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:

 

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.

Tour Diary: Sittin’ in with the Celts

Last weekend I was invited to bring my accordion and join The Celts for their marvelous Celtic Roots of Great American Music show at the Missouri Theater in St. Joseph, MO. It was a great opportunity to play all sorts of fun Irish, Scottish, bluegrass, country, and pop music.

I managed to take a few pics along the way…

More Free Accordion Sheet Music for Oktoberfest!

People enjoying large glasses of beer

“Prost!” Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gruß Gott!

As I type this post, it is less than 24 hours until the opening of Oktoberfest in Munich!

And while the party there runs until October 4th, here in the states the various Oktoberfest celebrations might not even get started until then–maybe even later. All of which means plenty of chances for we accordion players to bust out a few good beer-drinking songs.

So here’s my arrangement of Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit. If you’ve ever been to a German-style beer hall, you’ve probably heard this short little anthem more than once, and possibly taken part in the customary toast-and-chug at the end.

Note that there are two versions in the PDF file:  A basic one on the first page and a fancy one on the second. The basic one should be easily playable by anyone who has gotten through most of Palmer-Hughes Book Two. The fancy version is, well, fancier. You’ll need some experience playing two and three-note chords in the right hand as well as counterbasses in the left hand.

And if you need more drinking music than that, check out my arrangement of Du, Du Leigst Mir Im Herzen.

Tschüß!

Sally Ann Forrester, Bluegrass Accordionist

As a follow-up to my previous post, here’s a great 1947 short film of Ramblin’ Tommy Scott and his Merry Mountaineers, featuring bluegrass/old-time accordion pioneer Sally Ann Forrester:

Forrester got her professional start in 1939, singing and playing guitar on a radio “barn dance” program in Oklahoma. She married one of her bandmates, fiddler Howdy Forrester, and the two of them went anywhere available gigs would take them. After stints at radio stations all over Texas and Illinois, they wound up in Nashville, finding work with a traveling “tent show” of various Grand Ole Opry stars that eventually included Bill Monroe.

As Murphy H. Henry tells it in her book “Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass”:

The outrageous financial success of [the show] inspired Bill Monroe to take out his own tent show in the spring of 1943. [...] Monroe knew that Sally Ann was a seasoned performer who could pull her own weight with the show. And having a woman on the show was considered an asset.

At some point–and it’s a mystery exactly when this happened, or why–Sally Ann began playing accordion rather than guitar with the Monroe’s (now inaccurately-named) Bluegrass Boys. If you listen closely, her accordion playing can be heard on the handful of tunes the group recorded for Columbia in 1945, including one of my favorites…

After Monroe’s band, Forrester and her husband (along with their newborn son) found their way back to Oklahoma, then to Texas, and finally back to Tennessee. In 1951, Howdy began playing fiddle for Roy Acuff and would continue to do so for most of the rest of Acuff’s career. But Sally Ann had apparently had enough of the music business by then and took a “day job” with the government. She died in 1999 from Alzheimer’s disease, with few today remembering her role as arguably the first woman in bluegrass.

Henry wraps up her chapter on Forrester with this:

For many years Sally Ann’s playing and her accomplishments were generally disregarded. After all, it was only an accordion. And she was only a woman. But the fact is, she was there at the beginning, showing us that women have always been a part of bluegrass. Others would follow.

 

15 Years of Full Moon Pickin’

One of the most “Nashville” things you can do in Nashville–the Full Moon Pickin’ Party–is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this summer. The event series, held on weekends in the summertime whenever there’s a full moon (or close enough to it), features:

  • Three top-notch bluegrass acts entertaining on the main stage all evening. Bring a blanket, plop down on the grass, and enjoy!
  • Up to four beers included in the $25 price of adult admission! Plenty of water and soft drinks for designated drivers and other non-imbibers.
  • Food trucks galore for when you get hungry.
  • You can bring an instrument and join in on the many impromptu bluegrass/roots jam circles that wind up forming under trees and near the barn.
  • Plus you’re raising funds for the Warner Parks system and all the educational programs and projects held there.

But the really great thing about the Pickin’ Parties? If you do show up to jam with a bluegrass instrument, admission is sharply discounted to only $10. (And yes, that sill comes with four beers!)

Note that the discount specifically applies to bluegrass instruments. Obviously they want to keep things bluegrass-focused and are trying to discourage djembes and didgeridoos. Nor do they want people brining in their old plastic recorder from grade school just to get a beer discount. Makes sense.

