A tiny taste of Barry Bless on the squeezebox

If you read my blog then you’ve heard the name Barry Bless once or twice or ten times. I can’t help it. This blog aims to bring the cool back to the accordion and they don’t come cooler than Barry.

He plays the accordion so beautifully it kinda pisses me off. But I don’t stay angry for long. I’m thankful there is such a kickass ambassador of cool for such a kickass instrument. Keep the faith, Barry.

Check it out for yourselves and tell me if this isn’t fabulous. Lawrence Welk he’s not–not that there’s anything wrong with Lawrence Welk, God bless his bubbly heart.

If you want more of Barry’s playing, and really, who doesn’t, check out the Happy Lucky Combo blog for a schedule of their upcoming gigs. They (as in Barry, along with super talents Pippin Barnett on drums and Dave Yohe on bass) play in Richmond all the time. You have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t go.

P.S. Speaking of accordion ambassadors of cool, you should check out my Tom Waits post if you missed it before.

Where is the Xanax when you need one?

My God. I might as well have been a scuba diver swimming through shark-infested waters. OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’m prone to those. What really occurred is that I finally sat in with my friend’s band this past Sunday night and I played a song with them that I had been practicing for months. I was scared shitless.

But despite having subtracted years off my life, I’m glad I took the plunge. I have serious stage fright when it comes to playing the squeezebox in front of anyone other than my dog. See previous stage fright post from August 24, 2010. Sadly–the only way you can get over your paralyzing fear of playing in public is to play in public, or so my music-playing friends tell me. So I played.

I had a lump the size of a lemon in my throat from 8a.m Sunday morning until 8:43p.m. Sunday night (the precise moment I finished playing) and I lost three pounds of sweat. The lump was a little unpleasant but the weight loss helped me fit into my skinny jeans, so there was definitely a plus side.

I played some clunkers to be sure, but I kept playing and I didn’t stop and I didn’t run screaming from the room, even though I really really wanted to. That’s pretty good.

I will force myself to play in public again and am optimistic that one day it will feel more like fun and less like indigestion. Meanwhile, check out Loversville doing Waltz Across Texas. Oh yeah…that’s me on the left.

Klezmer rocks the Camel on Sunday

I have Jew envy.

My Jewish friends are some of the smartest, funniest, creative folks I know. They can lay claim to chicken noodle soup with matzo balls, Woody Allen, kickass dances like the hora, and some of the best weddings I’ve ever been to. But you know what I envy most? Klezmer is the music of their peeps. Sigh.

I love Klezmer. And I think you would, too, if you heard the local Richmond band My Son, the Doctor, a wonderful ensemble that University of Richmond English professor Louis Schwartz leads. You can learn more about the band and all of the fab musicians on their official Web page.

The band members are first rate. When I hear their rhythmic, minor-key melodies, I want to clap my hands and tap my toes. Also—though I can’t even begin to understand the lyrics, I feel like they’re speaking to me anyway.

Check out one of their recent performances at Elwood’s Café last August and you’ll see what I mean.

You can hear them again tomorrow night at the Camel on 1621 Broad Street, a great venue for local music. Sunday, September 11, is World Music Night, and My Son the Doctor is part of the line up. Music begins at 9 p.m., and the cover is only $5.

So I’m not Jewish but I can still get my Jewish jones by listening to the soulful and beautiful sound of an accordion mixed with a clarinet—the keystone of all Klezmer music.

And since this is my blog, well, here’s me playing the only Klezmer song I know. I think I need to learn another one.

Yet another reason that Canada rules

So if super-swell countrymen (and women), fab music, and a civilized national healthcare plan weren’t reason enough to dig Canada, now there’s the independent radio show out of Vancouver, AccordionNoir.

It’s my absolute fav new thing–new to me anyway; it’s actually been around since 2006. You can listen to the shows through live streaming radio or just download a past show whenever you have a jones for cool DJs and great music–great accordion music, that is.

It’s all accordion. All the time.

The first show I sampled was their April Fools’ Day show, Accordion Fools’ Day. I cranked it up on my laptop…folding laundry was never so much fun. Lovefool by Amy Cervini; Glass of Beer by Those Darn Accordions; Educated Fool by Los Fabulocos; Funny Bird by The Klaxons…it just never ends.

Seriously, check it out. You can choose from tons of first-rate shows, so browse away.

And for the folks lucky enough to live in Vancouver, Accordion Noir co-hosts Bruce Triggs and Rowan Lipkovits host a Squeezebox Circle the first Thursday of every month. There, accordion players gather in a local bookstore, talk accordion, and play. How wicked cool is that? Check out their website for all sorts of handy links.

Oh yeah…Accordion Noir also has a facebook fan page, so join it, eh?

accordion master and a darn nice guy

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.

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