Author: Joe Petrucci

‘Squeeze This’ Author to Present ‘Living History of Accordion’ at Liberty Bellows on Oct. 26

marion_jacobson

In her book Squeeze This, A Cultural History of the Accordion in America, Marion Jacobson, an author, ethnomusicologist and musician from Northern New Jersey, traces the instrument’s development through six key moments of transition, from vaudeville to world music.

Jacobson will bring that history to life for the Philadelphia Accordion Club on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Liberty Bellows (216 S. 2nd St.), marking her first promotional appearance in Philadelphia. Her one-of-a-kind, interactive presentation, A Living History of the Accordion, will spotlight the instrument’s evolution through the last century. She’ll be showcasing some of the most valuable and interesting accordions in the vast collection at Liberty Bellows’ three-story facility just off South Street.

“I’m very excited,” said Jacobson, who has performed with klezmer bands and on New York City subway platforms. “This presentation is very unique.”

The Philadelphia Accordion Club’s monthly gathering will begin at 12:30 p.m. with a performance from Liberty Bellows’ house group, Philly Squeeze. Following club business at 1 p.m., Jacobson’s performance will begin, taking the audience on a whirlwind tour of the accordion that highlights the instrument’s many transformations and how they impacted its development.

Copies of Jacobson’s book will be available for purchase and she will also sign copies for attendees. The event is free and open to the public and refreshments will be made available.

The six moments of transition that Jacobson focuses her book on include:
- the Americanization of the piano accordion
- 1920s transformation from expensive, exotic vaudeville instrument to mass-marketed product
- accordion craze of the 1930s and 1940s, including development of “accordion industrial complex”
- peak popularity in the 1950s exemplified by Lawrence Welk and Dick Contino
- the instrument’s marginalization in the 1960s
- accordion revival in the 1980s

Oh and by the way, today is Jacobson’s birthday. So if you seek her out in social media land, be sure to wish her a “wunnerful, wunnerful” day.

Marion Jacobson on WNYC

Babies, Bellows and Bach: Philadelphia Accordion Club’s June Gathering

Liberty Bellows owner Michael Bulboff and his young son greet members of the Philadelphia Accordion Club.

National leaders, education pioneers and young prodigies were among the 25 people who packed Liberty Bellows near South St. in Philadelphia for the inaugural gathering of the Philadelphia Accordion Club in late June.

Linda Reed, president of the American Accordionists Association, welcomed an enthusiastic group for a workshop on ethnic music by Washington D.C.-based accordionist Joan Grauman and a performance by two members of the Brooklyn Accordion Club, itself a new group that formed in January.

Reed also talked about the AAA’s 75th anniversary festival, set for Aug. 14-18 in New York. She was impressed with the local organization’s turnout, which included Stanley and Joanna Darrow, the couple behind the enduring Acme Accordion School in Haddonfield that has nurtured accordionists for more than 50 years.

Many different musical styles were represented among the local attendees, including Lithuanian, French musette, folk/pop and classical, to name a few.

Mayumi Miyaoka and Robert Duncan, who have only been playing together for months, made the trip from Brooklyn to entertain and did not disappoint. Their nearly hour-long set included classical standards and accordion rarities, including:

Generation Relation by Stas Venglevski

Preludes & Fugues, BWV 553 by Johann Sebastian Bach

Here’s Philadelphia Accordion Club co-founder Dallas Vietty, a French musette expert who teaches on Saturdays at Liberty Bellows and gigs regularly between Philly and Brooklyn, performing with Lancaster 10 year-old Cody McSherry, an award-winning prodigy who was attending the summer accordion camp at Liberty Bellows.

Arabic music is on the menu when the Philadelphia Accordion Club reconvenes on Saturday, July 27 at 1:30 p.m. at Liberty Bellows (second floor at 614 S. 2nd St., Philadelphia). All accordionists and the accordion-curious are invited, so please feel free to share with others and bring a friend.

Here’s what’s on tap:
1:30 p.m. — performance by Philly Squeeze
2 p.m. — Philadelphia Accordion Club meeting and open mic
2:45 p.m. — performance by Melody Ben Flah, a multiple award-winning accordion competition champion currently performing with Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, a Philadelphia Arab music ensemble. She will perform with a percussionist.
3:15 p.m. — workshop, The Accordion in Arabic Music, by Melody Ben Flah (a hands-on session)

Here’s Melody performing with others for a traditional belly dance.