But it does raise the potentially sticky question:  What is a “bluegrass instrument” anyway? Turns out they actually provide a list:

  • Guitars
  • Mandolins
  • Banjos
  • Fiddles & Bass Fiddles
  • Lap Steels
  • Dobros
  • Dulcimers
  • Autoharp
  • Accordions
  • Harmonica Sets (minimum 5 piece)

Wait a minute… did I just see accordion on that list? Bluegrass accordion! Is that even a thing?

Well it is. Mostly due to this woman: Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester:

Sally Ann Forrester

She was the first “non-boy” member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and she played accordion with them on tour and on several records in the ’40s.

Bluegrass purists might argue the point, but as far as I’m concerned, if Bill Monroe let an accordion in the band, then it by-golly counts!

I’m thankful that the folks behind the Full Moon Pickin’ Parties dug into their bluegrass history and have made their event accordion-friendly!

Bella Notte

Wedding season rolls on! This past weekend I had the pleasure of playing accordion during an Italian-themed reception dinner.

Never mind the fact that my accordions are all German and that I myself am about as Italian as a haggis… When you’re strolling among tables of pasta and red wine while playing classic Italian songs like “That’s Amore“, “Volare“, “O Sole Mio“, and “Funiculì, Funiculà“, you can’t help but get caught up in the spirit of it all!

20150523_193502

“Black Beauty” (a full-sized accordion that I usually play sitting down) and “Red Baron” (a smaller and lighter one I use for strolling) await their turn to be played.

It’s Wedding Season!

Look closely (on the right) and you’ll find yours truly warming up in the shade.

May marks the beginning of wedding season, even for accordion players! I was able to kick things off in style with a beautiful wedding at the Old Natchez Country Club.

Tuning UpEven better, I was joined by this violinist I just so happen to know–my wife Anne Landis Jetton.

We were asked to play the prelude music, the ceremony itself, plus the cocktail hour afterward.

These sorts of job are always a lot of fun, because it gave us the opportunity to play everything from Beethoven to Dean Martin, with some French waltzes and Argentine tangos thrown in for good measure.

The AV Department

Another successful gig for “The AV Department”. (A for accordion, V for violin!)

Happy Birthday Bach!

330 years ago today, Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany. During his own lifetime, he was renowned as a organist, teacher, and… well, that was about it. It wasn’t until about 50 years after his death that his popularity and influence as a composer to begin to slowly grow.

Bach PortraitWhich is crazy if you think about. That would be like people today considering Paul McCartney to be merely a good bass player, with it taking until, say, the year 2100 before anyone started to think “Hmmm… you know these songs of his are pretty good too!”

But can you play Bach’s music on the accordion?

Absolutely! For example, there’s a nice, intermediate-level arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” in Gary Meisner’s Light Classical Pieces For Accordion. You’ll find an arrangement of the famous “Toccata in D Minor” in Book Eight of the Palmer-Hughes accordion method.

Palmer-Hughes also published an entire standalone book of accordion arrangements of Bach’s music. (That’s my own copy opened up in the background of this website’s banner image!) Busso Music still sells reprints of the book, divided into three volumes, but used originals sometimes crop up on eBay now and then.

Ah, but should you play Bach on the accordion?

I would imagine that there are some classical purists who would deem the lowly accordion–an instrument perhaps better-known for polkas and barn dances–unworthy of the sublime music of Johann Sebastian Bach, not to mention woefully historically inaccurate. To which I can only answer with some words from Dr. Palmer himself:

J. S. Bach wrote as much music for the accordion as he did for the piano! Neither instrument was in use in Bach’s era.

Bach was not as particular about which instruments played his music as a few modern Bach enthusiasts are. He placed his stamp of approval firmly and indelibly on the art of transcription.

He transcribed the Orchestral Concerti of Vivaldi for organ and harpsichord solos. He rewrote his own compositions for all conceivable instruments and combinations of instruments in existence in his day. He simplified them so his children could play them.

He transcribed his own vocal works for organ, his organ works for string quartets, and even made a flute solo out of one of them. I cannot believe that the Old Master himself would have objected to accordion arrangements of some of his works.

So there you have it! Feel free to celebrate one of this planet’s greatest composers by listening to some of his music played on accordion, or better yet, by playing some of it yourself!

Happy March 11th!

Pop quiz: What do these famous squeezebox players have in common?

Master of “champagne music” Lawerence Welk:

Five-time Grammy winner and Tex-Mex music legend Flaco Jiménez:

Pioneering Tango composer/performer Astor Piazzolla:

It turns out that three of the biggest names in the accordion world all share a birthday: March 11th.

(Well, Piazzolla plays a bandoneon, which is technically not an accordion. Both instruments are considered “free reed aerophones” though, so close enough to still make it a weird coincidence.)

Oh, and March 11th is my birthday too! Not that I expect to live up to such a daunting legacy, but it certainly gives me a reason to keep practicing…