Stanley Dural Jr., 1947-2016

News this weekend of a big loss to the accordion world:  Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., founder/leader of Buckwheat Zydeco, has died at the age of 68.

Like many accordion-players, Dural started out as keyboardist. His first group was Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers, a funk group that managed to attain some success and a hit record in the Louisiana area. But, as NPR reports, it was a later gig playing organ for zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier that ignited Dural’s love for the rollicking, accordion-driven musical style:

“We played for four hours nonstop… And I thought we had just got onstage; that’s how much energy he had projected. I wound up staying with Clifton over two years. I said, ‘Next band I get, I’ll be playing accordion.’

That “next band”, Buckwheat Zydeco, led to major-label record deals, Grammy and Emmy awards, worldwide tours, TV appearances, and collaborations with Eric Clapton, U2, Willie Nelson, and many others. Dural’s contribution to the popularity of zydeco cannot be overestimated.

After a struggle with lung cancer over the past several years, “Buckwheat” passed away at 1:32 Saturday morning–”keeping musician’s hours right to the bitter end,” as his manager put it.

His daughter has set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical and other expenses.

Your Annual Serving of Free Oktoberfest Sheet Music for Accordion!

Munich MaypoleThe 183rd Oktoberfest starts in Munich today, and, as in years past, I’m posting one of my arrangements for you to play on your accordion for the occasion. So I guess it’s officially a jeffjetton.com tradition!

This time, I picked an Oktoberfest song that I’ve seen referred to by several names:

  • Esel Leid
  • The Donkey Song (which is what Esel Leid means)
  • Hey Babariba
  • Iha Iha Iha Oh

Whatever you call it, it’s a fun, goofy song that’s easy for everyone to sing along to. Not to mention easy to memorize–it’s basically just a couple of riffs repeated over and over again. The only challenge is keeping your key signatures straight.

It’s also fairly easy to play, although you can make adjustments as you wish:

  • If you haven’t learned alternating bass yes, just play whatever 4/4 pattern you do know. Use the chord names written along the top as a guide.
  • If you haven’t learned 7th chords yet, just play the chords marked with a “7″ as regular major chords.
  • If you’re struggling with the harmony notes in the right note, just leave them out and play only the top note.

So give it a download, grab your accordion, and enjoy!

Esel Leid Thumbnail

Prost!

Remembering Toots Thielemans

Toots Thielemans

Photo credit: Ron van der Kolk via Wikimedia Commons


I’ve written here before about Toots Thielemans, the trailblazing jazz harmonica player. His passing last week at the age of 94 spurred many tributes, including one from NPR that mentions his accordionist roots:

Thielemans’ first instrument was actually the accordion; he was a child entertainer in the Brussels sidewalk cafe run by his parents. As a teenager, he took up harmonica and guitar, but he still didn’t dream of music as a career.

“But Louis Armstrong changed all that.”

He had heard jazz, and it became his passion [...] However, the harmonica was and is still best-known as a blues or folk instrument—or a toy—and he faced an uphill battle for acceptance.

It’s a battle that he won, hands down, as the Washington Post reported:

It was Mr. Thielemans’s inimitable technique and distinctive sound on the chromatic harmonica, an instrument that he single-handedly proved could hold its own in the jazz repertory, for which he will be remembered.

“He has a level of virtuosity that you don’t have to make excuses for, you don’t have to put an asterisk on Toots. . . . You don’t have to say, ‘He’s great — for a harmonica player,’ ” said jazz critic Gary Giddins, who spoke as part of a 2006 New York University jazz master class with Mr. Thielemans. “He can sit up there with Dizzy and doesn’t have to take an apology because of the instrument. That’s the genius of the whole thing.”

Any musician who plays jazz on a “non-standard” instrument, whether it’s harmonica, violin, ukulele, or (of course) accordion, owes some debt of gratitude to Toots, who showed us that the most unlikely of instruments can still swing.

Paris Musette

Photo credit: Shawn Lipowski via Wikimedia Commons

If I were to close my eyes right now and imagine myself at an outdoor cafe in Paris, there would, I’m sure, be a certain sort of music playing in the background. I bet you know the kind I’m talking about: Charming, romantic, maybe a little jazzy, and heavy on the accordion. Music that sounds like fresh croissants smell.

That’s a style of music called “musette”, and many accordion players (myself included) love it in the same way–and for many of the same reasons–that banjo players love bluegrass and harmonica players love the blues. It’s tailor-made for our instrument, fun to play, and sounds great!

For a deeper look–and listen–into musette, here’s Jean-Pierre Beaurenaut’s 1993 documentary Paris Musette, which traces the genre from its start in the folk traditions of 19th-century rural France, through the influences of Italian immigrants, two world wars, and American jazz.

At least I think that’s what’s going on in the film. It’s in French, and mon français n’est pas très bon. But regardless of your own language skills, it’s still worth checking out if only for the great performances (both “live” and from archival recordings) and the vintage scenes:

 

Free Sheet Music for Accordion: The Irish Washerwoman

St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon, and if you’re an accordion player, you’re going to want to know an appropriate song or two. Well here’s arguably the single most famous Irish jig for you:

The Irish Washerwoman (pdf)

Granted, in certain “serious” Irish Traditional Music circles this tune is considered quite daggy and overplayed. (You wouldn’t want to start this one off in a session, for example.)

