Five Questions: Bradley Jaye Williams

Bradley Jaye WilliamsHang on tight — it’s another edition of “Five Questions”, our interview series with noteworthy accordion personalities from around the globe.

Few accordionists can cross genres as comfortably as Bradley Jaye Williams. Born in Michigan, Williams moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Austin, where his music career really took off, playing with the likes of Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. He currently plays in three bands: an authentic Texas-style conjunto called Conjunto Los Pinkys, a Cajun/Zydeco dance band known as The Gulf Coast Playboys, and The Fabulous Polkasonics, a combo that plays Polish-American “honky style” polkas, waltzes, and obereks.

When and why did you first start playing the accordion?

In 1986, I started playing the 2-row button accordion while living in a tiny studio apartment in Berkeley, California. My neighbors listened to me struggle with “La Cucaracha” and “La Nopalera” for a few months! Why did I start playing? I love accordion music! It was the natural thing to do. It felt right. To me, the accordion was always cool and it’s at the heart of many styles of dance music I love. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan around all kinds of music… Motown, country, Dixieland, jazz, rock n’ roll and polka music… mainly the Polish-American and German music of Marv Herzog and Lawrence Welk (of course).

Living in the Bay Area in my 20’s, I experienced the music of Flaco Jimenez and it really struck a chord with me. Here was good old polka music being chopped and customized in a new and different way. I loved it. Ultimately, I think I was drawn to the international and cross-cultural appeal of accordion music and polka… the songs, customs, dance, food and pure FUN we all share. Of course, there is also something very compelling about the accordion itself: a magnificent machine…beautifully designed…and a challenge to play.

Five Questions: Skyler Fell

Skyler FellIt’s time for another installment of “Five Questions” — our occasional interview series with notable personalities in the accordion world.

Today, we’re talking to Skyler Fell, owner of the Accordion Apocalypse Repair Shop in San Francisco. A professionally trained accordion repairwoman, Skyler offers repairs, parts, lessons, and free advice out of her humble shop in Hunter’s Point. Accordion Apocalypse has become a Bay Area accordion hub, hosting bi-weekly jams and shows by touring bands and wild circuses. She also plays in a couple bands herself: the Hobo Gobbelins and the Accordion Apocalypse Circus Sideshow.

When and why did you start playing the accordion?

I started playing accordion when I was around 20 years old, after walking into Boaz Accordions in Berkeley. Feeling inspired by live circus bands featuring fierce and independent women with a hardcore edge in Europe and the Bay Area, I decided to have a go at the accordion. What has happened since has been a truly magical and eye-opening journey.

Five Questions: Tom Torriglia

Tom TorrigliaWe’re launching a new feature today called “Five Questions” — a series of brief interviews with notable personalities in the accordion world.

Our first subject is San Francisco accordionist Tom Torriglia. Tom has been in the music business since the late 1960s and has been an incredible accordion promoter over the years. He was an original member of Those Darn Accordions, is responsible for making June “National Accordion Awareness Month,” and campaigned to make the accordion San Francisco’s official instrument. Today, you can catch him playing a variety of gigs around the Bay Area, often with his retro-Italiano band, Bella Ciao.

When and why did you start playing the accordion?

I started taking lessons in 1962 at Theodore’s (Pezzolo) House of Music on Union St. in San Francisco. This was at the famous “accordion house.” My teacher was Theodore Pezzolo and I was his last student. I studied there for about eight years. When I left, he gave me all his original hand-written sheets of music, which I still have.

Before starting with the accordion, I had taken a year of piano but that didn’t work out and then one day, an accordion player came to the house to rehearse with my father who played sax and clarinet, and I was very taken with the instrument — with all the buttons and bellows and such — and I asked my parents if I could give it a try. Also, I think I was fated to play the accordion because, as everyone knows, there has to be one accordion player in each Italian-American household. And since I was the youngest child…