There’s just something about an accordion.

The accordion cast a strange and joyful spell on me when I first picked it up and strapped it to my chest, six and a half years ago. I remain completely intoxicated. It makes me gleeful, it makes me insane; it can undo the benefits of a chiropractic adjustment after one Saturday afternoon practice session. But I love it more than I can say.

And clearly, I am not alone in my affliction. One of my favorite actresses, Mary Steenburgen, took up the accordion (and songwriting!) at age 60. She describes her love affair with the accordion this way: “I will tell you this. I am obsessed with it. I love it beyond belief. There’s something about it that just appeals to me–I don’t know why.

You can watch the entire segment that aired on CBS Sunday morning a few months back–it’s pretty cool. The stuff about the accordion starts at 7min. 14 sec.

I also stumbled across this quote in a Chicago Tribune article about musician Ami Saraiya:  ”About five years ago, I picked up the accordion. It’s like having a symphony in your hands (laughs). I picked it up and I was in love. It’s very rhythmic, and since I grew up playing piano, it came very easy. Playing guitar, it was never as linear — I never quite felt comfortable. Our music is very circus-y, very gypsy — it has a real French cabaret element — and so (accordion) fits right in.

And it’s not just the chicks that feel this way. Read this beautifully written article by my accordion friend, David Magliozzi, where he writes about the intimate relationship he has with his accordion–it’s on page 4.

Finally–we hear from one of my accordion idols, Dallas Vietty, a phenomenal player and frequent subject of accordiontokaren blog posts. I was lucky enough to hang with Dallas one evening last summer at the accordion festival in NYC’s Bryant Park. Before he took off, I begged him to share a few words of wisdom on the fly for my blog. He so eloquently complied.

This is why I dig the accordion.

Bonus video: My friend Barry and I playing accordion on a Friday night in his happy, colorful kitchen. Barry (another frequent subject of accordiontokaren posts) is crazy good, which is why I would happily spend every Friday night in his kitchen. At one point, some of his talent is bound to wear off, right? Or at the very least, he’ll make me sound better.

Accordions are sexy.

object104Few 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.

Go ahead and hang it on your wall. I dare ya!

Head-banging accordion music. More, please.

If the music world had more Alex Meixners, the accordion would not be suffering from an image problem.

Karen & Alex at fest

Seriously–this guy is the best thing to happen to polka since DJ Kishka. I discovered the Alex Meixner Band  last fall at the always phenomenal Richmond Folk Festival. I now count him among my most revered accordionists. Trust me, I wasn’t his only new fan–the crowd was digging him.

During the 3-day festival, Alex performed no less than four one-hour sets, which included an accordion workshop where he performed with four other ridiculously talented accordionists from all over the world. I never saw him when he wasn’t drenched in sweat. Watch this video…you’ll understand why.

How many accordion players do you know who can move seamlessly from Guns N’ Roses to the “Clarinet Polka” without skipping a beat? Alex Meixner can do it and then turn around and play a kick-ass version of the “Moldau” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.

If anyone was Accordion to Karen blog-post worthy, it was this guy. Lucky for me, he was kind enough to give me an interview, literally minutes after he walked off stage. Listen and enjoy–you honestly couldn’t meet a nicer guy.

He’s busy touring right now, so check out his website for a complete schedule. If you’re lucky he’ll be playing in a city near you. My Cleveland friends can catch him tomorrow night (Dec. 10) at the Beachland Ballroom and Richmonders can hear him on Dec. 15 during a special performance at Plan 9 in Carytown! Christmas is coming, and his new CD, Three Ring Circus (available at Plan 9, naturally) makes a great gift. Buy one already!

Too many accordions to count

Karen at festPhoto credit: Gary Cowling.

Two weeks ago, I was standing in midtown Manhattan’s Bryant Park on a beautiful summer evening, listening to 30 musicians simultaneously squeeze out New York, New York on their accordions.  Are you kidding me? I was positively giddy.

