaking event haunted African American musicians who, from that point on, began to shy away from the accordion. Photo c. 1930’s.

 

Through the Great Depression 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 and returning soldiers wanted their children to play the songs of their ancestral homelands on the accordion, that the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church.  Because of this, the piano accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and, like never before, “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons. After World War II, Americans were all working, had more discretionary income and were more likely to be living in cities, towns and suburbs than in the past. To be able to afford musical instruments and lessons became very important to parents as evidence of status, as well as to help their children to become  better students and well rounded individuals.

gang of accordion players

Retro accordion poster II

Some of the roots musicians had, early on, incorporated the accordion into their music. They chose the piano accordion over the diatonic because they wanted to be seen as more “mainstream”.  Anita Carter was the accordion player for Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, along with Chet Atkins. Photo c. 1945

The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

The first woman to be hired as a professional Bluegrass musician was Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester who performed with and was a member of Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys. Photo c. 1947

Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, and founded 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.

Pee Wee King V

Probably the most influential musician in Americana music, Pee Wee King helped to create a new genre of music, Country & Western music, combining the two under “one roof”, in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. He even co-wrote the state song! C & W music was among the first genres that was not inspired by the music of Europe. c. 1948

The piano accordion continued to evolve and became synonymous with “class”. The big band dance scene died after World War II, but small combos in swanky clubs became popular.

Art_VanDamme3

Art Van Damme brought the accordion into the world of Jazz. He toured internationally for forty years, performed brilliantly with the instrument and elevated it to an unprecedented level of sophistication. Photo c. 1950

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week billed as the “World’s Greatest Accordionist”. He was an enormously popular star who even had a brief film career until he found himself in the middle of a military draft scandal, disappearing for a week when required to report. Although he did serve honorably in the military, in the press, he was tried and convicted as a “draft dodger” for decades, even though he was not. He performed for fifty years and was the most frequently seen guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. c. 1950

The accordion establishment, those that made the marketing and business decisions for the piano accordion, were a highly conservative group.  They set out to sanitize “their” instrument, to prevent it from being rocked by another scandal. They also determined that it should never be associated with social unrest, as the bandoneon later came to be in Argentina (Astor Piazzolla). Through their own fear,  they effectively began to “starve” their own market.

Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla

Through the 1950’s in “Cold War” America, the accordion establishment did not trust, approve of or support the current music of the day or anyone associated with it. They believed that Rock ‘n Roll was contrary to conservative American values.  As a lot of people during the McCarthy era felt, they feared that “Commies” lurked around every corner and suspected that Folk music was a breeding ground for Communism.

With those excuses, publishers felt justified not to use and pay for current hit songs to be reformatted for the piano accordion. It was cheaper to push the “same-old, same-old” European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency with the piano accordion, classical music was promoted because it was the path of least resistance and was already in the public domain.

In the 1950’s, the piano accordion was a white man’s instrument, but males were also leaving the accordion in favor of other instruments. In response to this, women sought recognition and status among performers but were not even spoken of as legitimate musicians and drifted, instead, into teaching the instrument.

 

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

Jo Ann Castle is significant for what she didn’t do, as much as for what she did. A gifted and rare female musician, she performed in Las Vegas clubs as an underage teen, had a best selling instrumental album in 1957 that scored #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pretty 18 year old created a lot of excitement and had real star potential. Castle was promptly hired by a well known variety show as an accordionist. After a short time,  as a condition of her employment, it was required that she change her instrument to honky-tonk piano, which at the time, was not her specialty (her repertoire consisted of three songs).This was done to make way for a male accordionist of average proficiency to displace her.

From that point the deflating “bubble” was finally crushed flat as demand for the piano accordion plummeted to a fraction of what had been seen a decade before.

 In the years of post war popularity, the accordion establishment managed to shift the identity of the piano accordion from one of American “grass roots”  to one perceived as  “off shore”. Jazz accordionists found that they had to leave America and travel to Europe to find an audience. Curiously, accordion players stopped singing with their instrument in the 1950’a and 1960’s, which they had freely done in the 1940’s.

In America in the 1960’s, the immigrant’s children had moved on and were protesting and urging “Make Love, Not War”.  The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South.  The Viet Nam War and the draft angered America, especially young people. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Music galvanized American youth because they knew that they had a lot to gain or lose. It became their weapon of choice with which to fight back and they were determined that their message, suggestive lyric and angry protest be heard.

The accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians and songwriters who created it.

As their market crashed around them and with draft able males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar and other instruments, the accordion establishment did little to explore new markets for the instrument.  The accordion community had insulated itself so well from the times that there was nothing new allowed in, nor out.

