Esteban “Steve” Jordan Dies

Steve JordanIt’s a sad day for accordion and Tejano music fans; legendary accordionist Esteban “Steve” Jordan died last night of complications from liver cancer. He was 71 years old.

Known as “El Parche” because of his eye patch, Jordan started his career in conjunto in the 1960s, but soon began exploring and incorporating other musical styles into his work — blending rock, Latin jazz, blues, and salsa with traditional polkas and rancheras. He pushed the limits of the diatonic accordion and wasn’t afraid to experiment with new technology, using electronic devices like phase shifters and fuzzboxes to shape his sound.

“‘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.’”

Definitely one of the all-time greats. Rest in peace, El Parche.

Accordions in Austin: SXSW 2010

SXSW 2010It’s that time of year again: the start of the annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, and our accompanying roundup of a few of the accordion-toting artists performing this year. With hundreds of bands on more than eighty stages over five days, you’re bound to find something you like.

  • Pinata Protest
    We’ve been following this energetic, accordion-powered punk/conjunto band from San Antonio for a few years now. Fun, frenetic, and far from your typical Tejano music.
    Cantina mp3
  • Takashi Kamide
    Takashi Kamide switched from classical piano to jazz piano in high school after hearing the legendary Bill Evans. But after being inspired by the sounds of Richard Galliano and Stefan Hussong, he upgraded to jazz accordion.
    Takashi Kamide mp3
  • Cerronato
    Inspired by Colombian vallenato and cumbia, this Austin quartet fuses rich four-part harmonies with accordion, bass, and percussion in an authentic, but innovative mix.
    Mi Compadre Bernabe mp3
  • The Woes
    With a lineup sometimes as large as thirty musicians, the Brooklyn-based Woes play a lively stew of Delta blues and early Country, of bluegrass and New Orleans marching band music, dished out by banjo, harmonica, accordion, French Horn and organ.
    The Secret mp3
  • Los Texas Wranglers
    From traditional Tex-Mex conjunto to country and western, the Wranglers have been packing dance halls in the Austin/San Antonio area for more than ten years.
    Un Poquito De Carino mp3

This is by no means an exhaustive list — check the SXSW site for more bands, as well as schedule and venue information. And for other accordion artists that you may have missed out on, check out our SXSW writeups from 2006, 2007, and 2008 (we clearly dropped the ball last year).

Art Van Damme, 1920-2010

Art Van DammeThere aren’t a ton of jazz accordionists and one could argue that, if it wasn’t for Art Van Damme, there might not be any at all. Often called the father of jazz accordion, Van Damme was a pioneer who helped establish the accordion as a serious jazz instrument. He passed away on Monday at the age of 89.

Heavily inspired by the recordings of the “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman, Van Damme developed his early style by adapting Goodman’s solos to the accordion. In 1945, he joined NBC Radio as a studio musician where he recorded more than 150 shows with his quintet, in addition to numerous TV appearances on the Tonight Show, Dinah Shore Show, and others. Over the course of fifty years performing, he recorded more than 40 albums, toured throughout Europe and the US, and was voted “Top Accordionist” in Downbeat magazine’s annual poll of jazz musicians ten years running. His melodic improvisation and light touch were hallmarks of his playing.

If you’re interested in exploring Art’s music, you can find a few of his 1950’s albums on iTunes. I also highly recommend the four-CD compilation Squeeze Me: The Jazz and Swing Accordion Story. It’s an excellent introduction to jazz accordion and features tracks from Van Damme, Joe Mooney, Johnny Meyer, Mat Mathews, and many more.

MP3 Monday: Los Enmascarados

Los EnmascaradosCombine KISS with lucha libre and put it to an accordion-fueled conjunto beat, and you have Los Enmascarados. Wearing the type of colorful masks typically seen on Mexican wrestlers — and hiding their real personas behind nicknames — this energetic band has a built a loyal following in Texas, even earning a Tejano Music Awards nomination. And, just in case you try to pick a fight with them, the band would like to remind you: “No Somos Luchadores” (We’re Not Wrestlers).

The Corner Laughers, Ultraviolet Garden

The Corner Laughers, Ultraviolet Garden

Our friends, The Corner Laughers, have just released their second album, Ultraviolet Garden, available from their website and iTunes. Anna is featured playing accordion on one track, and she also did the album art!

During production of the track “Dead Sicilians,” the band brought Anna (and her accordion) on board to give the song an authentic Italian feel. From the decorative accents to the frenzied climax, the accordion really packs a punch. Check it out!

