Tonight is another instalment of true Hurdy Gurdy Nerdy
One of the great feats of musical engineering, the accordion is in reality a ridiculously beautiful instrument, both in its often over the top chrome and glitter exterior reminiscent of a 1950’s Chevrolet Bel Aire, and it’s versatility of sound.
The First patent for an Accordion was filed by Cyril Demian of Vienna, in 1829, although it was a modification of an earlier 1822 instrument called the Handäoline, a small 5 keyed, manual bellowed instrument created by Berliner C. Fredrich L. Buschmann in 1822. (Actual patent drawing below!!!)
Over the years many variations on this instrument have been made, and we’re going to hear some of the variations on modern accordion types.
But before we dive into the tracks, let’s look at how most modern accordions are made, cause it’s pretty nutty. Please forgive the Grainy Video, and the appropriately 1990’s discovery channel background music
For our first tune to appreciate we have Pearl Django, with the Conversation,
Seattle Based, With a performance history spanning more than 26 years, Pearl Django endures as one of the most highly regarded Hot Club style groups working today. Although the band’s roots are firmly in the music made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, its extensive repertoire includes traditional jazz classics and original compositions. The band’s signature style is marked by pristine and dexterous string work, colors of Bal Musette, the steady pulse of rhythm guitar and an unmistakable swing that delights audiences of all musical sensibilities. Throughout the years, Pearl Django has cultivated a devoted and enthusiastic following and they continue to play to packed houses wherever they perform.
The accordionist here is David Lang, playing a Patosa Piano Accordion.
So now, here is a regional variation, The Cajun accordion, sometimes referred to as a Melodeon. Cajun accordion has it’s own distinct flavour of sound, these instruments are usually Single Row Diatonic, which means they have only the 7 notes of a diatonic (Do re mi fa so la ti do) scale, though multiple octaves can be present. Multiple accordions for different keys are necessary.
Many different accordions were developed in Europe throughout the 19th century, and exported worldwide. Accordions were brought to Acadiana in the 1890s and became popular by the early 1900s (decade), eventually becoming a staple of Cajun music.
Many of the German factories producing diatonic accordions for the United States market were destroyed during World War II. As a result, some Cajuns, began producing their own instruments, based on the popular one-row German accordions but with modifications to suit the nuances of the Cajun playing style. Since the end of World War II, there has been a surge in the number of Cajun accordion makers in Louisiana, as well as several in Texas
Marc Savoy, who we will hear in just a moment, is a musician, builder & player of Cajun Accordion. Which is totally an understatement. Marc, along with The Savoy Family band, have deep roots in Louisiana, cajun music and the history of its instruments, culture, and repertoire. They are from, and continue to keep these sounds alive.
This is Marc Savoy on accordion, Dewey Balfa on fiddle & D.L. Menard (The Cajun Hank Williams) on Guitar. The tune is Lake Arthur Stomp.
So often, the accordion is found singing with fellow sustain tone instruments, as we’ve heard in the last 2 tracks, the bowed string of the fiddle and bellow reeds of accordion are very sweet together, in the next one, we have a woodwind reed, Clarinet, next to the steel, leather & wax reeded accordion.
The time signature is really cool in this one, 9/8, but with multiple groupings of 2 & 3 instead of our western “slip jig” intuition counting of 3 groups of 3.
Guy Klucevsek is one of the world’s most versatile and highly-respected accordionists. I only heard about him this week when we watched a documentary on NY based accordion culture called “Accordions Rising” which I have linked in the resource page. You can watch it for free!
He has premiered over 50 solo accordion pieces, including his own, as well as those he has commissioned from other notable composers. He plays a piano style accordion, and has emailed back and forth with Wendy several times already, so if you like this track do send him an email, he’s seems like a really cool human.
This tune is called Grooved Shoulders. You can find it on iTunes, I'm not sure if you can get a digital copy elsewhere at this time.
And for our final feature of the evening, would I even be me if I didn’t sing the praises of Accordion in Western Swing.
This neat little number is from my archive, but can be found online on the 1976 release “the Best of Pee Wee King & Redd Stewart” as well as the 1990 Pee Wee King's Country Hoedown: 51 Unreleased Recordings on 2 CDs from Blood Shot Records
This recording was made circa 1952 for Standard Radio Transcription Services and is part of a series of recordings designed for sale or lease to radio stations around the country. The music heard here assumes sharper perspective when it is recalled that the early 1950s was the era of Hank Williams and his deep-dyed honky tonk sound, and of Bill Monroe and his bold experimentations with the emerging bluegrass sound.
Pee Wee King is the Accordionist here, to me this track speaks to many wonderful hours and the connection you build when you play music with the same folks for many years, or have many shared roots and understandings in your playing. This is a piece of music that is great for the listener, and I imagine grew from much joy in playing it. In searching for information for this track today, I found a new treasure trove of information on western swing that I definitely didn’t have time to dive into but am looking forward to exploring before the next Radio hour
This is Subdued Mood - Pee Wee King
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What do we do?
Join us to be inspired by music from around the world, no preparation, prerequisites, or practicing required. I’ll read a short composer bio, highlight some historically relevant material or interesting context, we’ll listen to a piece of music, and then take the time to reflect on what we heard, ask questions, and explore.