What occurred for the piano accordion was a “brain drain” as creative energy was sucked away from the stylistic evolution of the instrument and refocused on other instruments. Young people could not imagine how the piano accordion could fit into their music because there existed no young innovative players for them to emulate that could have developed the chops to play it.  Young people were not mildly disinterested in the instrument–they loathed and scorned it as it was played in the 1960’s! Their attitude  stuck to the instrument, and is the reason for the “hairy eyeball”  and stupid accordion jokes that so many accordion players are subjected to, today.  Instead of the piano accordion being an option, talented musicians found other instruments with which to express their musical vision. The Hammond B3,  Hohner harmonica, saxophone,acoustic and electronic piano and both electric and acoustic guitar defined the music of the 1960’s,70’s, 80’s, and still do.

In retrospect, the accordion establishment places blame on the conservatism of music teachers or that the piano accordion “fell out of fashion”.  They also blame the invention of the electric guitar for the decline in the accordion market.  They imply that both can’t coexist together, while in the rest of the world, the accordion actually thrived alongside both the electric and acoustic guitars.

New Orleans is not afraid of music or the musicians who create it.  That is why New Orleans is the epicenter for the emergence of major new genres of music.

Zydeco music came out of New Orleans in the 1960’s and it was there that the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Clifton Chenier

“Zydeco” music gained popularity in the early 1960’s with Clifton Chenier, considered by many to be the Father of Zydeco, in his landmark 1965 song “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” The word “zydeco” is popularly associated with the French phrase “les haricots sont pas sales,” or “the snap beans are not salty.”

Without a doubt, The Beatles were the gigantic “elephant in the room” during the 1960’s.

Paul McCartney with Accordion

Paul McCartney’s first instrument was the accordion. He frequently used it as he wrote songs for the Beatles. c 1965

Titano Tiger

The Titano Tiger

Ernest and Faithe Deffner, owners of their newly acquired Titano Accordion Company decided it was time to design a more radical accordion to appeal to the youth of America. The Deffners saw the void in the market in the mid-1960’s and looked at it as their great opportunity. They were bold and right to embark on their idea. The Tiger Combo’Cordion was a compact, colorful instrument featuring a ‘quint’ treble tuning for “piercing lead or swinging chords…to flip the crowd”(Hullabaloo Magazine). The main feature of the instrument was the resurrected slanted keyboard which was ergonomic for the position of the human hand, thereby allowing faster finger work.

Faith and Ernest Deffner

Ernest and Faith Deffner

After substantial research and development, the Titano Tiger was rolled out, but, sadly, the Deffners chose a spokesman to endorse their product who was a prominent member of the very “same-old, same-old” accordion establishment from whom young people so desperately wanted to escape. After all their fierce determination,  the Deffners didn’t recognize that by choosing someone not relateable, it was to be their critical error and a “big wet blanket” on their efforts to sell the Tiger to their target market–America’s youth! The futuristic vision of Ernest and Faithe Deffner was derailed because they were afraid of youth culture and its music.  As a result, young musicians didn’t buy the Titano Tiger, which sits today in collections of rare instruments and in museums gathering dust.

The “Blue Accordion” is a Tiger, recently acquired by accordionist Mark Yacavone.

 

But, there were accordionists who thrived outside of the establishment.

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Garth Hudson was a proficient accordionist long before he was hired by Bob Dylan, as a member of The Hawks, renamed The Band. (Photo by Barry Wenzel c. 1968)

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

Americana band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a huge accordion-based hit song in 1972, the now classic “Mr. Bojangles”.

Danny with accordion III

As a child prodigy on the accordion, Danny Federici won Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour in the 1950’s. He graduated from high school,  co-founded a band which became The E Street Band and enlisted a young Bruce Springsteen as his lead singer. Danny performed for nearly 40 years with  The E Street Band until his death in 2008. Photo c. 1973

Jon Hammond

Musician Jon Hammond deliberately pushed the envelope for the accordion in the 1970s. Photo c. 1974

billy-joel-philadelphia-1978

Singer/ Songwriter Billy Joel frequently incorporates the accordion in his music to this day. photo c. 1978

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, in their live performance of “Tusk”, used the accordion to replace the entire USC marching band! c. 1982

Tom Waits II

Singer/Songwriter Tom Waits is a prominent advocate of the accordion in his performances and recordings since the early 1970’s. Photo c. 1990

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Phoebe Legere used the accordion when she opened for David Bowie in 1990, and still uses it as an underground artist in New York. Photo c. 1990’s

220px-CharlieGillingham

Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows c. 1990’s

Buckwheat zydeco III

Stanley Dural was a break through artist for the piano accordion and was well known in Louisiana as a blues organist even before associating himself with the piano accordion or with Zydeco music. Stanley Dural continued the blues tradition as Buckwheat Zydeco and was the most successful Americana accordionist until his death in 2016. Photo c. 2000

Sheryl Crowe

Sheryl Crowe, prodoucer, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and top recording artist caused quite a stir using the accordion on tour and in her recordings. In doing so, she made a tremendous contribution to the presence of the accordion in Americana music. Photo c. 1998

C.J._Chenier

C.J. Chenier took up where his father, Clifton, left off and performs as a blues and zydeco musician throughout the world. c. 2005

Regine

Regine Chassange shreds on the accordion as a member of Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Photo c. 2000’s

corey-pesaturo-iii

In the 21st Century, Cory Pesaturo became recognized as the most internationally awarded American accordionist of all time. Photo c. 2010.

