Franz Nicolay’s Accordions

Franz NicolayI’m always curious to hear what gear “professional” accordion players are carrying around — and it’s even better to hear the stories behind their choices. Franz Nicolay, keyboard/accordion player for The Hold Steady, recently posted on the band’s message board in response to a question asking what kind of accordion he plays. Turns out he currently has three: a red 72-bass Hohner Concerto II, a full-size 120-bass Galanti, and a ladies-size 120-bass Iorio Candido. I liked the bittersweet story behind the Galanti:

“The really good one is a full-size 120-bass Galanti, an Italian beast I bought off a Bulgarian fellow named Sergio in Forest Hills about five years ago. I found him on Yahoo Classifieds; it’s kind of a sad story: he’d emigrated with his brother fifty years earlier, and they’d always lived together, worked together, never married, and after work they’d play accordion duets in the basement. When his brother died, he couldn’t bring himself to play alone. So he gave me an incredible deal, because, he said, ‘I can tell you’re a musician and I want it to go to someone who’ll play it.'”

In addition to The Hold Steady, Franz plays with a number of other groups, including the World/Inferno Friendship Society, Anti-Social Music, and Guignol, and he just released his solo debut, Major General.

25 Songs: Lil’ Wally

Ho-ho-ho! It’s the last day of our accordion advent calendar and we’ve had a blast sharing music from some of our favorite accordion-toting artists. We’ll wrap up with a tune from polka legend Lil’ Wally Jagiello — composer, arranger, drummer, singer, self-taught concertina player, relentless promoter, and the undisputed king of Chicago polka. From everyone here at Let’s Polka (myself, Anna, and Sarah), we wish you a merry and musical Christmas!

25 Songs: Riders in the Sky

Rising “hats and shoulders” above other C&W (“Comedy and Western”) acts, Riders in the Sky have been playing original and classic cowboy songs for more than thirty years. In the late 1980s, the group added accordionist Joey Miskulin (“The Cowpolka King”), known to many as the accordion prodigy who joined Frankie Yankovic’s band when he was only thirteen. On this track, “An Old Fashioned Christmas Polka,” Joey gets to mix the Riders’ Western style with his polka roots.

25 Songs: The Decemberists

When journalists write about indie rock’s embrace of the accordion, Portland band The Decemberists typically heads the list. With an oeuvre that ranges from sea shanties to prog rock, they’ve had ample opportunity to showcase their longtime accordionist/keyboardist Jenny Conlee. One holiday-themed example is this cover of a quirky, lesser-known John Denver tune, “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” The Decemberists stick closely to the original’s country style, but trade the honky-tonk piano for Conlee’s honky-tonk accordion.

25 Songs: The Klezmatics

In honor of the start of Hanukkah, we have a lively holiday track from New York’s klezmer superstars, The Klezmatics. In 2006, the band won a Grammy for its album Wonder Wheel, which brought the lyrics of Woody Guthrie to life. Soon after, the band released another album of Guthrie lyrics — Happy Joyous Hanukkah — based on a series of his songs about Hanukkah, Jewish history and spiritual life inspired by his mother-in-law, Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt. Whether you’re lighting a menorah or a Christmas tree this holiday season, this is a great tune to get the entire family dancing.

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25 Songs: Motion Trio

Poland’s Motion Trio has a simple goal: to change the way the accordion is perceived as an instrument. Arguably, they’ve already succeeded, exploring soundscapes far beyond what most people typically associate and experience with their instrument. Their excellent album Play-Station, for example, reimagined the electronic beeps of the video game era with only acoustic accordions. The trio’s founder, Janusz Wojtarowicz, states their mission best:

“Accordion traditionalists have run out of ideas, and it is our goal to extract notes from the accordion which have never been heard before, to develop completely new sounds and forms, and transfer them onto CD as well as of course to present them live.”

25 Songs: I.K. Dairo

With less than a week left in our accordion advent calendar, we turn to a country not typically known for its accordion players: Nigeria. I.K. Dairo was a pioneer of juju, a popular Nigerian music that evolved from Yoruba percussion. Dairo introduced new sounds to juju, adding Latin rhythms, electric guitar, and his ten-button accordion to the mix. He toured the world, was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1963, and extended juju’s appeal while deepening its connections to its Yoruba roots.

25 Songs: Very Be Careful

It’s Friday… let’s put on some party music! The rhythms of Colombian vallenato, by way of Los Angeles — that’s the sound of Very Be Careful. Vallenato is a traditional folk music of Colombia that typically features the accordion, caja vallenata (drum), and guacharaca. The Very Be Careful quintet adds bass, cowbell, and a relentless parranda (party) style that few can resist.

25 Songs: Lidia Kaminska

Barely thirty years old, Lidia Kaminska has already set herself apart as one of the world’s premier classical accordionists. Her chamber music, concerto, and solo performances explore the accordion’s complex and expressive range, and her repertoire includes a broad spectrum of classical, contemporary, and avant-garde music. Recently, she’s taken up the bandoneon — making her debut this past Spring at New York’s Lincoln Center — and has researched the works of Astor Piazzolla intensely. This clip, however, finds her playing the bayan on a contemporary piece by Jaroslaw Bester, leader of the Bester Quartet.

25 Songs: Dreamland Faces

Dreamland Faces is a Minnesota duo combining our household’s two favorite instruments — the accordion and musical saw. Together, Karen Majewicz (who worked for Hohner doing repairs) and Andy McCormick play enchanting and haunting music that evokes a bygone era, when flappers flapped and films were still silent. With earnest, warbling vocals and an old-time jazz sensibility, all that’s missing is the sound of a needle making its way across a dusty record.

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