LynnMarie: Done With Polka?

A post-Grammy press release from LynnMarie, titled “LynnMarie is Donning Her Party Dress and is Ready to Move On,” suggests that the four-time polka Grammy nominee is branching out beyond her polka roots:

“Polka got me to the party, but now I want to get out there and start making music with and for people who think and create beyond the safety net of pigeonholing… Creatively, this experience is going to be the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m excited to be moving on to bigger and better things in my career.”

Makes sense to me — Party Dress was closer to country than polka and I think she has the talent and drive to be successful in any genre (okay, opera might be a stretch). As long she keeps playing that button box, we’ll be listening!

Update: LynnMarie has posted a personal letter to her fans and friends in the polka community in which she discusses her future plans.

[Found via TDA’s Wall of Wheeze]

Radio Squeezin’ on Valentine’s Day

Tune into San Francisco radio station KFOG 104.5 tomorrow morning around 6:50am, and you should hear SF accordionist Tom Torriglia playing some romantic tunes on Dave Morey’s morning show. If you’re outside the Bay Area, you can listen online at

Tom was also featured recently on a Canadian TV show called Careers TV, where they chronicled his passion for playing and promoting the accordion. (Look for episode #06-808 on their site for more info.) Maybe one of our Canadian readers can upload a clip to YouTube…

This Week in Accordion: Main Squeeze

What’s happening in the accordion world this week?

  • Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra (Wednesday in New York, NY)
    What could be more romantic than spending Valentine’s Day with New York City’s only all-female, all-accordion orchestra? (Note: we cannot be held responsible if you’re swept off your feet by a winsome lass toting a Hohner.)
  • Mardi Gras Ball (Saturday in Cranston, RI)
    Mardi Gras isn’t until next Tuesday, but why wait to start partying? This 15th Annual Cajun & Zydeco Mardi Gras Ball (located just outside Providence) features Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and the Creole Cowboys.
  • 21 Accordion Salute to Merv Conn (Sunday in Silver Springs, MD)
    Watch the Washington-area premiere of The Legend of Merv Conn, a documentary tribute to this local accordionist’s life and work. Then stay and participate in the 21-accordion salute honoring his 87th birthday. Save room for birthday cake! (Update: The Washington Post has an article on Merv’s big day.)

Check our calendar for more accordion happenings in your neighborhood. And, as always, let us know if we’re missing any events in your area.

Grammy Winners: Sturr, Venegas

Grammy AwardAnother year, another “Best Polka Album” award for Jimmy Sturr, who won his 16th Grammy at tonight’s Grammy Awards. Mexican singer/accordionist Julieta Venegas took home “Best Latin Album” for Limon y Sal.

Other accordion-toting artists claiming Grammys tonight include the Klezmatics (“Best Contemporary World Music Album”), Los Tigres del Norte (“Best Norteño Album”), Chente Barrera y Taconazo (“Best Tejano Album”), and Bruce Springsteen (“Best Traditional Folk Album” for We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which featured Charles Giordano on accordion). Check the full list of winners and let us know if we missed anyone.

The (Accordion) Entertainer

It’s probably because I watched The Sting too many times while growing up, but Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic “The Entertainer” was the song that inspired me to learn to play the piano. (Years later, it’s still the only song, besides “Chopsticks”, that I can play from memory.) I fumble around with accordion renditions occasionally, but none quite like these two I found on YouTube.

The first is an all-accordion orchestra from the Netherlands called Accordeonola. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about ten or more accordionists playing together that restores my faith in humanity.

And for something completely different, the second clip is a 30-second commercial for a Japanese pachinko chain. It features one-man band Mark Di Giuseppe (“The Straniero”) playing the Stranierofono, a combination accordion/bass clarinet that he invented.

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Polka Grammy Preview: Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones

Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones: Batteries Not IncludedToday, we wrap up our look at the “Best Polka Album” nominees with another Chicago polka legend, Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones. We profiled the Blazonczyks last month, discussing the challenges that Eddie Jr. has faced since taking the reigns from his father.

Despite those challenges, the Versatones have remained one polka’s top bands. Formed in 1963 by Eddie Sr., the six-piece Versatones helped modernize polka by incorporating rock, country/western, Cajun, and Tex-Mex influences. Now with “Junior” handling the vocals and playing concertina, the band continues to promote polka through a rigorous schedule of touring and recording.

