Let's Polka - An Accordion Blog

It’s Not a Party Without an Accordion

One of the ideas we try to promote here is that the accordion isn’t just a polka instrument, or a Cajun instrument, or a Tex-Mex instrument: it’s all those things and much, much more. For well over a hundred years now, accordions have been an essential player in genres ranging from avant-garde jazz to zydeco, in countries from Albania to Zimbabwe.

This past weekend, I stumbled across a great video that captures this idea. “The Accordion Party” is a medley of songs showing how the accordion has been a key player in party music the world over since its invention in the 1800’s. It’s by no means complete, but it’s a fun survey of the accordion’s global reach.

The video was created by cdza, a group of musicians in New York who create “musical video experiments.” They’re incredibly talented and I highly recommend checking out their other videos, including “Journey of the Guitar Solo” and “An Abridged History of Western Music in 16 Genres”.

Pet Peeve: Misspelling Accordion

When it comes to the accordion, I try to keep an open mind. I’ll listen to virtually any type of music if I’m told there’s an accordion involved. Polka? Naturally. Tex-Mex punk? ¡Sí! Finnish folk-metal? Sign me up… IN BLOOD.

Same goes for reading articles or books about the accordion. But when it comes to the written word, there is one thing that will stop me dead in my tracks every time. It’s something tiny, but it absolutely drives me up the wall:

accordian

That’s right—accordion misspelled with “an” at the end, instead of “on”. Whenever I see that horrible, misshapen word, I want to bellows shake some sense into the author’s head. And, unfortunately, it happens all too often. What gives? No one goes around misspelling “guitar” or “piano” and gets away with it.

To combat the continued spread of this atrocious misspelling, we’ve created a very simple site: a-c-c-o-r-d-i-o-n.com. So the next time you see someone misspell the name of our favorite instrument in an article, tweet, or Craigslist ad, gently refer them to a-c-c-o-r-d-i-o-n.com. And remind them to use a spell-checker, for goodness sake.

Accordions at the 2014 Grammys

Ever since the Polka and Cajun/Zydeco categories were eliminated from the Grammys, it’s been tougher for accordion-toting artists to bring home Grammy hardware. But that didn’t stop some of our favorites from breaking through at this year’s event.

Los Angeles’s La Santa Cecilia has been building a national following over the past couple years and won Best Latin Rock/Urban/Alternative Album last night for their major label debut, Treinta Días. If you haven’t heard their unique and lively fusion of rock, jazz, and latin rhythms—and the incredible voice of Marisol Hernandez—check out their NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Louisiana’s Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience won Best Regional Roots Music Album for their Dockside Sessions. Not only is Simien a fantastic musician, he was a key figure in the creation of the short-lived Best Cajun/Zydeco Album Grammy back in 2008 (which he later won).

Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier was also honored posthumously with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. If you watched the prime-time show last night, you may have noticed that The Beatles received the same award. Pretty good company for the King of Zydeco, eh?

Squeezing With Jagger

It’s only rock and roll… but I like it. Mick Jagger was both host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live this past weekend and, for his first number, he performed the Rolling Stones classic “The Last Time” while backed by Arcade Fire. It isn’t everyday you see the lead singer of the Stones shimmying with an accordion player (in this case, Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne), so savor this image while you can.

Thinking Outside the Squeezebox

We’re no strangers to accordion concerts, festivals, or even hootenannys. But a symposium? Indeed, the first-ever “Thinking Outside the Squeeze Box” Accordion Symposium will take place this September 23-25 in Cedar Rapids, IA.

The symposium will celebrate the way accordionists have been mixing traditional music with new approaches. There will be jam sessions, dance parties, and workshops on topics ranging from “Techniques of Rock Accordion” to “Stretching the Horizons of the Button Box”. Presenters and performers are coming from across the country and include Paul Rogers (of Those Darn Accordions), Maggie Martin, Renee de la Prade, Roxanne Oliva, Ron Borelli, and more.

Why Cedar Rapids? Cedar Rapids is home to the Czech and Slovak National Museum and Library and has a long tradition of accordion music. Leo Greco, who passed away this week, was one example — he played accordion for years and led his own band (Leo and the Pioneers) in the 50s and 60s.

Can’t make it to Iowa? If you still want to support the symposium, consider backing their Kickstarter campaign and help offset the cost of hosting the event.

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Follow Us on Twitter & Facebook

Longtime readers won’t be surprised to hear it often takes us a while to write new posts for the site. Yet even when we’re quiet, the accordion world continues to spin — there’s always an article, a concert, or a great new band to share.

That’s why we’re now using Twitter and Facebook to post shorter, more frequent updates in between posts on the main site. Use the buttons below to “follow” us on Twitter or “like” us on Facebook and get a steady stream of squeezin’:

(If the buttons aren’t working for you, visit twitter.com/letspolka or facebook.com/letspolka instead.)

In the past week, people already following us on Twitter and Facebook have learned about the growing bandoneon crisis in Argentina, seen some cool vinyl accordion album covers, and received alerts about some excellent accordion concerts. (You can also see these posts in the sidebar of the main site.)