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

2012 Grammy Award for Best Americana album, “Babel”, featuring the piano accordion, made Mumford and Sons a household name in North America

Johnny Kongos

In 2012, out of the Phoenix Valley arose Arizona’s own homegrown band, KONGOS, who composed and recorded the most successful, piano accordion-based hit song, “Come With Me Now”.  It shattered all records, blew the roof off of perceptions about the instrument, and earned Johnny Kongos and his brothers plenty of contracts and a world wide following.

Bill Haley and the Comets

Also, 2012 was the year that Bill Haley’s group,  the Comets, along with Johnny Grande, were recognized by their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Danny and Bruce

Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-founded by the late Danny Federici in New Jersey in 1969, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014.

The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.

Buxton

Buxton (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff of Mother Jones, Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016)

The+Band+Perry

The Band Perry

 

Not the end…….

 

 

 

 

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New England’s Jeremiah McLane: Simply “The Best!”

Jeremiah McLane

Jeremiah McLane

Bio courtesy of jeremiahmclane.com  Jeremiah was raised in a family with deep ties to both its Scottish heritage and its New Hampshire roots. Traditional New England music and dance were a part of his parents and grandparents generations. After an early formation in classical piano, Jeremiah spent his teenage years playing blues and jazz. Following undergraduate studies with jazz legend Gary Peacock, he studied Indonesian Gamelan, West African drumming, and the music of minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. It wasn’t until his mid twenties that Jeremiah began to immerse himself in the world of traditional Celtic and French music, studying accordion with Jimmy Keene and Frederic Paris. He then spent several decades traveling in Europe, doing field research that laid the groundwork for a Master’s degree he received many years later from the New England Conservatory.

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

In the early 1990s Jeremiah formed two bands: The Clayfoot Strutters and Nightingale. Both bands had strong traditional New England roots and had a deep and lasting impact on the traditional dance scene in New England. In 2003 he formed Le Bon Vent, a sextet specializing in Breton and French music, and as an outgrowth of this ensemble, has formed several duos with individual members including James Falzone, Ruthie Dornfeld and Cristi Catt. Since the early 1990s, Jeremiah has recorded over a dozen CDs with Nightingale, the Clayfoot Strutters, Bob & the Trubadors, Le Bon Vent, with Ruthie Dornfeld. His second solo recording, Smile When You’re Ready, was nominated by National Public Radio in their “favorite picks”, and his fifth release, Hummingbird, with Ruthie Dornfeld, received the French music magazine “Trad Mag” Bravo award, as did his CD Goodnight Marc Chagall with Le Bon Vent. He has composed music for theater and film, including Sam Shepard’s “A Lie Of The Mind”, and been awarded the Ontario Center For The Performing Arts “Meet The Composer” Award, and the Vermont Council On The Arts “Creation Of New Work” grant.

In 2005 Jeremiah started the Floating Bridge Music School, which is devoted to teaching traditional music from the British Isles, Northern Europe, and North America. An adjunct instructor at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, NY, he also teaches at the Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier, VT, at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon NH, and at many summer music camps including Ashokan Fiddle & Dance, Augusta Heritage Arts Center, American Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and the Maine Fiddle Camp.

 

Jeremiah and Ruthie

Jeremiah McLane and Ruthie Dornfeld

Interview with Jeremiah McLane onWCAX Tv:

http://www.wcax.com/story/24087130/vermont-composter-and-teacher-jeremiah-mclane-talks-accordion

Jeremiah McLane II

Jeremiah McLane

http://www.jeremiahmclane.com/bands/

 


The Music of Rachel Bell: Traditional and Treasured

Rachel Bell

Rachel Bell

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.

Rachel Bell

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.

Contact: CrabAppleJamMusic@gmail.com

 


The Revolutionary Cory Pesaturo

 

corey-pesaturo-iii

The brilliant Corey Pesaturo

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana If Cory Pesaturo has a “mission statement”, it likely states that this American jazz performer intends to take on the world using, as his arsenal, the piano accordion.  With his “mad scientist as musician” persona along with his startling talent, Cory Pesaturo is one of the most amazing piano accordionists in the world, and has earned the credentials to prove it. In fact, Cory Pesaturo is probably, to date, the most brilliant accordionist that America has ever produced.