American Accordion Association President to Welcome Re-Born Philadelphia Accordion Club on 6/29

American Accordion Association

We thought it was pretty cool that we recently announced the formation of the Philadelphia Accordion Club.

Things just got even better. Turns out Linda Reed, the president of the American Accordion Association (AAA), thinks it’s pretty cool, too. She’ll be on hand for the Philadelphia Accordion Club’s first gathering on Saturday, June 29 at Liberty Bellows to welcome local accordionists and check out the scene in Philly.

Reed will be spending time with Joan Grauman, the renowned Washington, D.C.-based accordion teacher and performer who will be conducting her acclaimed workshop “Playing Ethnic Music More Authentically” at Liberty Bellows. The workshop starts at 1 p.m. Grauman is on the governing board of AAA and along with her husband operates SqueezinArt, which specializes in gifts for accordionists.

Joan Grauman plays “Our Washington Senators”, composed by accordionist, Merv Conn, during the podcast “Hang Up and Listen” presented by Slate.

Following Grauman’s workshop, Philly accordionists will be treated to a performance by two members of the Brooklyn Accordion Club, which just formed earlier this year. Mayumi Miyaoka and Robert Duncan will perform a Classical Accordion Duo starting around 2 p.m.

Mayumi Mayoka performs at the first gathering of the Brooklyn Accordion Club.

Mayumi Mayoka performs at the first gathering of the Brooklyn Accordion Club.

Mayumi Miyaoka performs Bach Invention No. 8

Robert Duncan performs at the first gathering of the Brooklyn Accordion Club.

Robert Duncan performs at the first gathering of the Brooklyn Accordion Club.

 

Pushing Buttons: Philadelphia Accordion Club is Born

phila_accordion_club_draft

When we launched the Ardmore Accordion Academy in January, our primary goals were to promote accordion artistry and generally elevate the accordion’s presence throughout Greater Philadelphia.

A little more than four months later, we’re proud to have taken some major baby steps toward achieving those goals. We’re absolutely thrilled to announce the Ardmore Accordion Academy is a founding member of the Philadelphia Accordion Club, which was formed last week along with the pros at one-stop accordion shop Liberty Bellows in Philadelphia and one of the East Coast’s brightest accordionists, Dallas Vietty.

The club’s mission is to increase the visibility, artistic relevance and appreciation of accordionists throughout Philadelphia. We’re holding our first monthly gathering on June 29 at Liberty Bellows’ new space on South St. to collaborate, perform and drill down on how we’ll execute on that mission with other members. We anticipate a healthy turnout for the event, which will give local accordionists the rare opportunity to pick other accordionists brains, share techniques and lessons, and enjoy some top-notch accordion performances. The club’s gatherings are suitable for beginners as well as gigging musicians.

Untitled-4The only mentions of a previous incarnation of the Philadelphia Accordion Club is in reference to its one-time president, famed Philly-based accordionist Andy Arcari, a vocal advocate for the accordion who wrote this piece in 1941 for Accordion World magazine.

In the piece, Arcari argues for more transcription of well-known “numbers” written by famous composers. Indeed, this was a significant obstacle for the development of future accordionists and in many ways remains some 70 years later. We believe the kind of sharing, learning and playing stoked by the Philadelphia Accordion Club can help accordionists of all abilities make their own mark.

We’d love to hear your ideas at our monthly gathering, so if you are an accordion player or if you know one, please spread the word and join us.

 

 

 

Remembering an icon: New Jersey Accordion Maker Al Iorio

Iorio Accorgan Accordion

 

About seven years ago when I was really getting into the accordion and playing for the first time in a band, I went searching for a new box that would enable me to plug in and be amplified.

I searched online and found some interesting and affordable used accordions all the way over in North Jersey in what appeared to be a residential neighborhood. I made the nearly three-hour trek from Wilkes-Barre, where I was living at the time and wound up in the lower level-garage of a modest home, which I would soon learn was the final base of opereations for the Iorio accordion empire, best known as Iorio Syn-Cordion Musical Instrument Co. I met an older gentleman who showed me around his garage and lamented how he was coming to the end of the line, but that it was a great ride.