And, as always, if there’s a squeezebox gathering in your area, a hot new band to promote, or some wacky accordion link, let us know about it and we’ll help spread the word!

Catching Up with Castelfidardo

Today’s New York Times has an excellent article on Castelfidardo, the longtime center of the Italian accordion industry. From Paolo Soprani’s shop in 1863 to the peak of accordion production in 1953 — 200,000 instruments built by 10,000 full-time workers — Castelfidardo has been inextricably linked to the accordion. There are still about 27 companies building accordions and parts there and, rather than compete with cheap models from Eastern Europe or Asia, they’re focused on building fewer, but higher-quality instruments.

“‘Our accordions are like bespoke apparel,’ said Francesca Pigini, a top manager for the company her grandfather started in 1946. ‘For us, it’s a pleasure and an enrichment to work and collaborate with artists and people who make music a big part of their lives.’”

Pigini is the largest accordion maker in Castelfidardo, making professional-caliber accordions ranging in price from $3,000 to $43,000. While China has long since passed Italy as the largest producer of accordions, the folks in Castelfidardo are confident that the best players will eventually find their way to Castelfidardo’s exceptional, hand-crafted instruments.

“We’re not pessimistic about the future because some young Chinese players will become professionals, and once they’re looking for more important instruments where will they come? To Castelfidardo.”

If you’re planning a trip to Italy and want to visit Castelfidardo, be sure to check out the International Accordion Museum, which traces the accordion’s evolution from the 19th century to present day. There’s also (of course) a big accordion festival there every Fall.

Tap to Squeeze: Accordions on the iPad

With the iPad 2 coming out this week, it seemed like the perfect time to check out the latest iPad accordion apps. Believe it or not, this is actually a pretty active category — we found more than 25 apps for the iPad alone, and even more for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

While tapping your iPad is no substitute for playing a real accordion, it can be a handy learning tool. Imagine practicing a few scales while watching TV on the couch, or plugging in headphones and mastering a tune after the family has gone to bed. Plus, all of these apps are around $5 so (even after you factor in the cost of the iPad itself) they’re significantly cheaper than a real accordion. Here are a few we’ve tried:

Hohner Squeezebox

Wait, that Hohner? Yes, the world’s largest accordion maker now has a line of iPad apps that mimic their Corona Classic diatonic accordions. You can show or hide the names of the notes on the keyboard, tap on the bellows to alternate between “push” and “pull” mode, and even switch between wet and dry tuning. The app is treble only — no bass/chord buttons (although this isn’t a big loss for most diatonic players I know). The app comes in five key combinations — GCF, FB♭E♭, EAD, ADG, and B♭E♭A♭ — and there’s also a “mini” version for iPhone/iPod touch.

Michael Eskin, who developed the app for Hohner, has a number of other accordion-related apps available, including one-row Cajun/Zydeco accordion, two-row Melodeon, and Anglo Concertina.

Hohner Squeezebox

Accordéon

We reviewed the first version of Accordéon last year when it was one of the only accordion apps available. It offers a piano accordion interface and even includes a handful of bass/chord buttons so you can get a fairly full sound going. My favorite feature, though, is the “Learning Center,” which helps you learn popular songs by following along with highlighted keys. “Jingle Bells” comes for free with the app and you can buy other tunes for 99 cents each.

Accordio Pro

The chromatic accordion has always intimidated me with its vast, imposing array of buttons. Accordio Pro has helped conquer that fear by simulating a full-featured chromatic accordion, complete with six-row Stradella bass. You can switch between C, G, and B-layouts, scroll and zoom along the keyboard, and even play along to songs in your music library. The developer also makes a version for piano accordion.

Have you played “pocket squeezebox” on your iPad or iPhone and have an app to recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!

Accordion Idol: Winner Takes All

Craigslist recently started producing a fun series of videos called Craigslist TV, which follows interesting posts from real Craigslist users and shows how their transactions unfold.

In this episode, Robin wants to give away an old accordion… but there’s a catch. Whoever claims it must first play the accordion at a dinner party for her family. When three prospective “buyers” show up — professional Gigi, underdog Michael, and quirky Renee — an “Accordion Idol” competition is held, complete with a panel of judges to decide who gets to keep the accordion. Tune in for the feel-good story of the year.

20 Years of the Cotati Accordion Festival

Twenty years ago, Jim Boggio and Clifton Buck-Kauffman had a crazy idea. What if they put on a music festival in the small Northern California town of Cotati? And what if it was centered around the accordion — which Boggio played — and incorporated a mix of musical styles like jazz, polka, Cajun, gypsy, etc. Would people be interested? Could they pull it off?

The answer is yes. Twenty times yes, in fact. This weekend, as they have for twenty years, accordion lovers from across the country and beyond will descend upon Cotati, CA, for the annual Cotati Accordion Festival. There will be two full days of accordion music, a tent dedicated to nonstop polka dancing, booths for accordion clubs and vendors, and, of course, the traditional Lady-of-Spain play-along accompanied by the release of white doves. Thousands attend every year and the non-profit festival raises important funds for local youth organizations.

Performers at this year’s festival include:

Anna and I have been attending for more than ten years and we’ll be there again this year. If you see us wandering around, be sure to say hi!

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