Born in Rhode Island, Cory Pesaturo was a prodigy who began studying the instrument at the age of 9, and promptly was performing as a professional by the age of eleven.  At the New England Conservatory of Music, Cory was accepted as a candidate to major in, and then graduate with a degree in accordion, the first to be awarded at the prestigious conservatory in Boston. He didn’t waste any time after graduation, and competed in successive accordion competitions around the world. It is unusual for an American accordionist to win a European championship, but to do so with material that is totally improvisational is unheard of, at that level. Also astounding is the fact that Cory Pesaturo is the only accordionist in the world to win all three top World Championships for acoustic accordion, digital accordion, and jazz Accordion. Since then, he has recorded, performed and toured with renowned jazz musicians such as Wynton Marsallis, George Garzone and Mike Renzi among many others.

One of the ways that Cory Pesaturo sets himself apart from other accordionists is his “visionary thinking of how the accordion should be used, played, and presented in the modern music world.” Cory created the first vinyl skinned Accordion with a connected lighting system, and the one which airport security would not allow on the plane he boarded to compete in the Digital World Championship in Finland. He managed to find a loaner, and win the competition. He is known in the accordion world as an outspoken rebel and tries to present a somewhat counterculture image for players of the instrument, by inventing the stage name “CPez” and an image more related to those in his own generation. Cory Pesaturo understands, challenges and successfully defies conventional notions about the piano accordion in America. These notions, more than fifty years out of date, are constantly reinforced and have been proven counterproductive for the popularity of, and respect for the instrument. He is determined to reinvent everything about the piano accordion, including the instrument, itself.

Cory Pesaturo has performed for President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House on 4 different occasions. The first time at the age of twelve, he was the youngest person ever to perform at a White House State Dinner. He has had such a close, working relationship with the Clintons that he was featured in Mrs. Clinton’s book, “An Invitation to the White House”. Cory has since performed at seven other events for Bill and Hillary Clinton and continues to keep in touch with the couple, as shown by fourteen letters he has received from them. It’s evident that they have been “impressed and inspired by his talent” since he was twelve years old, as is stated in one of their letters.

With a highly competitive,”Type A” personality, Cory is intensely interested in competition sports and, in particular, auto racing. Because his interest is so well known in the auto racing world,  Cory was asked to perform at both the Italian Grand Prix as well as the German Grand Prix. His music is regularly featured on Formula One broadcasts on the SPEED and FOX channels and Cory also has an ongoing musical relationship with the radio station, 98.5, The Sports Hub in Boston. Cory Pesaturo has composed the music for “The Flying Lap” for his friend, auto racing legend Peter Windsor, and is currently working on a book about Formula One auto racing that he hopes will change the way people look upon the history of the sport and its champions.

Because artists and musicians are curious and inventive, some have abilities on many levels and may dabble in other areas and go on to develop other expertise. Cory is just such an individual and is very interested in statistics and meteorology. In addition to being a wonk about sports statistics, he is also an “armchair” weatherman. So serious about his hobby is he, that jazz columnist James Worsley noted, “Cory…has taught himself to forecast weather….he keeps records of weather events that weathermen rely on…..”. It’s clear that he looks to the weather for inspiration for his music, with albums entitled, “Crosswinds”, and “Change in the Weather”. With the revolutionary Cory Pesaturo in our midst , we will certainly experience a welcome change of climate for the piano accordion in America.

cory-pesaturo-i

“C Pez”, Cory Pesaturo

corypesaturo.com/


Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

Ami Saraiya II

Ami Saraiya

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana It has long been a challenge to bring the piano accordion to a new generation of Americans. But, by using the instrument more and more, Alternative musicians, or artists who write and perform outside of the present musical mainstream, are giving the accordion  a lot of exposure.  Artists such as Ami Saraiya and her band, The Outcome, are examples of this growing trend of young musicians who seek different ways to express their own unique style in a new age.

The piano accordion is” like having a symphony in your hands” Ami Saraiya says. “I picked it up and I was in love. It’s very rhythmic, and since I grew up playing piano, it came very easy.”  Trained as a classical pianist, Ami was a former music major at Indiana University. “I started playing piano when I was 5, and when I was growing up I was always singing and in choir….but the classical world was not for me. I joined a band when I was 19 and found my niche.”” Ami was the lead vocalist of pop collective Radiant Darling and R&B band Pelvic Delta, and has toured locally and regionally throughout the U.S.

Ami Saraiya

Ami Saraiya

Coming out of the Chicago music scene, the songs of Ami Saraiya reveal a distinct part of that American urban aesthetic, and reveal to us how she experiences her world. With original songwriting and instrumentation, Ami interprets it through a wide range of instruments.  Along with her voice, she performs with  the accordion, guitar, violin,  and xylophone and other instruments, as well. Whether with the roar of any Pop icon or the soft and sultry style of a chanteuse, her live performance is captivating. Amy Saraiya always sings and writes with  deep conviction, while she totally “shreds” on the accordion.

