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A Listener's Guide

Just Squeeze Me: Accordionists

"Did you hear about the guy who left his car unlocked and his accordion in the back seat?
When he came back, there were two."

Gentleman: A man who can play the accordion and doesn't.
(Old jokes)

Cocktail Time, Art Van Damme (Capitol)
Art is the man. Coke bottle glasses, Dutch heritage, and an accordion, and he still blows. He put out several albums purporting to be cocktail music, but this stuff is too hot sip Martinis to.

They Said It Couldn't Be Done, The Mighty Accordion Band (Capitol)
Dom Frontiere, no mean accordion wiz himself but at the time metamorphosizing into a studio composer and arranger, rounds up 20 of his closest accordion-slinging friends, and produces this historic album. Choice covers of Space Age Pop standards like "The Syncopated Clock" and "Caravan." Not to mention "Holiday for Strings."

Pietro Deiro Presents the Accordion Orchestra, (Coral
Diero comes close to competing with Dom Frontiere with a total of 16 accordions in his orchestra. Diero takes his squeezebox symphony seriously, though, sticking to a standard set of light classical numbers and showcase pieces, including a Red Army-sized assault on "Flight of the Bumble Bee."

Dick Contino at the Fabulous Flamingo, (Mercury)
Hugh O'Brian look-alike Dick Contino was the most popular accordionist on television in the 1950s, and here he entertains his fans among the gaming industry. Contino was one of the rare cases where the accordion didn't seem to be wearing the performer, and one of his pet tricks was to shake the bellows, achieving a rough but spectacular vibrato.

Roman Accordion, Charles Magnante (Command)
Magnante was considered a technical genius, a George Wright of the accordion, if you will. He recorded something like a dozen albums for Grand Award, but only a couple on Command. In keeping with the label's tradition, though, the Command albums feature both peerless playing and boo-bams, guiros, and other fun percussion. Get this album and its twin, Tony Mottola's Roman Guitar, and you can get a serious Lady and the Tramp scene going.

Foreign Film Festival, Jo Basile (Audio Fidelity)
Jo Basile recorded a bunch of albums for Audio Fidelity, each set in a different country and featuring a guy in some stereotypical outfit (a beret in France) and a hot girl in pedal pushers on the cover. Most are very professionally done and quite dull, but this one covers tunes by Rota and others with a small combo that includes Bobby Rosengarden and sounds quite cool and swinging.

Hi-Fi Accordion, Tommy Gumina, (Decca)
Gumina produced some very interesting recordings with jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco in the early 1960s, but his debut LP for Decca is your garden-variety finger-flying fare. Gumina eventually retired from performing to work for an accordion manufacturer, and he features his own design, the "Toneramic," on speed trials like "Lover" and, yes, "Flight of the Bumblebee."

Accordion in Hi-Fi LP

Accordion in Hi-Fi, Jo Ann Castle (Roulette)
Jo Ann's fingers fly on this pre-Lawrence Welk album. Once she joined the Welk organization, she found herself third chair behind Larry himself and Myron Floren, and so switched to piano and became "the Ragtime Gal." Would have been fun to see her duel with Myron on "Flight of the Bumble Bee," though.

Accordion Fireworks, Mogens Ellegaard (Vox)
Speaking of "Flight of the Bumble Bee," this album by Ellegaard may represent the peak of accordion technical virtuosity. Every number seems designed to force Ellegaard to the limits of his instruments (and his arms and hands). All your classical finger-flyin' favorites: "Ritual Fire Dance," "Hora Staccato," even Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor." Although Vox's well-intentioned stereo engineering seems a little pointless on a solo instrumental album.

Accordiorama, Rudolf Wurthner (Vanguard)
Herr Meister Konductor Wurthner directs a musical blitzkrieg as his crack force of 18 accordionists flail their keyboards through frenzied renditions of such speed trial favorites as Strauss' "Perpetual Motion Waltz" and Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours."

Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Johnny Hamlin Quintet (RCA)
Johnny Hamlin had three strikes against him from the start. He played the accordion, led a jazz group based out of Chicago in the late 1950s, and played in a light, swinging, and tightly interwoven style when swing was on terminal approach and hard bop on the rise. But his two RCA albums are well worth seeking out, featuring a wonderful, effervescent sound, a blend of accordion, sax, and valve trombone all playing in lower registers.

Accordion My Way--Ole!, Milton DeLugg (RCA Victor)
Musical director of "The Tonight Show" at the time of this recording, DeLugg was a vaudeville vet who'd squeezed out more than his share of "Lady of Spain." Despite his long and varied career, though, this marked the first time he laid tracks on wax as an accordionist. You can just tell how jazzed he was at the experience. And it's an all-bossa nova album. Top that.

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