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Main Squeeze: Accordion History

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson once captioned a drawing: “Welcome to Hell. Here’s your accordion.” The squeezebox just can’t get any love – or so it seems. Ethnomusicologist Marion Jacobson joins us to talk about her new book, called “Squeeze This! A Cultural History of the Accordion in America,” which covers the instrument’s dramatic highs and lows throughout the 20th century. Plus, One Ring Zero co-founder Joshua Camp stops by to talk about his own experience as a frontman with an accordion.

Watch accordionist Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk Show as he shows off his boogie woogie skills.


Joshua Camp and Marion Jacobson

Comments [42]

Bill in Ohio

Thououghly enjoyed "Squeeze It ...". I do have one criticism: you failed to mention the late Russ Messina who, in addition to being my teacher, was arguably the world's premier jazz accordionist in the late 50's - early 60's.

Jun. 22 2012 04:52 PM
zevzions from Lakewood, NJ

The accordion is alive and well!

There is a lot of good accordion music out there for you to enjoy.

Mar. 26 2012 10:27 PM
Charles M. Nunzio from Essex County, NJ

Thanks to Marion for giving us a slice of accordion history. The old-timers played for the love of the instrument and the music. The best were classically trained. My dad, Charles Nunzio, learned sofeggio, a laborious training in timing and sight-reading before being given pieces to play. And his generation of players played well into their 80's. My dad even had a spot on the Scott and Todd WPLJ show for St. Patrick's day in 2000, at 87 years of age! Anthony Gala-Rini lived to be over 100 and often said, "There are no inferior instruments, only inferior musicians."

Mar. 26 2012 03:38 PM

Terry Chamberlain from Westchester

John, was inspired and encouraged, listening and watching your show, that the accordion is being rediscovered. Will be reading Marian's new book, and hope to catch Joshua at the Roulette. I Graduated with Bachelor of Music Education Degree and am currently accepting students for private lessons on the accordion in Manhattan and Westchester County. Would be happy to meet and discuss goals with all enthusiastic future accordionists.
I can be reached at 917-846-7903

Mar. 20 2012 10:43 PM

I love the accordion and the bandoleon (bandoneon?) - why didn't you play some music from Gotan Project or Kroke?

Mar. 20 2012 10:33 PM
Marion Jacobson

Author Marion here to thank everyone for your comments and question. Yes, accordions (a free-reed instrument that is attached to the body with straps)come in many varieties—the bandoneon, the bayan, the melodeon, and the Cajun button box, popular in Louisiana—too many talk about on a half-hour radio program. Glad you brought these up as I'm crowd sourcing ideas for my next book, on world accordions. As you probably know from the interview and the clips we heard from Welk, Floren, Klucevsek, and Weird Al Yankovic, my book is about the evolution of the piano accordion and the ways in which that peculiar instrument—once seen as a novelty and popularized on vaudeville—took hold of the American popular imagination. We talked a lot about decline on the show, but it's hard to forget how the piano accordion brought music to the lives of to hundreds and thousands of Americans in every region of the country, and exerted powerful influence on the lives some. That influence is still audible in many musical genres—not just world music and indie, but jazz, classical, and even mainstream rock—in the music of Mellencamp and Springsteen.

I’d love to hear more of your accordion stories and I'll take your questions on the Squeeze This! Facebook page:

Mar. 20 2012 10:32 PM
Walter Kuhr from 19 Essex Street, Chinatown

Hi, I am Walter from Mainsqueeze! Come by my store any time! It is located on 19 Essex Street in Chinatown. I'll be happy to teach you the accordion and take care of all your accordion needs! Here is my number 212-614-3109. I am here usually 11am - 6 pm Tue till Fri. Call first and make an appointment!

Mar. 20 2012 03:49 PM

@ lisa, what is "latin music" ? we don't call the beatles, european music,do we? why not name the individual country style[where possible],instead of using this broad amorphous rubric. i know there is overlap of course,but "latin music" as a category, is really just marketing BS. [and and political demographic BS ,too.]

Mar. 20 2012 03:05 PM
John from Long Island, NY

My 15 year old son was never moved by the few instruments he tried.
I encouraged and only insisted he try an instrument. At 13, I limited my encouragement to talking about the instruments we'd hear together on the radio. Suddenly in the last year, he's become fasinated with the accordian. He attends a public high school on North shore of Long Island.
I immediately went to his public high school music department, hoping they'd take him into the fold. There was no place for him, only traditional orchestral instrumentation. What a shame.

Mar. 20 2012 03:04 PM
J from NYC

Regarding lessons: I think definitely, Walter Kuehr from Main Squeeze on Essex St. on the L.E.S. is a great resource for lessons and all things accordion, repairs, and new instruments. A friend of mine once brought his accordion to me to fix. A violin maker on the Lower East Side, I knew about Main Squeeze and suggested he bring it there after it had sat untouched in my shop for awhile and after realizing I knew not note one of how to fix the thing. When brought to him, Walter almost turned my friend down, saying, "But why would you ever bring an accordion to a violin maker for repair? And why would he take it? If someone brought a violin to me repair, would I take it to fix?" My friend eventually prevailed in convincing Walter that he wasn't insane after apologizing for his error and Walter restored his 70 year old Italian machine to it's former glory. Years later, I reminded Walter of this tale as I was looking at concertinas in his shop. "Can you play one for me?" I asked. "That's a concertina," he explained, "not an accordion." And I realized that I had made another error, less obvious than bringing an accordion to a violin maker for repair but significant nonetheless. "I play the accordion; not the concertina," he said, or something like this. I've been trying to tell people ever since that a very serious agent for the instrument is easily found right here in town!

