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My Uncle Jimmy liked to play piano, guitar and accordion. He was far from virtuosic but when he played Frankie and Johnny on the ruby red accordion it attracted my attention.
So when at the age of five a canvasser for a local music studio came to our door I was ready. My sister chose piano and I of course chose accordion to study.
My first accordion had only twelve basses and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t red. Just the same I seemed to take to it. It was class lessons at first. But private lessons followed with a variety of teachers. The chronology is a bit vague as is the spelling of names. There was Fred Peleski, Mr Faber, Herb Erickson, and Joe Carbonato. During my time with all these teachers there were several yearly competitions and recitals.
Somewhere around the 8th grade I discovered jazz. The first album I ever bought with my own money was “The Glory of Love” by Herbie Mann. I soon found inspiration with the music of Dave Brubeck along with a litany of other jazz greats. I wanted to play this music on accordion. My accordion teacher at the time tried to placate me with jazz arrangements of songs. I didn’t know anything about jazz but while the arrangements had some attractive chords I was pretty sure something was missing. This would have been a good time to learn the word serendipity because my Mom was talking with the store butcher she worked with and he said a friend of his from Chicago was moving to Olympia Washington and he was a jazz accordionist. Off we went to Olympia to meet Kenny Olendorf. Kenny was part of the Chicago accordion jazz scene. It might seem an overstatement to call it a scene, but it was the City that was a home for Art Van Damme, Frank Morocco, Leon Sash and more. And when I started studying with Kenny my whole concept of music opened up.
I studied with Kenny until I went off to college. My accordion life while not stopping there, was stunted . I was playing in bands to pay my way through college and while I sometimes still played electronic accordion,I was playing more and more keyboards. I did three years of college majoring in music, but then our band got a job in Portland and I was on the road for the next five years.
Some people love the road. I was not one of those people and started planning my escape as soon as i could. I had developed a passion for synthesizers in a time when they could only play one note at a time. So I acquired an 8 track recorder and more and more gear until I found myself with pieces for a recording studio. That took over the next 30 years of my life.
Having a recording studio can be great. Often it’s like going to school every day learning different musics and approaches. I was still musically active playing or sometimes producing and always learning.
One day I was working with Pearl Django and they had a tune that was fast and laid really badly for violin . I said I could maybe do it on the accordion. It worked pretty well so I was invited to guest on all their subsequent projects. I started enjoying this association so much that when they offered me a chair in the band in 2007 I snapped at it. All the studio listening I had done over the years was a tool I used when I went back to the accordion. I approached the instrument from a more thoughtful place that I hope translates into a sound and style that is slightly different. This listening approach helped me develop a way for using pitch bend, ways to accompany other musicians that were rhythmic and supportive and finding tone that was pleasing to my ear. I try to approach time and phrasing with respect while all the while looking for the most beautiful aspects of this fine instrument.
At present the studio has had it’s 40th year anniversary and I balance my time between studio, accordion and Pearl Django.