Happy International Jazz Day!

Did you know that today, April 30th, is International Jazz Day? The Director-General of UNESCO posted a wonderful message about it. Here’s an excerpt:

Jazz is so much more than music: it is a lifestyle and a tool for dialogue, even social change. The history of jazz tells of the power of music to bring together artists from different cultures and backgrounds, as a driver of integration and mutual respect. Jazz gave rhythm to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the United States, and has done so elsewhere in the world. Through jazz, millions of people have sung and still sing today their desire for freedom, tolerance and human dignity. [...] I invite you to join us in spreading the message of energy, sharing and peace through culture and music.

Well if that’s not something to celebrate, what is?

To get this party started (and because this is an accordion website after all), here’s a healthy dose of jazz from the late, great Art Van Damme:

 

Zack Joseph’s “All in Time” Now on iTunes

A while back I was invited by the folks at The Recording People to add a dash of accordion flavoring to a couple of tracks they were producing for Zack Joseph.

Well those tracks, plus seven more, are now available on iTunes for your listening pleasure. Worth checking out–if not for the excellent, rootsy blend of folk and country, then for the cover alone, which features probably the most awesome photo I’ve seen all month…

coverrrr

The L.A. Times Digs the Accordion

Here’s yet another article about how accordion lessons are making a comeback, thanks to the whole “accordion is cool again” trend. Although this one gets bonus points for noting that, in some communities, the accordion never became uncool in the first place:

More Fans of the Accordion are Squeezing in Lessons

Thanks in part to [...] a general trend of branding the once-weird as hip, the accordion has a new reputation: quirky, modish even.

(Incidentally, if the article inspires you to start taking accordion lessons yourself, well, let’s just say I know a guy…)

 

Accordion News Round-Up for March

I_want_youGot an accordion? Love cheese? Some folks in Wisconsin would like to have a word with you:

Send us your accordionists, Green County Cheese Days pleads

Turns out that the 100th year of the festival is coming up in September, and organizers are hoping to celebrate it with the performance of a 100-accordion orchestra.

Brie there or be square!


An article in the the Dallas Morning News profiles accordion-playing couple Elena and Gregory Fainshtein. It offers some good insights on keeping accordion alive in the modern world and the importance of spreading the accordion gospel:

“If we don’t get youth involved, we’re not going to have a future. We just need more people playing. They don’t have a resistance to it. They’ve just never been introduced to it.


Lastly, legendary jazz harmonica player Toots Thielemans recently announced that he is retiring at the age of 91. Why mention this in an accordion blog? For one, the harmonica is a close cousin to the accordion (they’re both members of the free reed family of musical instruments). Secondly, as the highest-profile ambassador for harmonica in jazz, Thielemans created a level of respect for “unconventional” instruments that had to trickle down at least a little bit to jazz accordion.

And lastly, it turns out that accordion was his first instrument!

So I’ll wind up this post with one of my favorite Toots Thielemans tracks. He’s best known for Bluesette, but I really like this 1979 pairing with pianist Bill Evans on the Phil Markowitz tune Sno’ Peas:

New MOOC: “Developing Your Musicianship”

coursera_musicianshipIf you’ve always wanted to beef up your knowledge of the basic nuts and bolts of music, you might want to check out the latest MOOC (“massive open online course”) from Berklee College of Music:  Developing Your Musicianship.

The course starts on April 1st (no foolin’!), but registration is open now. It’s totally free, suitable for all instruments, and you can drop the class at any time if you decide it’s not up your alley.

Accordion News Round-Up

The must-read of the month is this touching article about JoAnne Bjerke, who doesn’t let her age or her Alzheimer’s diagnosis keep her from sharing her accordion talents with others: 87-year-old accordion player sets toes a-tapping at Tri-City senior facilities

It’s the music, my dear, that keeps you young. I play almost every day, either for other people or just myself. It’s important that people keep music in their lives because they will not only live longer, they’ll be happier and feel better at the same time. [...] Just wait until you’re old, you’ll see what I mean as long as you keep music in your life.


