The name Dallas Vietty (pronounced Vee-eh-tee) first appeared to me when I was trawling the Web for a scary accordion image (and no, that’s not redundant). I needed something gory for my Halloween post. Not only did I discover a kick ass image of a bloody Dracula playing the squeezebox (see post Oct. 30, 2010) but I discovered Dallas himself, a kick ass accordion player and a hipster to boot.
He also wasn’t 80–not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s just that when the mission of your blog is to bring back the cool to the accordion, it helps to have a role model that isn’t afraid to buy green bananas. Let’s face it–the days of the kid accordion choirs whose numbers could fill an auditorium are long gone (damn guitarists!).
Dallas is wildly talented. You don’t have to take my word for it, although I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t. A group of judges from the Mid Atlantic Accordion Virtuoso Championship on April 1 think he’s wildly talented, too. That’s why they awarded him first place for his performance of Bach’s Invention 13 from the Two Part Inventions. Listen for yourself. Here is Dallas warming up in the stairwell just before the competition.
For someone who plays so beautifully and, for all appearances, effortlessly, I thought it would be interesting to know a little more about how his love affair with the accordion began. I emailed him a few questions–here’s a sample of what he sent back.
Me: How did you fall in love with the accordion?
Dallas: It took me a long time…I had a big falling out with music after I dropped out of college in 2003. I didn’t want to look at or touch a piano, but when I moved to PA in 2004, I still wanted to play music. Accordion didn’t have any of the negative stuff that I associated with piano (feelings of inadequacy, never being able to play well enough) so I decided to play it.
I played on the street. I wasn’t very good–played mostly minor blues in a few different meters and keys, over and over again. I met a good flute player named Cathy Block and she wanted to start a band playing French and Italian music. We played out of piano music for a little while, using some jazz harmonies. But wanting to know how the music should really be played, I bought a CD of French accordionists called Accordeon: Nostalgia Poet of Paris. It was a compilation of what I realize now were the very old musette players Emile Vacher and Marceau. This music was really new to my comprehension. The more I played solo outside that summer and wrote original compositions inspired by Astor Piazzolla, the more I fell in love. But it wasn’t until I took a month-long sabbatical in Mexico City in 2009 when it all clicked into place. I was staying in an old art deco hotel in the revolutionary historical district and it came to me that I needed to get much greater facility on the accordion (like Maria Kalaniemi).
Me: How long have you been playing the squeeze box?
Dallas: I began playing the accordion in 2003 in college in CA with a Klezmer band. My friend, bass player Ralph Lowi, wanted to play the cymbolom, a kind of hammer dulcimer, and he told me I should find an accordion so I could play in a Klezmer band. I consulted my ethnomusicology professor about my lack of authenticity for Klezmer only to learn that he played in an African marimba band with no people from Africa in it. I asked around to see if anyone had an accordion and I ended up borrowing one for many years from a saxophone player named Joel. I finally sent him a check for it when I moved to PA.
When I first moved to PA, I played accordion on the street in front of a movie theater in Doylestown. I did it to meet people. I figured anyone who approached me while I was playing was probably my type of friend. I soon formed a duo with guitarist/singer Chris Blasucci. We made a lot of music together and Chris is a great songwriter and lyricist. But it wasn’t until I spent that month in Mexico City that I decided I really wanted to focus on the accordion and get very good at it. I searched around for accordion teachers and got some great advice and coaching from Alex Meixner. Eventually I found my way to Stan Darrow’s Acme Accordion School in July of 2009. Stan is an old timer (I think he’s 81 now) and not really teaching, but his wife Joanna Darrow and Frank Hodnicki teach there. They really know their stuff. And they got me into the Free BAss accordion which I believe is their specialty. Since then, I’ve had a total of 7 months of lessons, a 6 month run, and then an additional month to get me ready for this recent competition. I’m currently working with Joanna now to prepare for another competition.
Along the way I fell in love with the French style of accordion music called Musette, and specifically Swing Musette. I started performing with the Hot Club of Philadelphia in June 2010, which is similar to the Musette way of playing, and in October 2010, I formed Dallas Vietty’s musette project with two manouche guitar players and sometimes a bass player.
Me: Most importantly, does playing the accordion help you pick up chicks?
Dallas: Accordion helped me meet a lot of people in general–usually the type of person that I would be friends with, especially if it was a person around my age. Playing accordion on the street is how I met basically all of my friends when I first moved to PA from California. I also met my girlfriend that way.
Me again: Thanks for sharing those great answers, Dallas. And for all you 15 (or 40) year-old-boys out there who are thinking about picking up a guitar to meet chicks, consider a squeeze box instead. The accordion players get all the great girls.