Lil’ Wally vs. Lawrence Welk

What would happen if the king of Chicago-style polka met the king of champagne music? It actually happened back in 1966 when Lil’ Wally Jagiello performed “Johnny’s Knocking Polka” on the Lawrence Welk Show. I could watch that chemnitzer concertina shake for hours…

Canadian Polka Showdown

Today’s Toronto Star has a feature on saxophonist John Gora and accordionist Walter Ostanek, the two Canadian artists nominated for Best Polka Album at this year’s Grammys. The article plays up the good-natured rivalry between the pair — Gora has been nominated four times but never won, Ostanek has been nominated 20 times and won three times — but also suggests that polka won’t be part of the Grammys much longer. According to Ostanek:

“Everyone in the polka business is wondering how long (the Grammy polka category) can last… Polka will never die, but no one makes a living at it. It’s music you play for the love of it. It’s for parties and good times, and it will always have a place in people’s lives. But it’s for weekend warriors now.”

While it’d be sad to see the category go — and I don’t think it will; the Grammys seem more preoccupied with adding rather than removing categories at this point — I agree that polka will survive just fine without it. As long as there are parties, beer, and accordions in close proximity, there will be polkas.

‘Weird Al’ on The Simpsons!

Weird Al on The SimpsonsSet your Tivos, ‘Weird’ Al is making a cameo appearance on The Simpsons this Sunday night (8/7c), January 27th, 2008. This will be his second appearance on the show, putting him in an elite club of multi-time guests such as Stephen Hawking and Thomas Pynchon! For more information (warning: spoilers!) check out Al’s Myspace blog.

Behind the Bellows: A Documentary

The accordion has always seemed like the perfect movie subject. Its story features a glamorous past, an unceremonious fall from grace, and now a lively renaissance. What audience wouldn’t love that story?

Thankfully, Steve Mobia agrees and is putting the finishing touches on Behind the Bellows, his documentary chronicling the accordion’s “variety, history and rise and fall in popularity.” It includes interviews and performances by Anthony Galla Rini, Stefan Hussong, Guy Klucevsek, Carmen Carrozza, and more. In the trailer below, you can see clips of Those Darn Accordions, Henry Doktorski, the Great Morgani, and Jason Webley, among others.

On Mobia’s site, the documentary is listed as “unfinished”, but I’ll post an update as soon as we hear it’s ready for public consumption.

Milen Slavov Teaches Anytime, Anywhere

Milen SlavovBulgaria seems to have no shortage of great accordionists and Milen Slavov is one of the brightest lights in Balkan traditional and contemporary music. He moved to America in 1997 and currently performs, composes, produces, and teaches throughout the United States and Canada. I know a few of our readers saw him perform with the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio last year.

We’ve seen some online accordion lesson courses before, but nothing quite like the ones that Milen is currently offering through his website. He offers both custom audio (he’ll send you an MP3) and custom video lessons based around one of four subjects: ornaments in Bulgarian music, Bulgarian/Balkan piano accordion music, phrases and techniques, or improvisation. Even cooler, though, you can schedule face-to-face lessons to be conducted via webcam.

Normally, I’m a little skeptical of online video lessons because there’s no substitute for the feedback you get from a real teacher. But I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the possibility of taking lessons (even long-distance ones) from one of the world’s top accordionists. If anyone out there takes a lesson from Milen, let us know. I’d be really curious to hear how it goes.

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Quick Links: Young Accordionists Edition

This edition of “Quick Links” is focused entirely on the future — some young accordionists making their mark on the music world.

  • Kalei Dodson
    Kalei is a 9-year-old up-and-coming conjunto accordionist who has already played with the likes of Joel Guzman, Los Padrinos, Los Texmaniacs, and more. Check out a video of Kalei jamming at home.
  • Phillip Nadvesnik
    Phillip is a young accordionist and polka enthusiast from Melbourne, Australia, who even runs his own online polka radio show. Again, check YouTube for videos of Philip in action.
  • Hunter Hayes
    Hunter is a 16-year-old Cajun singer/songwriter/accordionist. Hunter is probably best known for this performance with Hank Williams Jr. back when he was just five years old.

Motion Trio at Carnegie Hall

Few artists challenge notions of what the accordion can or can’t do quite like Poland’s Motion Trio. Since 1996, Motion Trio has been taking its unorthodox playing techniques (bellows scraping, accentuated vibrato) and eclectic repertoire (jazz, rock, avant garde) from the streets where they first honed their skills to the concert hall. According to trio founder, Janusz Wojtarowicz:

“Our idea is to take this instrument, which is only thought about for weddings or polka or tango, and to make it as serious as any other classical instrument… We want to show the world that this is a versatile instrument that can play everything from contemporary classical music to folk or even avant garde music.”

Last Sunday, the trio played at Carnegie Hall in New York and I found an excellent clip of their performance online. It cuts off abruptly at the end, but you’ll get the idea — their playing is inspired, quirky, and totally captivating.

Flickr Find: Backyard Accordion Party

Backyard Accordion Partyimage-50, uploaded by Curtis!

I’m always telling people that the accordion is the ultimate party instrument and this photo — dated September 1958 — is further proof. Reckless dancing, cigars, shirtless accordion players, dark socks with shorts, probably some alcohol off-camera… now that’s a party.

Dropkick Murphys on Letterman

You don’t see a lot of accordions on late-night TV (or any-time TV, unfortunately), so I was happily surprised to catch the Dropkick Murphys on the Late Show with David Letterman last Friday. With the band member Marc Orrell rocking a Roland accordion, they played a track (“The State of Massachusetts”) from their latest CD, The Meanest of Times. Here’s the video:

Polkaholics Anonymous

Last week, the Chicago Tribune had a fun piece on Chicago punk/polka band The Polkaholics. Fortified with Old Style and Old Spice, The Polkaholics recently celebrated their 10th anniversary and continue their quest to bring polkas rocking and screaming into the 21st century. Guitarist “Dandy” Don Hedeker (day job: professor of biostatistics!) describes the reaction of older polka fans who sometimes stumble upon their shows:

“Sometimes they’re excited to see what we’re doing with the music… Other times they think we’re the devil.”

The band’s latest CD, Ten Years to the Floor, is a live album highlighting the band’s unique brand of polka madness. As with anything punk, it’s more about the spirit and raw energy than musicianship — “we may miss a note, but we never miss a party” — and you can practically hear the beergarden and mosh pit coming together. This is a Polkaholics original from that album:

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