This Week in Accordion: Julz A

Did you know there are over 250 upcoming events on our accordion calendar? That’s a lot of bellows pumping! Here are some of this week’s highlights:

Remember, if there’s an accordion event in your area and it isn’t on our calendar, tell us about it!

Texas Folklife Accordion Contest

Think you’ve got what it takes to be the next accordion king or queen? If you’re a young (under 28), talented Texan accordion player — or know someone who is — visit the Texas Folklife website to learn more about their upcoming Big Squeeze competition.

The top prize is $1,000 ($500 and $250 to 2nd and 3rd place winners) and famed Texas director Hector Galán will film the competition for a documentary. The top three finalists will also squeeze their stuff in front of thousands at the 18th annual Accordion Kings & Queens concert on June 2nd at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre. If you’re interested, hurry — entries are due by April 16th.

Accordions Aplenty at SXSW

SXSW Music 2007, Austin, TXThis week, the music industry is focused on Austin, TX, home of the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. With over a thousand acts performing at more than fifty venues over the course of five days, it’s a music lover’s dream.

Just like last year, we’ve sifted through this year’s schedule and found a few accordion-toting artists worth checking out:

  • Beirut
    I can’t believe I haven’t written about Beirut here before! 20-year-old Zach Condon’s Balkan-inspired album Gulag Orkestar made him one of the indie rock darlings of 2006. After listening to him croon over enchanting accordion lines, it’s easy to see why.
    Beirut: Elephant Gun
  • KTU (Pohjonen, Gunn, Mastelotto)
    Avant garde Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen’s mission is to “expand the capabilities, sound, performance, scope and experience of the accordion to levels never before seen or heard.” Joined by guitarist Trey Gunn and percussionist Pat Mastelotto, he’s well on his way.
    KTU (Pohjonen, Gunn, Mastelotto): Absinth
  • Pistolera
    Based in New York City, Pistolera fuses traditional Mexican music with electric rock rhythms. The band features vocalist and guitarist Sandra Lilia Velásquez along with the driving accordion melodies of Maria Elena.
    Pistolera: Cazador
  • Asakusa Jinta
    This “hardcore marching brass band” from Asakusa (Tokyo’s old downtown), Japan, plays modern, rollicking rockabilly, armed with accordion, saxophones, trombones, tuba, and stand-up bass. They sound like they’d be one hell of a live band; luckily, they’ll be in San Francisco next week!
    Asakusa Jinta: Tokyo East End Rockers
  • The Cassettes
    Cajun accordion, theremin, dobro, and tabla all find their way into the music of this Washington DC “rock n’ roll vaudeville western band.” Like so many bands at SXSW, their sound isn’t easily summed up in a sentence; just listen to the MP3:
    The Cassettes: Lady Faire

Pogues on St. Patrick’s Day

Seminal Irish punk band The Pogues are currently on a mini-tour of the East Coast, having just finished a series of shows in Boston. Unfortunately, an injury suffered by lead singer Shane MacGowan during Sunday’s show forced them to cancel tonight’s Roseland Ballroom show at the last minute. Given the fact that Shane has played gigs from a wheelchair, though, gives one hope that they’ll still make the tour’s final show: St. Patrick’s Day (Saturday) in New York City. (Update: Despite Shane being under “constant medical supervision and analgesic control,” he and the band will continue on with the tour.)

To get you ready for your own St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, here’s some excellent live Pogues footage from 1985 — nearly 20 minutes worth. (From the “Golden Age of YouTube”, before the 10-minute limit on videos.)

Singing Saws and Dreamland Faces

Dreamland FacesAccordions certainly aren’t the only instruments blocking the exits at our house. In fact, the first instrument I bought Anna (shortly after we first met) wasn’t an accordion at all, but a musical saw. There’s something oddly beguiling about the saw; maybe it’s the otherworldly sound, the amazing flexiblity, or the fact that (in a pinch) you could use it to fix an uneven table. Regardless, it can sound fantastic when accompanied by an accordion.