As a songwriter, “I create what I feel. I start with an idea and do lots of work out from there, but it’s just raw perspective — I’m not trying to create something in particular. What I do comes from the heart, and the hard work comes in finishing what you started. Ideas come and they aren’t always understandable, but I manage to find some transcendence.”

 Ami Saraiya and The Outcome received excellent reviews with Saraiya’s first album under her own name entitled, “Archeologist” in 2009. She followed up with an EP entitled “Purging” which critics thought dark, “surrealistic” and “the best tracks she’s ever produced”(Joseph Montes, Loud Loup Press). With her second album, released in 2012, “Soundproof Box,” the singer/songwriter/bandleader “showcases the performer’s creative energy and intensity….vintage cabaret sound is drama in bold relief, swinging from playful to maudlin in a single measure.” (Jessica Hopper, The Chicago Tribune).

 

The Outcome, including Marc Piane (upright bass), Ronnie Kuller (violin), Gary Kalar, (electric guitar), Shirley Caen Rogiers (vocals), and Courtney Glascoe (vocals).

Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

http://www.amisaraiya.com


Boogie Woogie and Blues Master, Christian Dozzler

Christian Dozzler

Christian Dozzler

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Those folks who know Texas and know the Blues probably know that Christian Dozzler plays a sultry Blues piano and organ and a mean harp. What they may not know is that Dozzler, also known as “Vienna Slim”, is a master of the Boogie Woogie and Blues and also an enormously talented accordionist.

Standing 6 feet 7 inches, Dozzler is a shy man. When he was just 13 years old, he was captivated by the Boogie Woogie from the first time he heard it on the radio. He immediately quit his classical piano lessons and from then on, made it his business to master the Blues and the Boogie Woogie, and to make it his life’s work.

In his first band, Christian played guitar and harmonica as well as the piano and also sang. In a few years, he added the piano accordion.”The accordion is often misunderstood by people, because it appears in almost every folk music in the world. My influence, of course, is the Zydeco music. But I think it is a great instrument to solo on, I often use saxophone or organ phrases in my accordion solos, I think. I come from a rather puristic blues attitude, but my taste has opened up to a much wider spectrum over the years. While many blues musicians of my generation, especially here in the US, have started with rock music and then went back to the roots, I actually started with 1930s piano blues and boogie woogie and then chronologically went up in the blues history with the styles I listened to and tried to play…..But I myself try to play a wide variety of different styles within the blues framework, write much of my own material and avoid overplayed standards that everybody else plays too. In my choice of songs that I cover, I look for the hidden gems: great songs that are not so well known.”

For nearly 10 years until 1993, Christian was the co-frontman of one of Europe’s few blues bands, the reknowned Mojo Blues Band. He left to form his own band, Blues Wave, and for 7 years, toured with them nationally and internationally. He produced his first solo album “All Alone and Blue” and  today, Christian Dozzler tours Europe and North American, performing mostly as a solo act.  He has since moved permanently to the U.S. from his native Austria and has made the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area his home since 2000.

Christian Dozzler was nominated for the Blues Critic Awards in 2008, for “Best Blues Keyboardist” (Piano, Organ, Accordion,Harmonica and vocal). He has been featured on over 40 cd’s and has met and played with many Blues greats and legends. Because of this exposure throughout his career, his musical influences are broad. “But out of the probably 5,000 or more gigs that I’ve played in my life it is hard to pick out a special one. It is always an honor to play with a legend or somebody you have admired for many years, that’s for sure… But I like jamming with other musicians after a festival, or sitting in with other bands that I know and like….. maybe the most fun I had was at an organized jam at the Salmon Arm Festival in Canada a few years ago. It was part of the program and they just sat 6 or 7 individual musicians on a stage in a half circle and watched what happened.”

About being a musician, Christian reflects, “…I like to listen and observe, in every life situation. And that is very important (as a professional musician) in a band context as well. You have to listen to what everybody in the band is doing and intuitively react to it or even anticipate it. How you accompany a singer or soloist is just as –if not more- important than what you do on your own solo. That’s the biggest problem with a lot of “wannabe” musicians, they don’t listen to what’s going on stage, and they just concentrate on themselves. Most of the greatest musicians, at least the ones that I respect, are also good accompanists. Because they do whatever the song needs, not what boosts their ego.”