Batteries Not Included is the 18th Grammy-nominated album for Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones; they won once, back in 1987, but shared that award with (guess who?) Jimmy Sturr. If you enjoy uptempo, Chicago-style polka, this album won’t disappoint. Even traditional waltzes like “Chlopak” and “In the Oak Grove” are played at a pretty fast clip. And goofy numbers like “The Wife You Save” and “My Misery” show off Blazonczyk’s sense of humor.

More Grammy Accordionists

Polka definitely isn’t the only genre where you can find Grammy-nominated accordionists. Rolling Stone has a brief interview with one of those nominees: Weird Al Yankovic, who’s up for “Best Comedy Album” and “Best Surround Sound Album” for Straight Outta Lynwood. Even he still gets excited about the Grammys:

“It’s hard to compete with the first time you win a Grammy because after that, you can legally affix the phrase “Grammy Award-winning” to the front of your name. But trust me, it never gets old. I promise to be extremely excited every single time I ever win a Grammy.”

This week, Rolling Stone also wrote about another one of our favorite accordion-toting artists — DeVotchKa. They’re nominated for their work on the soundtrack to the Oscar-nominated film Little Miss Sunshine.

Polka Grammy Preview: Jimmy Sturr

Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra: Polka in ParadiseYou can’t talk about polka and the Grammys without mentioning Jimmy Sturr. Since the Grammy for “Best Polka Album” was first awarded in 1986, Sturr has won an astounding 15 out of the 20 awards given. While this has engendered jealousy among a few in the polka community, Sturr had no apologies during our exclusive interview back in October:

“I know there are people who are always knocking me; for instance, I read in the paper the other day where someone said ‘Jimmy Sturr should step down.’ (laughs) I will when the New York Yankees do.”

There’s no argument, though, when it comes to his work as a polka promoter; few have tried harder to bring polka to a wider audience than Jimmy Sturr. He has recorded over 100 albums, plays over 150 dates a year (including non-polka venues like Farm-Aid and the Grand Ole Opry), and has a regular show on RFD-TV. In addition to his own excellent band, he has recruited an impressive list of guest artists to record with him. Names like Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, the Oak Ridge Boys, Arlo Guthrie, and many more.

After a pair of rock-oriented polka albums (Rock ‘n’ Polka and Shake, Rattle, and Polka), Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra get back to basics with Polka in Paradise. And, as usual, Sturr brings some guests along for the ride: the “Polish Prince”, Bobby Vinton, guests on the title track and The Jordanaires contribute vocal harmonies throughout.

In a big band like Sturr’s, the accordion can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. That’s not the case, though, on this Polka in Paradise track featuring dueling accordion solos by Steve Swiader and Al Piatkowski:

What Good Is a Grammy?

As our “Polka Grammy Preview Week” winds down, it’s worth asking: how important are the Grammys? What doors can a Grammy nomination (or win) open for an artist? Today’s issue of the The Tennessean poses that very question to some Grammy nominees, including polka nominee LynnMarie:

“I don’t even know where to begin. Because we don’t have radio, a Grammy win takes us to that next level of recognition. It opens up PR opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise get. I saw the jump when we were first nominated (in 2001). The phone started ringing off the hook and we were on the Tonight Show. Winning would do the same thing.”

Polka Grammy Preview: Walter Ostanek and Fred Ziwich

Walter Ostanek and Fred Ziwich: Good Friends Good MusicWhile Frankie Yankovic reigned as “America’s Polka King,” another polka monarch was flourishing north of the border. Walter Ostanek, “Canada’s Polka King,” grew up idolizing Yankovic and eventually became a close friend and frequent collaborator (for instance, Ostanek played accordion on Yankovic’s first Tonight Show appearance). A three-time Grammy winner with numerous recording, radio, and TV credits to his name, Ostanek is best known for playing Cleveland-style polka with a country/western twang.

Fred Ziwich may not be royalty, but he’s been the recipient of multiple honors from the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, including “Musician of the Year”, “Button Box Musician of the Year”, and “Recording of the Year.” A classically trained clarinetist, Ziwich honed his accordion style in the ethnic halls and polka clubs around Cleveland. On Sunday, he could become the first Cleveland-area polka musician to win a Grammy since Yankovic himself.

The songs on Good Friends Good Music are divided between Ostanek (playing with his band) and Ziwich (playing with his “International Sound Machine”). The late Gaylord Klancnik, Joey Miskulin, and Igor Podpecan & Zlati Zvoki from Slovenia also make appearances. No matter who’s playing, though, the emphasis is on Cleveland/Slovenian-style polka music and the accordion is always front and center. Which explains why not one, but two accordion tuners (Don Krance and Jerry Balash) are credited in the liner notes!

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