A New York Times article is why I ended up there in the first place (read the article now if you missed my earlier post). The article highlighted a summer-long effort to expose the masses to the rich diversity of accordion music–it ain’t just oom-pah-pah. Apparently, all summer long, musicians have been gathering on Thursday nights to perform every accordion genre you can think of.

Klezmer? Absolutely.

Conjunto? Sure.

Gypsy Jazz? Brazilian? Cajun? Yep, yep and yep.

As an accordion evangelist it was my duty to attend. So as soon as I booked my Amtrak reservation and arranged to drag my New Yorker friend Gary along with me, I immediately began fantasizing  about how fabulous the experience was going to be.

Here’s the thing though. Whenever I wildly anticipate how crazy fun something is going to be, it isn’t. Seriously–nearly every time I think to myself, ‘this is going to be fucking awesome’, it most decidedly is not.

But this time it was.

I was there for over 5 kick-ass hours, but here’s a 9 minute snippet I edited together to give you a feel for the magic. Check it out.

By the way. The crazy talented guy playing gypsy jazz on the video is Dallas Vietty. Dallas lives in Pennsylvania (lucky for Pennsylvanians), but it was my good fortune that he was teaching a workshop at the annual meeting of American Accordionists’ Association that day, so we got to hang out in NY. He pops up on this blog frequently, but if this is the first time you’ve heard of him, do yourself a favor and check out his website. The dude  accompanying him on guitar is Ben Wood. Ben plays in a NYC Gypsy Jazz band called Franglais. New Yorkers can check him out in Brooklyn this Friday night–details are on his Facebook page. 

Summer is officially over as are the Thursday night accordion happenings. But they will return next year and so will I. Best part–I think my friend Gary may be inclined to go back, too. We ran into a friend of his in Greenwich Village the next day and after mentioning in conversation that we had been to an accordion festival the night before, his friend was like, “Oh man, I’m sorry. I bet that was a laugh riot [heavy sarcasm inflection].” But Gary got all in his face and was like, “Yo, bee-atch, it was fun. You should have been there.”

Whoa, I’m impressed. : ) I think I have a convert.

Accordions rule.

 

Assorted Accordion Awesomeness

I am woefully behind on my accordion posts. Blame it on a crazy work and travel schedule, a cracked cast iron sewage pipe that resulted in a kitchen re-renovation (don’t ask), and the heat and humidity of a Richmond, Virginia summer so oppressive that  I can barely complete my ABCs, much less a blog post. Sigh.

So in lieu of a thematic blog post, I will simply share a few random nuggets I’ve collected over the past few weeks. Have a look, and in some cases, a listen, and enjoy.

Cool Accordion Stuff (in no particular order)

1. A special shout out to my buddy, Jared Miller, who told me about this super cool video by the band, OK Go. It goes without saying that it features the accordion. But as a special, super fun bonus, it also features the entire Notre Dame Marching Band.

2. My buddy Jared Miller also gets credit for this next nugget. Jared doesn’t even play the accordion, but he has an uncanny ability to find great accordion stuff. I like Jared. I also like this comic.

3. Here I am outside the Northwest Arkansas airport, testing my accordion to make sure it wasn’t jostled in the overhead bin. I played a tiny little snippet of Waltz Across Texas, the only song I know from memory, and the two passersby actually clapped and asked for more. Northwest Arkansas rocks.

Karen at NWA airport

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Playing the accordion ain’t easy. But here are two cute Bavarian twin girls who sing AND play accordion, all the while zipping around the dance hall on roller skates. Um. Don’t try this at home.

5. Yesterday was Bastille Day, so here is my friend Barry playing a lovely version of Mon Amant de Saint John. He recently performed this and other beautiful tunes while busking in Carytown in our fair city. Barry has a great blog called the delicious accordion. Check it out for more accordion awesome sauce.

6. Finally, if you haven’t already seen it, read this fabulous NY Times article that says what I’ve been saying in accordiontokaren for over two years now. I’m heading to NYC in August to check out some of the accordion playing in Bryant Park, so stay tuned for a post!