Elsewhere though, it’s an instantly-recognizable crowd-pleaser that’s perfect for setting the St. Patrick’s Day mood. It can be a lot of fun to play too!

In my arrangement, notice how the bass note usually doesn’t play in the second part of the measure unless you’re changing to a new chord there. That’s a good way to give the melody a bit of space while still providing a solid rhythm. And in this sort of music, the melody is king! (In fact you might want to omit the left hand entirely the first time through and only bring it in the second time around.)

Irish Underground

Looking for a unique way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day weekend? Why not come and spend a Saturday afternoon 333 feet below ground in a cave?

Bluegrass Underground Cave Photo

Yup, a freakin’ cave! How cool is that?

My friends the Nashville Celts will be putting on their trademark rousing show of Irish music and dance in the “volcano room” at Cumberland Caverns, as part of the Bluegrass Underground concert series.

They’ve once again invited me to join them on accordion. It should be a blast!

Tickets are apparently going fast, so grab ‘em while you can.

Why We Call Notating Music “Engraving”

Whenever I need to whip up a musical example to use in one of my accordion student’s lessons, or a string arrangement for my wife’s quartet, or the free accordion music I post here now and then, I sit down at the computer and knock it out using notation software. I started out with Finale, then switched to Sibelius, and eventually became a huge fan of MuseScore, which has been my current go-to for the past several years.

MuseScoreScreenshotBut long ago, when I first learned to write notation back at Berklee, none of the above programs existed yet, so we did it by hand, with a pencil or pen, a straight-edge, and a pad of pre-lined notation paper.

I thought that was pretty old-school until I watched the video below. I always knew that notating music was sometimes called “engraving” (The notation options screen in Sibelius is called “engraving rules”, for example), but I never gave much thought as to how it got that name. Behold:

 

 

Free Accordion Sheet Music: The “Original” Auld Lang Syne

This time last year I posted a few free arrangements of Auld Lang Syne, for any accordion player out there who happened to find themselves in need of playing along on New Year’s Eve.

But did you know that the familiar song we all know may not actually be the original version? There’s evidence that Robert Burns initially set his lyrics for Auld Lang Syne to a slightly different melody, only later having it changed to the one most of us know today.

And while Burns himself was reportedly not too fond of that first version, I think it’s by far the superior of the two. Some traditional folk singers, such as Mairi Campbell and Jim Malcolm, have recorded wonderful versions of the original melody. Give them a listen and see what you think…

And if you want to play it yourself, here’s the sheet music for an accordion arrangement of it I put together (inspired largely by the Jim Malcolm version):

Auld Lang Syne (Original Version) for Accordion

(I’m using a lot of left-hand minor-seventh chords in it. If you’re not used to playing them, it may take a bit of practice. The basic idea is that you play the root of the chord on the counterbass row, then add a major chord button from one row higher–that is, closer to your chin. So a Bm7 chord would be the counterbass of G, which is a B bass note, played along with the D major chord button.)

Enjoy! And have a great new year!

Stars Wars: An Object Lesson in How Music Makes a Difference

This week, after 32 long years, there’s finally a new Star Wars movie coming out! (“Prequels? What prequels?” is my official stance.)

And yes, I Fandangoed my tickets two months ago and will be going Thursday night! I might even dress up as one of my favorite characters. Anyone know where I can get a Max Rebo costume on short notice?

Anyway, I also thought this might be a good opportunity to post a couple of videos for the occasion. We’ll start with the first “teaser” trailer for the original movie (what’s now called Episode IV: A New Hope, but was just plain-old “Star Wars” to us back then). Even casual fans will notice a few differences from the finished film:

The trailer was released in December, 1976–five months before the movie came out. So the logo is all wrong, and the special effects aren’t quite finished. Check out the plain white energy blades on the lightsabers and those blasters that don’t shoot bolts of light yet!

But most glaringly, it’s missing John Williams’ iconic, Oscar-winning score, which wouldn’t even be recorded until several months later, in March of 1977. Instead, we hear a “temp track” of generic classical music (apparently based on Vivaldi’s Winter).

Boooooring!

If you knew nothing about Star Wars except that trailer, would you want to go see it? Without that classic, triumphant dun-dah-duntada-duuuun-daaaah, would you expect this weird little space movie to become the enormous worldwide success that it did? I don’t think I would.

And if you need more proof of the huge impact John Williams has on the world of Star Wars, check out this hilariously awkward look at what the final Throne Room scene would be like if the music stopped waaaay too early:

Yup. Music sure can make a difference.

EDITED TO ADD:  But hey, don’t take my word for it! I just found this great audio clip from a recent ClassicFM interview , where Harrison Ford himself talks about that wonderful music…

Upcoming: Accordion at the Nashville Jazz Workshop

njwsignThis Thursday, 12/10, I’ll be bringing my accordion and sitting in with the Nashville Jazz Workshop Trio, backing up the students of Christina Watson’s “French Chansons” class. This is sort of the “final exam” part of the class, where the students get to perform what they’ve learned in front of a real, live audience.

If last week’s rehearsal is any indication, it’s going to be a very cool show. The set list is full of classic French jazz standards such as La Vie en Rose, La Mer (“Under the Sea”), and Sous la Ciel de Paris (“Under Paris Skies”). And they’ll all be sung in French!

Details are at NJW’s website. It’s open to the public, completely free, and BYOB. So grab a bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy and come on down. J’espère te voir là-bas!

njwstage

photo credit: Scott Hammaker