He says that his experiences in America, as a musician, are far different than abroad. “(In Europe)..there is a respect for the artist on stage. In the U.S.…there is free live music on every corner, blues is an every-day thing that everybody grew up with, and most people cannot even distinguish between good and mediocre musicians or real and fake. They want to be entertained, dance and have a good time, and often don’t even care who the person on the bandstand is. So that’s a completely different approach for the musician…”

Christian Dozzler has seen many changes in the music industry since he became a professional musician. He says, “The CD/album sales have gone down drastically over the last decade or so. It used to be that buying an album was the only way for you to listen to the music at home. Now you can download it, listen anytime on internet radio, watch it for free on YouTube, you don’t need to necessarily own a product anymore. And especially in a niche market like the Blues, this has the effect that it almost makes no sense anymore to produce a CD. In the 90s I used to break even with the production costs within 6-8 months, now it might take 2 years or more.”

But, Christian says that there are more changes underway, “The particular problem that Blues and also Jazz seem to have worldwide is also that our audience is growing too old –like we are. There are not enough young people coming up who are interested in our style of music to fill the gap.” He adds, “I can only hope that more young people, in spite of all the distractions from the internet, cable TV and superficial pop culture, would get a chance to discover the heartbeat of the blues.”

Christian Dozzler II

Christian Dozzler

http://www.dozzler.com

All quotes from “Christian Dozzler: Two Meters of Blues” by Michalis Limnios BLUES @ GREECE


Ten Things You Can Do to Promote the Accordion

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana  As a performer, if you want to be noticed–play the accordion, but read this first. (Please note that I am not creating a list of ‘rules’, but, rather, ‘talking points’. Use what you can, but it’s expected that there may be some point that you don’t agree with, or have found that it works differently for you. This article is protected by copyright and can only be used with my permission.)

1)    Safeguard your instrument.

  • It is expensive and not a toy.
  • It is your property so don’t allow anyone to touch it, put it on and try to play it without your permission.
  • Set your boundaries and stick to them.
  • Treat your accordion like it’s your best friend, your child, or your pet by not leaving it outside in the rain, in a hot car, or alone.
  • On a gig, carry it with you when you take a break.
  • Remember that you are responsible if anything happens to your instrument.

2)    Stand up when you perform so that the audience can see you.

  • You are more likely to interact with them, move more freely, play more expressively, make eye contact and be more entertaining. Seated accordionists have a tendency to look down and away from the audience, which makes the performer seem remote and aloof, and your audience could feel shut out. Your intention should be to ‘engage’ the audience in your performance and establish an emotional connection.
  • If you are unable to stand, perhaps your piano accordion is too heavy for you. You could exercise to build strength or get a smaller or lighter accordion. Accordions built today with new age materials, weigh substantially less than in the past. A disproportionately large accordion can be distracting. It should fit your body, be comfortable and have enough bass keys for you.
  • Perhaps getting more thickly padded shoulder straps for your instrument may help to distribute the weight and may also help If you have shoulder strap slippage.
  • A back strap will keep straps from slipping off of your shoulders, but if you need assistance or must go through some gymnastics to secure it, then it may look like you are having a problem with it. Having someone help you with your back strap, backstage, will mean that you will be walking onto the stage with your accordion already on. You may not be able to see equipment and electrical lying around and could trip and fall. And that may be a problem.
  • If you ask yourself, “What do other musicians do?”, the answer is:  they walk confidently onto the stage, put their instrument on, perform while standing, then easily remove their instrument and leave the stage when finished. Just as any professional musician would do with any instrument, you should strive to do the same with your accordion, without any problem. 

Jenny Conlee II

Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists

3)    Practice with a purpose. There is much to be said about how to practice.

  • Practice systematically every day for an hour.
  • No matter what type of instrument you have, practice the bass section of your accordion. Other musicians don’t ignore half of their instrument!  Knowing the bass is essential to give your music dimension and depth, so, know them and don’t be afraid to use them.
  • Practice your bellows action so it is as smooth as possible. Work with your accordion teacher on phrasing, or when to inhale, and exhale (much like a singer does) with the bellows.
  • Have a list of songs, about 6 at a time. Systematically play each, one after the other, every day for a week. At the end of the week, the best one drops off (assuming you know the piece well enough) and is put on a different list of songs that you already know. At some point, perhaps once per week you will revisit those songs and refresh your memory.  Another song that you plan to learn is placed on your practice list, to replace the song that you removed from the list. This system will guarantee that you are always working on new songs, yet not forgetting the songs that you took time to learn. Or come up with your own system.  It’s all about managing your time and effort, and you shouldn’t waste either.
  • Work with a metronome to check that your speed and timing are consistent.
  • Practice your performance by beginning with a quick introduction, getting into the piece quickly, taking your time with it to play it well, then end it smoothly. Why do you need an introduction? So you can settle into the song and draw the listener in. It gives you a chance to get the right tempo and reminds you if you are in the right key.
  • The piece should be arranged and appropriate for the accordion, for you and for the setting.
  • Do not just “wing it”. Put a great deal of thought and care into how you present yourself. Dress to fit the setting and for your performance. Strive to perform each piece from memory, not sheet music or an Ipad. As a musician, you are not just playing music, you are interpreting it and giving a performance.
  • Time each piece so you know how long you will need for your performance. Really great performers spend copious amounts of time on preparation, so that it is second nature after awhile.

