The Polka Grammy Is No More

I was hoping for an Accordion Awareness Month filled with only positive stories; unfortunately, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had other ideas. Yesterday the Academy announced the elimination of the polka category from the Grammy Awards, wiping out one of polka’s few remaining venues for national exposure. Carl Finch, leader and accordionist for two-time Grammy winner Brave Combo, was understandably disappointed:

“It’s devastating… Polka is so misunderstood, you know, the butt of jokes. Having a polka category was the most important step to legitimacy that we could ever hope to achieve. To have that taken away, it’s like it was all for nothing.”

According to the Academy, the polka category was removed “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.” One official cited the declining number of entries (only 20 in 2006) as a deciding factor. That only five artists had won the award in its 24 years — including 18-time winner Jimmy Sturr — made the category appear even less competitive.

This is definitely tough news for the polka community, especially for those bands who enjoyed media attention at Grammy time. But ultimately, I don’t think there are any polka fans who love the music any less today than they did yesterday, and I doubt this will stop any of the hard-working polka bands who fill dance floors across the country from doing what they love most.

Steve Jordan Profile on NPR

Steve JordanDoing its part for Accordion Awareness Month, NPR’s All Things Considered had a piece today on accordion legend Esteban “Steve” Jordan. Over the course of his lengthy career, Jordan has brought styles and techniques to the button accordion that no one had ever imagined.

“‘What Steve Jordan did was, he electrified the accordion,’ says Sunny Sauceda, a rising star on the squeezebox. ‘He used pedals, he brought in jazz influences to the accordion playing. He brought in the effects that had never been done on the accordion — to this day, nobody does it.’

Then there’s the whole jazz thing, says Joel Guzman, an acclaimed traditional accordionist from Austin, Texas. ‘He’s playing flat-fifths and raised 11ths, rhythmically so deep… So, from a musical standpoint, he’s a genius.'”

Today, Jordan is 70 and, despite fighting cirrhosis of the liver and cancer, he’s hard at work with nine albums worth of unreleased material (where he plays every instrument) that he’s preparing for release through his website later this summer. I’m looking forward to hearing what El Parche has up his billowing sleeves this time.

Make An Accordion Awareness Month Pledge!

It’s June 1st and that can only mean one thing… it’s the start of Accordion Awareness Month! Established in 1989 by our pal Tom Torriglia — formerly of Those Darn Accordions, now with retro-Italiano band Bella Ciao — Accordion Awareness Month was created to spread the word about the accordion’s resurgence in popularity and to educate people about the accordion’s true musical potential. Basically, the same mission we’ve adopted at Let’s Polka, except we do it year-round!

This year, we want you — our humble, accordion-loving readers — to help promote the virtues of our favorite instrument. Sit on your porch and play some tunes for your neighbors, attend a show on our accordion event calendar, fill up your coworker’s iPod with Flaco Jimenez songs when he isn’t looking, tell all your friends about Let’s Polka… the possibilities are limitless. Me, I’m going to sit on my balcony every night, directly above a pizzeria, and serenade patrons.

To encourage you, we’re giving away over $100 worth of accordion-related goodies to readers who pledge to promote the accordion this month. To make your pledge, write a comment on this post and tell us how you plan to celebrate Accordion Awareness Month — doesn’t matter if it’s something small (making a YouTube video) or big (writing an accordion concerto). One lucky, randomly-chosen pledger will receive a prize package stuffed with accordion CDs, books, and more. Contents include:

You have until the end of Accordion Awareness Month to make your pledge, so get out there and become an accordion awareness ambassador!

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