Al Iorio courtesy of Northjersey.com

Al Iorio courtesy of Northjersey.com

On Monday, Amedeo “Al” Iorio, a mechanical engineer from Cresskill, N.J. and a family of accordion makers, died at age 94. Among his many credits include making the first electronic accordion, dubbed the Accorgan.

Even seven years ago, with the internet not quite as developed, it was easy to see just from searching online that Iorio was a brand that meant something, especially in the U.S.

Here I am playing my new (to me) Iorio in Bethlehem at the Blueberry Festival in 2007.

Here I am playing my new (to me) Iorio in Bethlehem at the Blueberry Festival in 2007.

In 1907, Iorio’s father Candido, whose family was in the music business in Italy since the mid 1800s, opened an accordion shop in New York City. Then the younger Iorio came along and revolutionized the business and the instrument. The company moved to the burbs in Jersey in Englewood, settling in an industrial park before packing up and downsizing into Iorio’s home not too long before my visit.

Here’s a video of the good folks at Liberty Bellows in South Philadelphia demonstrating one of those old Accorgans, which had a full MIDI setup and condenser mics.

Iorio was never a gigging musician but knew the accordion well enough to demonstrate and sell it. In 2002, he told The Record: “The accordion will never die out.”

Neither will your contributions, Al. Thanks for the deal on that old Iorio back in 2006 and for taking the time to give me some history lessons. Little did I know I was talking to American accordion royalty.

Necessary Cliche Alert: Slow Down to Make Fast Strides on Accordion

accordion_slow_larger

It’s not very often when slow is a desired state. Most people want to do things as quickly as possible and want things done for them as quickly as possible.

Even with recent developments in the slow food movement and those who advocate a slower pace of life or a less hectic work/life balance, the need for speed is indeed still in the lead.

But for all those lightning-quick processes and oft-overlooked steps in processes that happen too fast for us to notice when we’re getting our speedy meals, service or results, there are many links in the production chain that come about slowly and with great care. Humans discover, learn and master tasks and often make great gains in efficiency and speed. Even machines need to warm up.

So let’s apply this to learning the accordion. That’s right, we’re talkin’ about practice. It’s the most important thing newcomers to the instrument must understand and put into (slow) motion.

I’m often a speed-seeker. If there’s a shortcut I’ll try it. When it comes to music, I mostly like it to the quick beat, especially when I’m playing it. That’s just what happens naturally and I’m certain I inherited this trait from my grandfather, with whom it was almost impossible to keep up musically (even in his 90s). Turns out many of us share this quality.

Slow practice is cited by many musicians as one of the most important traits of successful players. And it’s not just the speed that counts, but a focus on precise movement from note to note through release and balance. With the accordion, it’s even more important because you’re doing three things at once (right hand, left hand, and drawing bellows).

It was the first thing I heard during my second session with my instructor six years ago as he listened to eight years of bad habits unfold during my first crack at a study piece. “SLOOOOOW DOOOOOWWWWN,” he said to me, calmly, for reinforcement.

And for me, merely SLOWING DOWN took a lot of practice. Like months.

But once you isolate each hand (especially important for beginners), practicing each measure super slowly, then put them together in super slow-mo, you ACCELERATE your learning of the piece and your ability to be precise and improvisational with it.

If you can play something PERFECT at a slow speed, I guarantee you will be able to play that same something PERFECT at a faster-than-normal speed with enough repetition. What’s more, your increased command of the number will enable you to improvise or embellish more easily.

Conversely you will make more mistakes when you play something you’re learning too fast. The WORST thing you can do when practicing is repeat mistakes. It’s not hard to see how a vicious cycle can develop, with correction nearly impossible.

When you reach a certain level, you’ll want to try and get the most out of your slow practice, and this general musician’s guide works well for more experienced players.

So don’t feed the speed beast. Make yourself this deal with your own dashing devil: Only play the song(s) you know BEST fast. We all need to indulge our inner speed freak, so go for it. Only do it with something you’ve already mastered, even if it’s just a scale (for newbies). Then you can improvise or embellish (remember, easier to do because you’ve mastered the piece) to spice up what otherwise might be a simple warmup song.

Before long, you’ll have more songs mastered that you can play at fast tempos than you know what to do with. Ardmore Accordion Academy’s first student is coming to grips with this as we speak, as he approaches his second lesson. We’ll see how slow Jeff can go, and how quickly he gets up to speed.