4)  Choose music that is special. Song choice is important to your audience and affects their perception of you.

  • Don’t feel you have to “play everything”, then perform passably or even badly; or comply with requests to “play a polka” if you are unwilling to learn to play them well–they are a very demanding genre.
  • Choose a musical genre that you love, dedicate yourself to those songs, and get proficient at playing that type of music. Develop a clearly thought out vision with goals and objectives and decide what you are trying to accomplish, as a musician. Depending on that vision, selecting from multiple genres might be a good objective. Whatever you decide to do is up to you.
  • If you can’t find any songs you care about, compose your own music. Take time to arrange and practice your songs so you can perform them well and subject them to the same care and high standards as you would had they been written by a well-known composer.

5)    Be sensitive to how the accordion is presented to others.

  • By not being well presented, any musical instrument can be annoying. Getting together with fifteen other accordionists (or fifteen of any one instrument, for that matter) is fine if you have a club and want to share ideas. But, please recognize that more than two at a time in public, especially in unison, is too intense for most audiences. To those maniacs that think it is fun, as a group, to use accordions to assault diners with obnoxious performances, I am sure that these events are counterproductive. This approach does not teach people to care about the accordion. In fact, it’s easy to predict that a negative impression of this instrument will be formed or reinforced by such shenanigans.

gang of accordion players

  • Referring to it as a “squeezebox” is inaccurate because the accordion is a musical instrument, not a silly noisemaker.
  • By using the accordion as a prop or as a lame joke, the image of the accordion is seriously diminished.

accordion cartoon

Accordion sign

Welcome to Heaven 001

 Substitute ‘guitar’ for ‘accordion’, and suddenly it’s not funny.

  • This doesn’t imply you can’t strive to be humorous and entertaining. But, take the accordion or whatever instrument you play, seriously, and have some respect for your time and effort.   Think of it this way: if you owned a business and produced a product for sale, it would be a bad business strategy to teach people that your product was a joke. People will not buy your product.  If you are a musician/singer/songwriter,  you want your audience to “buy” into your music, support you and respect you. They won’t if you treat yourself and your instrument as though it is a joke. If you are making fun of the accordion, you are not promoting it, effectively. Perception begins with you because you are the one in control at that moment. Reach higher, and set grander goals for yourself as an artist. Sell your audience on the concept that you are special and  have something special to show them on an instrument that is special. But, before you can accomplish that objective, you have to believe it, yourself.
220px-CharlieGillingham

Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows

  • Know who you are and who your audience will be. The more you understand, the better you can anticipate and plan your performance.
    •By showing pride in yourself, your performance and your instrument of choice, your audience will respect you and recognize that you care about them.

Tink Lloyd

Tink Lloyd of the Grand Slambovian’s Circus of Dreams

6)    Try to mainstream the accordion by starting a band where the accordion isn’t the usual instrument and you are the only accordionist in the group.

  • It can be an unexpected delight to both the audience and to the other musicians in the group.
  • By treating the accordion as though it’s just like any other instrument, ironically, enhances how special and how cool it is. This, more than anything else, promotes the accordion.
  • To be a good accordionist, you don’t have to be the fastest or the loudest player, although that may be a part of what you do. But, keep in mind that music is not an athletic event, and musicians are artists.
  • A good musician is one who is sensitive and knows when to alternate between using restraint and showmanship, when to blend in and when to stand out.
  • A musician is always attempting to emotionally connect with the listener and also to make any artistic judgement as to what the music needs at that moment.

7)    Find your voice! 

  • Sing with the accordion, and learn harmony. Singing with the accordion is seen more now than in the recent past. Sheryl Crow gave a fantastic performance accompanying herself with the accordion, when she sang her hit song, “Strong Enough”.

Although she does nothing with the bass section of her instrument, what I particularly love about Sheryl Crowe’s method of playing is that she is a ‘partner’ with her accordion, harmonizing with it and giving it equal time to be heard along with her voice. She could have simply left the accordion in the background, blandly structuring chords to support her voice. Instead, she chose to use a more dynamic approach, which gives her song fullness and warmth and it allows the accordion to have a real presence in her music.

Mewithoutyou Aaron Weiss

Aaron Weiss of Mewithoutyou

8)    Be visible.