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MP3 Monday: Bette & Wallet

Bette & WalletBette & Wallet is the Canadian duo of Mary Beth Carty (accordion) and Gabriel Ouellette (fiddle, guitar). Hopping seamlessly between English and French, Bette & Wallet mix their Nova Scotian and Québécois roots with klezmer, Cajun, Irish, and blues to create a colorful musical patchwork you can dance to. Mary Beth uses the term ‘musique recyclée’ to describe their music — the art of combining traditional melodies with contemporary folklore — and its an apt description for their vibrant, authentic brand of folk. The duo has already earned Canadian Folk Music Award nominations and invitations to festivals in France and Canada.

Dylan Does Brave Combo

It’s never too early to get into the Christmas spirit, which may explain this week’s release of Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart. Nestled among classics like “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Silver Bells” is a tune that will be instantly recognizable to Brave Combo fans: “Must Be Santa” from the band’s own Christmas album (It’s Christmas, Man!) in 1991. Dylan’s version is nearly identical to their arrangement, right down to the polka beat and bouncy accordion supplied by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. You can listen to Dylan’s rendition using the widget below:

Is it a coincidence or is Bob Dylan a closet Brave Combo fan? Turns out it’s the latter — apparently Dylan once played the Brave Combo version on his satellite radio show. Yet another score for the boys from Denton.

MP3 Monday: Arizona Accordion Club

Hot Original Polkas by the Arizona Accordion ClubOne of the reasons we created our directory was to showcase the numerous accordion clubs across the country working tirelessly to promote our favorite instrument. A great example is the Arizona Accordion Club who, in addition to their monthly meetings, hold an annual festival and even sponsor scholarships for young accordionists.

This year, the club has gone even further with the release of Hot Original Polkas, an album of — you guessed it — original polkas written and performed by members of the club. Each polka has its own flavor and the players range in age from 19 to 80+. The album kicks off with this track written by club member John Smoltz. (Not the baseball player, though he used to play the accordion, too!)

MP3 Monday: The Polka Floyd Show

We’re back! After a long vacation, we’re tanned, rested, and ready to share some strange and wonderful things from the accordion world with you. Let’s start with some classic rock with a twist; as you can guess from their name, The Polka Floyd Show isn’t your typical Pink Floyd tribute band. This Ohio band combines a love for Roger Waters and the boys with accordion and peppy polka rhythms. Their latest release, Live from the Ohio Theatre, showcases tracks from throughout Pink Floyd’s lengthy career, including early chestnuts like “The Gnome,” while a lively crowd eats it up.

You might think their schtick would get old quickly, but the musicianship is solid and the energy never wanes. Traditional? Hardly. Campy? A bit. Fun? Absolutely.

MP3 Monday: Monsters of Accordion

Monsters of AccordionWe’re still unwinding from a fun weekend at the Cotati Accordion Festival, but there’s no time to rest. Not when the Monsters of Accordion are about to unleash their fury on the West Coast. The brainchild of accordion madman Jason Webley, this annual event showcases some of the best accordion-toting singer-songwriters around in a whirlwind, week-long tour.

Joining Webley for this year’s edition are Stevhen Iancu of the Dolomites, Eric Stern of Vagabond Opera, and Geoff Berner. At various stops along the way, they’ll be joined by special guests like Mood Area 52 and Mark Growden. This year’s tour kicks off in Seattle on Wednesday and makes stops in Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento before winding up in Ashland next Tuesday. (Check our calendar for dates and times.)

Street performer turned cult musician, Jason Webley is known for his gravelly voice, his caterwauling squeezebox, and his unique ability to involve the audience in his shows; most of his concerts end with the entire crowd locked arm-in-arm, singing at the tops of their lungs. (We’ll share some video evidence of this from the Cotati festival later this week.)

Stevhen Koji Iancu is a Japanese/Romanian British Immigrant who puts together a fiery blend of Gypsy music, fusing older Japanese styles of Enka with subtle elements of Cumbia, Ska, Punk, Balkan and Romanian music, and many other styles from around the world. Iancu has also performed with numerous groups, including Balkan Beat Box, and was a touring member of Gogol Bordello.

Eric Stern is the bandleader and primary composer of Vagabond Opera, Portland’s favorite absurdist cabaret ensemble. A premiere operatic tenor, accordionist, composer and showman, Stern commands the room with his incendiary stage presence and devilish virtuosity. Son of an accomplished Gaullic accordionist, he is adept at countless styles, at times performing on a specially-tuned quarter tone accordion to play complex Arabic melodies.

“I want to make original klezmer music that’s drunk, dirty, political and passionate. As a Jew of eastern european descent, I feel I have a calling to make this music live, not just preserve it under glass like something in a museum.” Berner’s music, inspired by traditional Jewish folk song and fueled by whiskey, dresses his wry wit and biting social commentary in shockingly beautiful, plaintive melodies.

If you need more convincing, check out our recap of the Monsters of Accordion 2007 show in San Francisco, including photos and a video of Corn Mo doing the best solo accordion rendition of “We are the Champions” you may ever hear.

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