For proof, check out Minneapolis-based duo Dreamland Faces, which consists of Karen Majewicz on accordion and Andy McCormick on musical saw. Together, they play an enchanting mix of original tangos and waltzes, as well as jazz and folk classics from yesteryear. Majewicz has studied with Tejano accordion legend Eva Ybarra and Russian virtuoso Stas Venglevski, and even worked on accordions at Hohner’s repair center in Virginia. (She currently offers lessons and repairs in Minneapolis.)

In addition to their self-titled CD, Dreamland Faces has provided original music for theatre shows and accompanied silent films. I haven’t found many clips of their work online, but here’s a quirky music video for one of their songs:

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Everyone’s a Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered Let’s Polka’s 1st Birthday Contest last week; your recommendations will be keeping us busy for a while! And congratulations to our prize winners: Karla, Jesse, and Bruce. I’ll be following up and sending out Let’s Polka stickers to everyone who commented later this week.

Thanks again for helping celebrate Let’s Polka’s first year!

Zevy Zions’ Olive Blossoms

Zevy Zions, Olive BlossomsA few years ago, I inherited a fantastic collection of classic accordion sheet music. The arrangers’ names read like a “Who’s Who” of accordion masters: Deiro, Frosini, Magnante, Nunzio. However, most of the pieces were (and still are) far beyond my reach, so I was left wondering how “La Mariposita” and “Carnival of Venice” should really sound.

Now I know — thanks to Zevy Zions and his excellent new album of accordion solos, Olive Blossoms. Zions is a student of the great performer and teacher Charles Nunzio who, in turn, was a student of the legendary Pietro Frosini. Most of the songs on Olive Blossoms were either written or arranged by Frosini or Nunzio and it’s clear that Zions has gone to great lengths to do them justice.

From the start, Zions’ playing is impeccable, even on the most challenging material. But he’s no robot either; whether it’s the bouncy “Jolly Caballero” or the dreamy “Florette”, Zions handles the dynamics and nuances of each piece with care. The album’s centerpiece is his “Klezmer Suite” arrangement, which builds from a wandering, improvisational Doina to a rollicking Freilach.

Variety is key to any album of solos (regardless of instrument), and Zions does a fine job showing the accordion’s versatility across styles and genres. The album’s 18 tracks range from waltzes to tarantellas, polkas to tangos, with a unique accordion arrangement of a Mozart minuet for good measure.

There are no MIDI tricks here — just pure, beautifully executed renditions of accordion classics. Whether you’re new to these songs, or an experienced player seeking inspiration, Olive Blossoms would be an excellent addition to your accordion listening library.

This Week in Accordion: KEDA Conjunto Fest

What’s on the accordion calendar this week?

A note to our friends north of the border: our calendar (finally) supports Canadian events! So whether it’s a polka dance in Medicine Hat or a musette revival in Montreal, let us know what’s going on in your area.

And don’t forget, Monday is the last day to enter our birthday contest. Post a comment to receive free Let’s Polka stickers and maybe even an accordion book or polka DVD. Everyone’s a winner!

How Many Accordions Do You Have?

12 accordionsAccordion-Crazy, uploaded by zydepunks

This photo made me think of our own house — especially the pile of accordions in our living room. I think we have four accordions there right now, plus another in a closet, which yields an accordion-to-person ratio of 2.5 to 1 in our household. What about you — how many accordions do you have hanging around your house?

All-Star Tejano Accordion Jam

This year’s Tejano Music Awards will be held Saturday in San Antonio, but it’ll have a hard time matching the fireworks of this all-star accordion jam from the 1992 show. The video may be fuzzy, but the music is incredible. From left to right, the lineup includes David Lee Garza, David Farias, Pete Ybarra, Mingo Saldivar and Flaco Jimenez, who kicks things off with “Viva Seguin.”

[Found via the Reyes Accordions forums]

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