  • Leave your comfort zone and go out and busk! “Busking” is giving a live performance in a public place. You should check with your city about any ordinances that prohibit busking and where it is permitted. If you get out of your comfort zone you will become more comfortable, confident and perform better each time.
  • Live performance is a great way to “test market” your sound, your songs, your image and your ability to relate to an audience. It gives you a chance to assess their reaction to you and what you do. It also helps you to get over your apprehension about appearing in front of others. After a very short while, you are “over it”. You realize that nothing bad will happen to you. People may laugh….but, guess what? You haven’t melted and run away.
  • To those that try to heckle you with their demands because they think they can, just smile, and ignore them (or if they cross your boundaries, either call the police or call it a day.) Performing helps you “build a backbone”, develop patience and character and helps you to learn who you are as a creative individual. Joey Cook presented a totally different image for accordion players when she busked for quite some time. Then she tried out for American Idol in 2015, as a vocalist, and rose to be one the top seven finalists! Even after several years, people remember how noticeable she was. Good for you, Joey! Rock on!
Joey Cook

Joey Cook

  • Look for opportunities to perform in front of others. Some hospitals and nursing facilities look for live performers to entertain their patients. Seniors at your local Senior Center may enjoy a performance from you.
  • Join a musical “meet up” group where there are people who play a variety of musical instruments.
  • Take advantage of “open mic” nights that are locally held at restaurants, coffee shops and theatres in your area.
  • Listen to others as well as perform.  Look for those who are positive, empowering and who enjoy being creative with their music and performance. Good people generate good energy and they can get everyone excited about being there.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for inspiration or collaboration. Also, competition can be interesting. When two collaborate on a song, one can challenge the other to solo to see what you both can create, individually.
  • If available, there is nothing better than an old-fashioned talent contest that will require one to focus and rise to the challenge.
  • In addition to hiring an accordion teacher, take a class about performance to enhance your professionalism.
  • Even if you don’t become a professional entertainer or musician, what you learn by being visible is “portable” and can be transferred to other pursuits in your life. It can make you a stronger person and less likely to feel intimidated by uncertainty or by others.

Bruce Hornsby

Bruce Hornsby

9)    Never give up.

  • If something does not work for you on the accordion, revisit and find out what or how it can work on this instrument. It may be the smallest of details that you haven’t considered that might be bogging you down.
  • Ask your accordion teacher or other musicians for their opinion about your song choice and delivery and how you may improve on your instrument.
  • Listen to others that are more experienced than you are.
  • Model yourself after someone you admire. Your idol doesn’t need to be an accordion player. Art Van Damme, the great Jazz accordionist, admired Benny Goodman, the big band leader and clarinetist. Art successfully learned Goodman’s techniques and applied them to the accordion.
  • Do not listen to anyone who recommends that you change to another instrument. They are not well-intended and do not have your interests at heart.
JoAnne Castle

Jo Ann Castle c. 1957 .

10)   Pass on your knowledge to other people.

  • Try to engage their interest by showing them a different kind of music than has been associated with this instrument. The accordion was removed from mainstream American music at a critical time in pop music history. Someone decided that the accordion should not be involved with American music , when it really could have been. As a result, it was left out of the music scene for decades.
  • For performing accordionists that seek publicity, keep in mind that information control is everything. What is said or written about you and your efforts instantly forms an image and an opinion in the minds of the public. It can get people motivated to come out and hear you play. That’s the point of publicity. Or it can completely turn them off, so that they simply stay home. Don’t allow anyone to define you, your music, or your instrument of choice because they don’t know any better. Don’t allow them to tell the “same old, same old” story all over again, and reinforce stereotypes at your expense.  Move the article forward and away from the stupid accordion jokes, and the distant past of the accordion. All of these are a waste of your time and a ‘road to nowhere’ for you. Tell the writer what you expect them to say about you by providing a bio that outlines interesting points that will help them find an angle for your write up. Insist that they focus on your music and you as an artist.  You deserve the best publicity that you can get, so be involved and be prepared to established the ground rules. If you aren’t sure, write your own promotional material.
  • If you are living in America, doesn’t it make sense to promote the music that is rooted in America, and not just play the music of the rest of the world? By the way, those folks perform their own music, brilliantly. Like us, their music represents who they are as a people and has evolved from their shared experience. It is their identity. They have lived it, and they own it. But, after four hundred years, America has developed its own identity, and surrounding us is music that reflects that fact.

  • People in the U.S. don’t seem to realize that the accordion is not new to American music. It has been a part of our pioneer experience and has been in America since the mid 1800’s. It has been played, not only in the mountains and the bayous, but by folks in the city and in the country, on the prairie and in the desert, for a long, long time. It was played solo and with orchestras, at weddings, dances and social gatherings for over 150 years. Because it was portable, the accordion was used when pianos and organs were too heavy or delicate to transport. Accordions continued to participate throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st, along with pianos and organs, fiddles and guitars. It was used in the early Blues, the Boogie Woogie, Gospel and every American genre of music. The accordion is a critical piece of our music history and we should be proud of that connection, celebrate it and hold the accordion in high regard because of it.

  • But, the accordion must participate in current music to survive. So, please, take your accordion–whatever type you prefer– go and find your audience, and make the most out of any opportunity!