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 These notions, more than fifty years out of date, are constantly reinforced and have been proven counterproductive for the popularity of, and respect for the instrument.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.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Memorial Day is a day of remembering and honoring, not only the fallen soldiers, but also those soldiers who have served America. Among the ranks of musicians, one of our own, Dick Contino, stands out as a veteran of the Korean War and as a brilliant accordionist.
Born in Fresno, California in 1930, Dick Contino was a precocious child with parents dedicated to his success, from the beginning. The Continos (the father was an accomplished accordionist), recognized their son’s talent from an early age and for years, drove him 180 miles each week for accordion lessons in San Francisco. His first break in show business came in 1946, a year before Dick graduated from High School. He won the prestigious Horace Heidt/Philip Morris talent competition in Fresno which was broadcast on national radio.
Dick also won first place in talent contests in Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and New York City. When he graduated from high school in 1947, he enrolled at Fresno State College. Always feeling the pressure of his intense ambition and drive to be a successful entertainer, Dick chose to leave college and dedicate himself to a career as an accordionist. And Dick Contino was successful. Very successful. He toured with the Horace Heidt Orchestra and was billed as”The World’s Greatest Accordionist”. Barely out of high school, Contino reported earnings of four thousand dollars per week, an enormous sum for a musician, just before his career was interrupted by military service.
Because he was quite handsome, when he returned from his tour of duty, Dick Contino gained entry into the film industry in Hollywood. He starred in a some acting roles, without his accordion. But it was his accordion playing that kept him as a returning star, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show for a record of forty-eight appearances.
At age 86, Dick Contino continues to perform regularly throughout the United States. His repertoire is eclectic, ranging from Italian songs such as “Come Back to Sorrento” and “Arrivederci Roma” to his signature song, “Lady of Spain” and standards like “Swinging on a Star.
On the accordion, following in the footsteps of his legendary father, is son Pete Contino and his blues band, The Pete Contino Band. Growing up, Pete never aspired to a career in music. But when his Mother passed away (actress Leigh Snowden), he went on the road with his father to learn the music business. It was therapeutic and it kept his mind busy. Through his involvement with his father’s band, he discovered a love for music and for the accordion. Now that he is a professional with his own band, Pete has observed, in an interview with Michael Limnios, “To use an old cliché, (my Dad’s) are very big shoes to fill. His fans are hardcore, and rightfully so. My father made a huge niche with the accordion. The expectations are sometimes high, but I never try to compete with me father’s reputation.” He states, ” A lot of his fans were funny and interesting and very devoted. Sometimes a fan would be uncomfortable to go up to my dad and they would start asking me questions about him. I would finally grab whoever it was and drag them over to meet him. He’s very friendly, my dad, very approachable.”
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.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Just as brilliant colors of a sunset blend, and blur together, music genres converge. While all have characteristics in common, each is distinct from the other, and each possesses its own dynamic, its own musical parentage and its own spirit. Virtuoso Accordionist, Will Holshouser, in his restless pursuit of the connections between the genres, brings to us a new understanding of the space between Folk music and Jazz.
Will is one third of the trio under his own name, The Will Holshouser Trio as well as the collaborative trio, Musette Explosion. He has played for many years with the brilliant American Jazz violinist Regina Carter and has performed on two of her albums, “Reverse Thread” and “Southern Comfort“.
Regina Carter, Violinist performs “Hickory Wind”, accompanied by Will Holshouser, Accordionist
Nearly two centuries have passed since “Folk” music was recognized and in spite of the enormous body of work surrounding it, there is still no specific definition of what it really means. Music within this genre is also called “Traditional Music” and it is seen as an “authentic expression of a way of life now past, or about to disappear.” Artists Regina Carter and Will Holshouser are reinventing and reinterpreting the genre with exciting original work, presenting an entirely new musical perspective of Folk music. Upon awarding her a MacArthur Fellows Award, the Committee stated, “Regina Carter is a master of improvisational jazz violin….pioneering new possibilities for the violin and for jazz.”
