I first interviewed filmmaker Roberta Cantow over a year ago. At the time, she was raising money to put the final touches on her refreshing documentary about the resurgence of accordion music in the US. I was an easy sell; Roberta had me with the words, “accordion documentary.”
I am delighted to report that her film is now complete and available for purchase. Here’s just a peek of what you can expect.
I certainly didn’t need a movie to convince me that the accordion was where it’s at–I am hopelessly unable to resist its allure. But this charming, educational, and wildly musical film does come in handy to sway the opinion of disbelievers. It’s also just plain fun for music lovers of all types.
As a kick-ass side bonus, her film also features my good friend Frank Petrilli, one of the heavy hitters in the accordion jazz world. It also highlights the late Walter Kühr, former owner of the Main Squeeze Accordion Shop in New York City (where I bought my beloved accordion) and conductor of the all-female Main Squeeze Orchestra. Walter left this world too soon, but, fortunately, a bit of his unique essence is forever captured in this film.
For the very reasonable price of $24.95, you can make the accordion lover on your gift list deliriously happy. If you really want to go crazy, you can also buy a t-shirt or the award-winning movie poster. You’ll find it all on the Accordions Rising website.
Go ahead. It’s time the rest of the world learned how hip accordions really are.
Performance by the accordion orchestra during Open Mic Night Photo by Stewart Dean
Well, damned if I didn’t have another amazing time at another freaking accordion camp in the great state of Massachusetts. What are the odds? Apparently they are pretty effing good.
Just when I thought my musical week at the Cape last year couldn’t be topped, I experienced the Northeast Squeeze-in, a relatively undiscovered gem of accordion get-togethers known as NESI.
Picture a mid-September weekend in a rustic campground in Western Massachusetts. Add some great grub, a plentiful supply of BYOB, endless jamming, an open-mic night, a contra dance, a late-night pub sing, an accordion orchestra—the list is endless. Throw in 80 or so of some of the nicest, smartest, quirkiest, most talented, and humble humans I’ve ever met, and that should give you a slight idea of what made this far-too-short weekend so unforgettable. I was positively over the moon.
The workshop part of the weekend was spontaneous. There was something for everyone, regardless of their skill level. The attendees are also the instructors, so if you want to teach something, you simply write it on a Post-It note and add it to the board.
The hard part was deciding which workshops to attend. You had your pick of topics like French musette folk songs, accordion repair, jazz improvisation, Klezmer, even French folk dancing (that was a freaking blast; the folks who weren’t dancing were making the music for us to dance to).
I have to mention again how talented and kind these attendees were. It wasn’t enough for most of them to play just one instrument. They had to play two, three, or even four. Uhm…seriously? That’s just showing off. But here’s the rub. They made people like me, someone who is still struggling to play just one instrument, feel welcome.
I glommed on to some of those talented people during my performance at the open-mic night, which was a bit of a turning point for me. I never enjoy performing on stage with an accordion–it brings on Asian flu-like symptoms and unrelenting hot flashes. But this time I had a freaking blast. Here me and my wicked-cool pals Dave, James and Meredith perform Tico Tico. And, yes, James is playing four instruments—accordion, clarinet, a foot-pedal cabasa, and a samba whistle. If I didn’t dig him so much, I’d want to punch him.
Here’s a bit more of open-mic night.
Hours of Contra dancing followed the performances and after getting ridiculously sweaty I ventured into the main cabin for a cold beer (or two) and the late-night pub sing. Hot damn, this was fun.
I felt like I was reuniting with old friends instead of hanging out with a bunch of strangers. The entire experience also reminded me of how lucky I am to be hopelessly devoted to the accordion. This beautiful but largely under-appreciated and misunderstood instrument has exposed me to so much delight in this world. I suppose there might be some accordion-playing dirtbags out there, but I haven’t met one.
P.S. Stewart Dean took some amazing photos of the event. You can find them on his Flickr page.
So through the wonders of social media, I was able to snag an invite to a kick-ass, week-long private party that I shall forever more refer to as accordion camp. I’ll never fully understand how I wrangled this much sought after invite, but I will be endlessly grateful to the accordion gods (and my new BFF James) for making it so.
Picture this: a small vacation home on Cape Cod filled with friendly, funny, and fun musical folk. Add to that a solid week (morning, noon, and night) of hearing the strains of accordion (and occasionally trumpet and flute) music so beautiful that it nearly made me weep. Seriously—I heard jigs or waltzes while I was brushing my teeth or drinking my coffee.
But it wasn’t just the music…it was the people who made it. It felt less like a random collection of folks who loosely knew each other, than it did a group of dear friends who had liked and known each other for a very long time.