Actress Donna Garner was almost perfectly suited for the part of the accordion-playing Czech mother in the musical “Once”. The only problem? She didn’t know how to play the accordion, and the audition was in eight daysOnce:  A musical with a different kind of love story


After nearly two decades of entertaining, legendary street performer “The Great Morgani” falls victim to tougher city codes:  No more Morgani: Santa Cruz accordionist says he’s sidelined by city enforcement

The Santa Cruz Sentinal quickly responded with an editorial.


Kudos to Arsenal player Laurent Koscielny for kicking in (see what I did there?) some of his own money to help save France’s oldest accordion factory. Yet another reason why Arsenal is my favorite Premier League team, even if they do always try to walk it in


Finally, in defense of North Dakota’s decision to spend tax dollars to buy a certain piece of accordion history, Clay Jenkinson asks, “When did we get too sophisticated to honor Lawrence Welk?”

I know the Welk farm is out of the way… You have to want to go there, and when you get there, out there in the middle of nowhere, there is not very much to see. Maybe that IS the point. Welk should be a hero to every dreamy North Dakota kid who wants to start a band in his garage, every fifth grade doodler who dreams of being Michelangelo, every shy farm girl who dreams of being a Rockette or performing with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana…

Looks like Herman Fuselier, writer for Lafayette, Louisiana’s The Advertiser, has a response to the same article I just blogged about:

The accordion boom is interesting news for the rest of the country. But here in south Louisiana, that’s like reporting sugar is sweet, Halle Berry is gorgeous and Peyton Manning is a pretty good football player. ...the rest of the nation should know it’s only catching up to what Louisiana has known for a long time.

Good point! Be sure to check out the full article: Hot accordions are business as usual

Accordions Declared “Hot”

Burning match

Photo credit: wikimedia commons

You and I already knew this, of course, but The Atlantic has finally noticed that accordions are making a comeback… Accordions: So Hot Right Now

“I think in general people have felt a little bit braver about what kind of music they’re creating, and more interested in stepping outside of the realm of what pop or rock music is supposed to sound like.”

The owner of Petosa makes a good point in the article that the accordion is one of the “only instruments that’s basically found in every style of music throughout the world.” Truth be told, in most of those parts of the world, the accordion never really went away. So I suppose this “comeback” is mainly a United States phenomenon.

In any case, will we ever reach the levels of the accordion’s mid-century, pre-rock-and-roll heyday here in the States? When, as the article reminds us, “some towns had as many as four accordion schools in a couple of blocks”? We shall see…

Keeping the Faith in D-Town

Along the lines of the story on Alex Carozza I posted about previously, Inforum.com brings us a look at some other accordion die-hards: Dilworth man keeps accordions’ bellows breathing

Dave KolleI wasn’t around during the “accordion boom” when people like Dave Kolle were selling several dozen accordions a week and teaching a full roster of students. Must’ve been a heck of a time. But I’m glad to see people still keeping the torch alive as best they can. Like Linda Gylland, also featured in the article:

“They talk about how North Dakota is the No. 1 state in drinking alcohol because there’s nothing else to do,” she said. “I thought, ‘These people should throw the booze away, find some accordions, and start having some real fun.’ ”

Well, I don’t know about throwing all the booze away–drinking songs do make up an important part of the accordion repertoire, after all–but I like the rest of her idea!

Berklee’s “Introduction to Improvisation” Starts Soon

I’m a huge fan of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses). So I’m especially excited about the handful of classes being offered for free on Coursera by one of my alma maters, Berklee College of Music.

Gary BurtonThe Introduction to Improvisation course, taught by legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton, looks particularly interesting. Improvisation is a valuable and rewarding skill, regardless of what style of music you typically play. If you’re a musician who currently doesn’t do much of it, this course should be right up your alley. Of course, there’s always something more to learn in the world of music, so I’d expect that those of you who are already experienced improvisers will still pick up a thing or two. (I’m also curious to see Burton’s approach to presenting a subject that isn’t always easy to teach.)

The course opens Monday, April 22nd. I’m enrolled… maybe I’ll see you there!

Did I mention that it’s free?

UPDATE:  The launch of the course has been delayed one week to Monday, April 29th.