Live on Soundcheck, Regina Carter, Violinist, performs ‘I’m Going Home’ featuring Will Holshouser on accordion.
Jazz originated in the United States, over one hundred years ago, in the neighborhoods of New Orleans. It is rooted in African-American experience, the indigenous music of Native American people and Euro-American traditional music that emanated from various regions of Europe. As these musical styles came together, early Jazz emerged as the popular music of the day in New Orleans. It spread and developed, throughout the twentieth century, into what we now recognize as Jazz.
Will was studying Jazz piano at Wesleyan University, when a friend found an accordion at a rummage sale, purchased it, and gave it to him. “It got me out of my Jazz headspace.” He says, “It was a good way to connect with a lot of Folk music that wasn’t really part of the piano repertoire and a doorway to a lot of music that I really enjoyed.” Will became an accomplished accordionist by listening to records. As his career took him to New York City, Will found a mentor, William Schimmel, an accordionist who has performed with Tom Waits and others.
The Will Holshouser Trio performs, ‘Reed Song’
As Musette Explosion, along with guitarist, Matt Munisteri and tuba player, Marcus Rojas, Will takes French Musette in an American direction and places an emphasis on improvisation. Musette Explosion has worked as a backing band and has recorded with Folk music legend Louden Wainwright III, and most recently, with Chaim Tannenbaum. Musette Explosion’s debut album, was featured on the National Public Radio program “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, in November of 2014.
“The nostalgic aspect is there, and we love the old repertoire, but we want to bring something new to it so we do it in a New York way; we improvise a lot.” Will has also written new tunes in the style, and says that there are a lot of bands finding old music and doing new things but, “This is the only one that I know of that combines these particular flavors in this way.”
Musette Explosion performs the classic “Swing Valse”
Because the versatile and fearless Will Holshouser moves seamlessly between French Musette, Klezmer, back to Jazz and then again, to American Roots music, his talent as an accordionist is in demand. Will is constantly touring, recording, and performing all over the world as an improviser and composer. Additional projects include touring and recording with Amsterdam-based improvisers Han Bennink and Michael Moore, clarinetists David Krakauer and Andy Statman, and pop visionaries, Antony and the Johnsons. As a freelance accordionist, Will has appeared on a wide range of recordings and in live concerts, with Kiran Ahluwalia, Martha Wainwright, Uri Caine, Arnold Hammerschlag, the New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, The Western Wind, Mark Morris Dance Group and the Raymond Scott (tribute) Orchestrette.
Will Holshouser appearing with Regina Carter Tour Dates: http://reginacarter.com/tour
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Sometimes a song begins slowly. It trips, then tumbles, and then gradually begins to spin, climb and pick up speed. Finally, it ascends and roars across the airwaves. Such is the song, “Come With Me Now” on its path to becoming the best selling pop song of all time that features a strong accordion presence. By using the piano accordion in the enormously successful song, it represents a genuine breakthrough, heightening all expectations for the instrument in current American Pop music.
Written and performed by KONGOS, an Arizona based band of four brothers, each a musician with his own unique perspective. The name of the band, KONGOS, their surname, is of Greek origin and is always presented in upper case letters. The sons of an American mother and South African father, Johnny, Jesse, and Daniel Kongos were born in Johannesburg, South Africa as American citizens. They were transplanted to Arizona from London at early ages after Dylan, the youngest, was born while the family resided in London. They grew up in the Valley, graduated from Scottsdale’s Chapparal High School and attended Arizona State University. Their father, John Kongos, was a singing star in South Africa in the nineteen sixties and seventies. He made certain that his sons were exposed to a wide variety of music styles and genres during their childhood. It was inevitable that the Kongos brothers would learn to feel completely comfortable in their own multi-cultural musical landscape where their talent and band could evolve with the help of their very supportive family atmosphere and their own recording studio.