Crazy good it was.
But so were the skill levels of most of the folks there. If you’re me, the problem with playing (or trying to play) with folks that good is that you’re inclined to throw your accordion in the depths of your closet and never retrieve it again. I mean, why bother? The other alternative is to learn from the generous and talented souls you have recently become acquainted with and work your ass off to become a better player. I chose the latter.
I came late to this rodeo. I’m almost 52, and I didn’t pick up an accordion until I was 46. But I love it more than I can say, and much as I would sometimes like to, I can’t put it down—not for any length of time anyway. I plan to take full advantage of the talents of my fabulous new friends. I’ll do what they say, I’ll listen to who they tell me to, and I’ll practice every day. And I’m pretty sure I’ll get better. It’s just like tennis or or golf or softball or any sport for that matter. If you force yourself to play with someone far better than yourself, it will smart for a while and you’ll miss the ball and feel like a doofus, but eventually you’ll get better. Truly, you will.
This video montage gives you a tiny taste of the quality folks I hung out with all week. These are the people I learned from. I adore them.
My very talented accordion husband, Barry (not to be confused with my actual husband, Joe) also came to the party with me. He was so inspired by the magic that he composed a theme song within 48 hours after he arrived home.
In summary—just make a point to play with other people. You don’t have to get invited to a kick-ass private party on the Cape to play with other people, although I’m ridiculously delighted that I did— Thanks again, accordion gods (and James!). Just call up some musical friends and invite them over to your house.
Have fun making music with others, and keep getting better. We’ll do it together.
One of the best things about having an accordion blog is that strangers start sending you emails about kick-ass accordionists that you never heard of before. I now have a new favorite accordionist that I never heard of before.
His name is Martynas Levickis and I recently lost myself in YouTube for hours watching this smiling, curly-haired, 23-year-old Lithuanian. Sigh.
Give him a listen–you’ll see what I mean.
He’s also got serious street cred:
Bachelors of Music from the Royal Academy of Music
Winner of the Coupe Mondiale in 2010 (basically the World Cup for accordionists)
Winner of Lithuania’s Got Talent in 2011
Yes, he won Lithuania’s Got Talent. Skip ahead to 7 min. 58 sec. if you want to watch him bring the three judges and the entire audience to their feet. He starts playing music at 4 min. 35 sec.
His first CD, Martynas, was recently released in the U.S. and his rep at Universal Music sent me not one copy but two. It’s really really good. Dance around in your living room good. Detox from a stressful day good. You’ll find everything from gypsy music (Hungarian Dance No.5 and my hands down fav Czardas) to a Brazilian pop song (Nossa, Nossa). Also sprinkled in are Beethoven, Vivaldi, a Katy Perry song (not ordinarily a fan but I’ll listen to him play anything) and even my favorite traditional Jewish folk song Hava Nagila. Tying it all together is his passionate and first-rate musicianship. Here’s a preview:
Bonus tip: Share this blog post on your Facebook or twitter account and I’ll write your name down and throw it in a hat. If I pick your name, I’ll send you his CD, simple as that. Martynas wants to expose the accordion to the masses as one of the most fabulous instruments on earth. Let’s help him do that.
P.S. If you don’t win the CD from me, you can buy it here.
Few would argue that an image of Elvis, with his guitar slung over his gyrating hips, isn’t sexy. Elvis was hot and so was his guitar. Those damn guitars enjoy nearly universal sex appeal. In fact, countless guy friends of mine told me they learned how to play the guitar just so they could pick up girls. Yet it’s doubtful that anyone ever strapped on an accordion to improve their successful dating odds. I mean it would have worked for me, but, well, the point is…the times are changing.
Not everyone agrees with me, of course. In fact, I got the idea for this post after reading an article about jazz accordionist Cory Pesaturo who said accordions were decidedly unsexy instruments and he likened them to strapping an air conditioner to your chest. Now I’m not one to disagree with Cory Pesaturo–he’s a three time world champion in jazz, acoustic and digital accordion and he isn’t even 30 yet (sheesh)–but I think he’s wrong about the sex appeal factor.
Accordions are sexy. Here’s some evidence:
Check out Ginny Mac.
Or Ami Saraiya.
Or my favorite Dutch accordionist Jense Meek.
Or Steve Riley of the Mamou Playboys.
Or Annette Ezekiel Kogan of Golem.
Or Barry Bless of Happy Lucky Combo.
I could go on and on but you get my point. But if you need more proof, you can always order your own copy of the 2014 Accordion Babes Pin-up Calendar. I just ordered one of my own. There’s a different, professionally photographed, accordion-playing babe for every month. It even includes a CD containing a song by each model–all for $15 plus shipping.