Accordion Kids: Jojo and Bean on the Scene

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The future of the accordion rests with those holding one today, and that rings especially true for the youngest among them, our children.

I often lament not picking up the accordion until my early 20s. I wonder what I could have done with a 10-year head start. Fortunately I forget all about that when I look at these squeezable cuties.

accordion kid

It’s little Bean, a 16-month old girl from East Stroudsburg in Northeast Pennsylvania, getting to know her Woodstock Special 8-bass box.

Above and to the right is Bean, our 17 month-old accordionist-in-the-making from East Stroudsburg — where I grew up, I should mention.  Bean is rocking a Woodstock Special, and she looks pretty happy hearing the magical sounds it produces.

Below is my son Jojo, who received the New York Giants-colored Baronelli next to him as a gift from his doting Godmother. Jojo is oft-photographed with accordions, but I promise to go easy on the sharing.

We’ll feature Accordion Kids regularly — think of it like Cats of Instagram — so send us your photos and captions of your pint-sized accordion players and we’ll publish them on AccordionWire.

Accordion Kids

Little Jojo of Ardmore posing with his new Baronelli accordion in October at 8 months old.

From Russia, With Booze: Accordion Prop, Position, Proposition

Ivan Zamotaev accordion Russia's Got Talent

America, take notice. Russia’s got talent and Ivan Zamotaev lays claim to a generous portion of it. Uniting booze and accordion in a daring and playful way, Zamotaev shows us what’s possible with a little innovation on Russia’s version of the global Got Talent television show born in England.

It’s not uncommon for accordions to suffer punch line after punch line. It’s rarer when the accordion serves as a medium for the comedian (and playing chops). Zamotaev throws down Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Nokia theme, the Star-Spangled Banner, among others. His fall at the end is impressive. It’s not easy being so graceful with a 23-pound button box strapped over your shoulders.

More than anything, it makes you wonder what other kinds of prop possibilities exist with an accordion. Its make-up is unlike any other instrument and provides two key elements — rhythmic movement and a secure foundation. You could probably set up a small waiter’s tray with a half-dozen shots and pour all of ‘em with a little directional bellow drawing.

I’d be interested in curating an art show that displays modified accordions that come alive through theatrical storytelling and song. It’s a good thing I’ve been stocking up on used accordions lately.

 
 

Accordion Artist: Dear Rabbit

Dear Rabbit from Colorado

Dear Rabbit is the kind of guy you hope finds an accordion and starts channeling his inner punk.

A multi-instrumentalist who uses accordion in deft ways, his rowdy toe-tappers inspire dreams of cafes, dark street corners and secret back rooms.

Also known as Rence Liam, the Colorado-based Dear Rabbit boasts massive pipes that shout over the accordion and into an audience’s bones.

Courtesy of Dear Rabbit’s Facebook page:

“The man behind the name is our good friend Rence Liam, who’s been tearing it up with his eccentric attention demanding one-man-band performances across the USA. Imagine attending a secret party thrown by Salvador Dali in an ornate smoke-filled drinking parlor in the dark belly of a creaky figate with Blackbeard, Captain Beefheart and a bunch of crazed, violent gypsies… Lots of old timey instruments (Accordion, Cornet, Trombone, Banjo etc.) played very energetically with a near-punk delivery with Rence’s belted lyrics over-the-top.. Quite a spectacle!”
- Wil-Ru Records (Portland, OR)

“Dear Rabbit killed it tonight. He live looped layers of acoustic guitar and mellow trumpet, a la Andrew Bird, and then sang into his guitar pickups for yet another layer. . . he unplugged and walked off stage-right into the intimate foyer where an old out-of-tune piano sat waiting. . .”
- Patti Schreiber

Dear Rabbit is currently touring. Check out his schedule, music and merch here.

Move Over Morse: From Telegram to Accordion-Gram

accordion-gram

People who like accordions generally like old-fashioned things like telegrams. I’ve always been enamored with singing telegrams, and have given my share of them over the years.

Now, some 175 years since Morse sent the first telegram, the Accordion-Gram will be available to the general public in and around Ardmore and Greater Philadelphia.

Whether you want to say happy birthday, good luck, I love you or get well, our Accordion-Grams aim to please, with dynamic arrangements of popular songs and a professional and engaging presentation.

You can still send and receive a real old-timey telegram, but why would you want to when you can say something special with an Accordion-Gram?