This Week in Accordion: Reno Italian Festival

What’s on the accordion calendar this week?

  • Eldorado Great Italian Festival (Sat-Sun in Reno, NV)
    A spaghetti sauce cook off? A bocce ball tournament? Sign me up! This year’s Eldorado Great Italian Festival includes performances by accordion legend Dick Contino, Those Darn Accordions, Bella Ciao, and many more.
  • Vagabond Opera and Fishtank Ensemble (Friday in Santa Monica, CA)
    The touring schedules of two great, eclectic bands collide at McCabe’s Guitar Shop as Portland’s Vagabond Opera and Oakland’s Fishtank Ensemble share the bill.
  • Geoff Berner (Various dates in Eastern Canada)
    The “Whiskey Rabbi” rides again — this time across Canada with singer Carolyn Mark. Definitely the first time we’ve had shows in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Prince Edward’s Island on our calendar.

Is there a polka dance, zydeco festival, or other squeezebox gathering in your area? Don’t be shy — let us know!

Country Accordion With The Carter Sisters

Further proof that the accordion has never met a genre it didn’t like: this clip of the Carter Sisters performing “My Baby Don’t Love Me No More” features sister Helen on accordion. The accordion actually has a long history in country music, dating back to “Tennessee Waltz” author Pee Wee King, Vic Willis (played with Hank Williams Sr.), and Marion Martin (played with Doc Williams’ Border Riders).

Secondhand Smoke Bad For Accordions, Too

Three years ago, the Irish government banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. According to a recent survey, the ban has not only improved public health, but it’s also helped accordions as well. Dr. John Garvey of St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin talked to local accordion cleaning and repair specialists to learn how smoking affects accordions.

“Those interviewed noted that, when opened, accordions that had been played in smoke-filled rooms emitted a strong cigarette odor. Deposits of soot-like dirt were also found inside the instruments. One worker interviewed said that, in some cases, enough dirt could be deposited in the instrument to affect the pitch.

All interviewees said that both the cigarette smell from accordions and the dirt residue inside had improved since the smoking ban.”

Yet another reason to kick the habit!

Quick Links: September 26, 2007

  • Kimmo Pohjonen: Accordionist Extraordinaire
    All About Jazz has an excellent interview with Finnish avant-garde accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen. “With the aid of added microphones, digital relays and delays, he has dragged the accordion wheezing, shrieking and wailing into the new century.”
  • Acco Duo
    Ivana Levak Vaupotić and Miran Vaupotić are a young Croatian duo (she’s 28, he’s 23) who play classical accordion and bandoneón. Not only are they incredible performers, but their goal is to start a Croatian accordion school.
  • Barry Manilow on Jimmy Kimmel Live
    Everyone played the accordion when they were a kid — even Barry Manilow. In this clip from Jimmy Kimmel Live (jump to the half-way point), Barry complains about the instrument and even plays a few bars of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Like a Virgin” on the accordion. (Thanks Zevy!)

The Polish Diva’s Polka Party

The Polish Diva’s Polka PartyTerry Palasz isn’t your average polka singer. Classically trained with a powerful soprano, she puts a unique twist on traditional polka music with her album, The Polish Diva’s Polka Party. The album grew out of her one-woman show, The Polish Diva from Milwaukee, and she brings Broadway style to polka classics like “Who Stole the Keeshka?” and “Blue Skirt Waltz.” But she always respects her source material, putting the focus on the melodies and lyrics, and singing in English, Polish, German, and Slovenian.

While the singing is certainly the focus, there’s some quality musicianship here, too. Accordionist/arranger Toby Hanson of Seattle’s Smilin’ Scandinavians does an excellent job making the classics sound fresh, regardless of style. For me, the key to any polka recording is whether it’s fun — for both the performers and the listeners. From the soaring of Palasz’s voice to the rambunctious xylophone and trombone solos, it’s clear there’s plenty of fun going on at this polka party.

Listen to this clip, which features Palasz singing in Slovenian and some great accordion work from Toby Hanson:

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This Week in Accordion: Copper Box

Time to check this week’s accordion calendar:

  • Copper Box (Monday in Milwaukee, WI)
    Who says accordion club meetings can’t rock? There’s a special treat at this month’s Milwaukee Accordion Club meeting: a performance by Oshkosh’s own, Copper Box.
  • Creole Belles with Andrew Carriere (Tuesday in Berkeley, CA)
    A tip for Bay Area Zydeco fans: every Tuesday night, Ashkenaz in Berkeley hosts a Cajun/Zydeco dance with a live band and dance lessons. This week, it’s the Creole Belles with accordion great Andrew Carriere.
  • Accordion Extravaganza Festival (Fri-Sun in Edmonton, AB)
    Alberta’s largest accordion festival features two days of concerts, competitions, workshops and — my favorite — a pancake breakfast. Performers include Sammy Thomas, Austin Kawa, and the Cimarrons.

Know of an upcoming accordion event in your area? Tell us about it!

NY Times: Accordion Jokes Since 1877

Yesterday, the New York Times ended their TimesSelect program and opened up the previously subscription-only portions of their website to anyone. This means free access to all news and op-ed columns, as well as archives from 1987 to the present, and from 1851 to 1922. I love looking through old newspapers, so those early archives made me wonder: what were people writing about accordions back in the late 19th century?

Turns out that accordion jokes are nothing new. In an editorial titled “The Concertina” (August 18, 1877), the author rails against this “so-called musical instrument which is variously known as the accordion or concertina” as the “favorite instrument of the idle and depraved.” He goes on to compare its sound to the screams of a squeezed cat.

Another piece, “A Noble Act” (May 18, 1885), is a fictional account of three “public-spirited young men” who grab an “habitual and reckless accordion player” off the street and punish him by forcing him to listen to his own accordion.

“They have struck a lasting blow at the crime of accordion playing, and a service such as this can hardly be overestimated.”

Fortunately, accordion players are a resilient bunch; we survived that early resistance, the Lawrence Welk era, and Urkel from Family Matters. Like it or not, we’re here to stay!

Quick Links: September 19, 2007

This Week in Accordion: Chango Spasiuk

What’s on the accordion calendar this week?

  • Chango Spasiuk: The Art of the Chamamé (Sunday in Los Angeles, CA)
    Argentinian accordion virtuoso Chango Spasiuk performs at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Spasiuk is renowned for pushing chamamé, a rural dance music of northern Argentina, in new directions.
  • Cajun Zydeco Festival (Saturday in Fremont, CA)
    Just across the bay from us, it’s the 11th annual Cajun/Zydeco festival at Ardenwood Historic Farm. This year’s lineup includes Tee Fee Swamp Boogie, Motordude Zydeco, Corey Ledet, Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic, and Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie.
  • Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble (Sunday in New York, NY)
    Son of accordionist Jude Taylor and long time drummer with Geno Delafose, Curley Taylor now plays accordion and leads his own band, Zydeco Trouble. This show is part of the excellent Let’s Zydeco concert series (no relation to Let’s Polka) held at Connolly’s on 45th.

Have an event to add to our calendar? Just let us know!

Russia’s Got Talent: Maksim Tokaev

Russia Today has an inspiring piece on 14-year-old accordion player Maksim Tokaev, who won 1st prize on the Russian TV talent show “Minute of Glory” earlier this year. Since winning the million ruble prize (about $39,000 US), Maksim now has his own fan club, has enrolled in a local music college, and has used his prize money to help repair his family’s home. Maksim has been playing since he was five and, as this video shows, already knows how to work a crowd.

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