What Accordionists Can Learn From a Ballpark Organist

Why am I posting about a recent interview with Josh Kantor, the organ player for the Boston Red Sox, on an accordion blog?

Well for one, back in my music school days, the Red Sox and I were neighbors. My apartment was right next to Fenway Park, and on game nights you could open the windows to let in the sounds of that historic stadium:  The echo of the announcer, the cheering of the crowd, and yes, the music of that organ. So there’s a personal nostalgia factor here right off the bat (so to speak).

That row of brownstones in the foreground was once home to Chez Jeff. (Source: Melikamp/Wikicommons)

Somewhere in that row of brownstones in the foreground is my old apartment. Wonder if Carlos is still the Super there? (Photo Source: Melikamp, Wikimedia Commons)

Secondly, how can anyone not post about something baseball-related after that amazing World Series that wrapped up last night? (Go Cubbies!)

Third, it’s interesting to note how baseball organists face many of the same challenges we accordionists do as players of perhaps old-fashioned-seeming instruments in a modern world. Kantor’s solution? Honor the old, but mix in plenty of the new:

 I’ve done a lot of study and research about the history of ballpark organ music in Boston and in other cities. [I] have tried to borrow from and preserve the best and most beloved traditions of that, as well as updating it and having it evolve and be this thing that’s relevant in the modern age, whether it’s through playing newer songs or taking requests or whatever the thing is.

Then there’s this quote, which really jumped out at me:

I play pretty much entirely by memory and by ear. There was a time in my life as a child when I was pretty good at reading sheet music, but I just haven’t kept up with it, and those skills have kind of deteriorated. But I have a lot of ear training, so I’m usually able to hear a song and play it back, which is just something that comes from a lot of practice.

Yet more proof that having a “good ear” isn’t something you either have or don’t have. It’s not a magical gift. It’s a skill, like any other, and can be developed and improved by anyone willing to put in the work. (And it’s very useful for the working musician!)

Anyway, the whole interview is a great read. Check it out!

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 Lied
  • The Donkey Song (which is what Esel Lied 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!

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.