Mar. 20 2012 03:00 PM

I can't forget to add Juan Luis Guerra who brought back the accordian in latin music in his Fogarate CD back in 1993.

Mar. 20 2012 02:56 PM
James Shipp from Brooklyn

The accordion is so essential to so many sexy dance musics from around the world. A versatile, beautiful instrument, ideal for accompanying and/or propelling. The old American eye-rolling at accordion says more about xenophobia and a reluctance to travel and learn other languages than it does about the accordion. Hopefully people are becoming a bit hipper than that.

Mar. 20 2012 02:43 PM
Elvis Fuentes from Guttenberg, NJ

The traditional Perico Ripiao in Dominican Republic also features the German accordion. I wonder if that is discussed in the book.

Mar. 20 2012 02:43 PM
Tom H

Check out the author's Facebook page: Be sure to "like" the page!

Mar. 20 2012 02:38 PM
Emmanuel from Bellmore NY

I grew up in a Greek family in the late fifties and sixties. The accordion was featured at all of our dances and parties, both public and private. It was especially popular in the nightclub music of the time in Greece that had a strong belly dance and middle eastern influence to it. The accordion players I saw as a kid usually had a cigarette dangling lazily from their lips and a drink waiting on a chair nearby. Those parties were wonderful!

Mar. 20 2012 02:32 PM
Kathryn from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

You can't do a show on accordion without mentioning Alex Meixner! He has carried the tradition of his Austrian grandfather forward to the 21st C. For example, I love his version of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" featuring a squeezebox made of gold instead of a fiddle. Also, seeing him live is amazing he is like the Mick Jagger of Accordion.

Mar. 20 2012 02:32 PM
Mark from New Jersey


Accordion on "4th of July, Asbury Park (i.e. "Sandy")"

He has an accordion on songs on his latest Number 1 Record, after all.

Mar. 20 2012 02:32 PM

latin music, is such a broad catchall phrase,but i'll throw in old school dominican merengue,too. for its use of accordion.

Mar. 20 2012 02:31 PM
Lynas from Upper West Side

My dad rode his fixed wheel bicycle 400 miles across Missouri in 1930 with his 120 base Excelcior accordion on his back.

Mar. 20 2012 02:31 PM
Jack from South Salem, NY

`As a follower of the legendary Leon Russell, I always thought it was kinda wierd that he worked with (arranged, wrote and recorded)Gary Lewis and the Playboys. Mr. Lewis' early albums with Leon always had him pictured with an accordian strapped to his chest.

Mar. 20 2012 02:31 PM
Roger Goodspeed from New Rochelle NY

When I think of accordion, I think of Creole music and zydeco. The latter an example of accordion really rocking. Does the guest know how the accordion made its way into Louisiana culture (which combined Spanish, French, Hatian, and many other cultures)?

Mar. 20 2012 02:29 PM
Anna from Riverdale

The accordion is such a beautiful, elegant instrument! I have been wanting to learn to play for a long time, but couldn't find anywhere near NYC. I feel like it transitions really well from a more classical to the contemporary period; it is most definitely NOT obsolete

Mar. 20 2012 02:28 PM
Don Dailey from Huntington, NY

My high and low accordian stories. My first experience was playing a gig with an accordian player who would wander off while the drummer and I (playing electric bass) were tethered to our spots on stage. He wasn't much of a musician. He played Havah Nagila in C Major!

Fast forward ten years to my second experience which was as a music student at Glassboro State College (now Rowan Univ) and Guy Klucsevik was on the faculty and really opened our ears to acccordian music/players and avant garde at the same time. He was a very wonderful and accessible musician. He even had me write a piece for him!

Mar. 20 2012 02:28 PM
Lisa from Jersey City

My cousin Johnny Cascella played in John Mellencamp's band (sax & keyboard) for several years. And Mellencamp was supposedly thrilled to learn that Johnny could play the accordian and used him in several of his 1980's albums such as "Scarecrow" and "Lonesome Jubilee". My cousin, learned from his father, and his father was tought by our grandfather. However, my cousin did not like playing the accordian. It's nice to hear him playing now and then when Mellencamps music is played. Johnny unfortunately died while still a member of Mellencamps band of a heart attack at 43 years old. We lovingly refer to him as Johnny Cascella Mellencamp. :)

Mar. 20 2012 02:27 PM
Kathy from Maplewood

The accordionist who plays with Raul Malo is amazing. Tehano (?) music style?

Mar. 20 2012 02:26 PM

the accordion made a comback in the early 90s in latin music.

Mar. 20 2012 02:25 PM
kdan from NYC

The right hand of the accordion is a keyboard like the piano. But how is the left hand side organized, all those buttons?

Mar. 20 2012 02:25 PM
Chuck Kish from Saratoga Springs, NY

Accordion has found a good home in another niche genre, gypsy jazz. Though many of the players in this jazz genre play button accordion, many use the piano accordion. This is gaining in popularity....

Mar. 20 2012 02:25 PM
b from BK

we are forgetting the cajun influence,ancient

Mar. 20 2012 02:24 PM

Accordions have been immensely popular in China -- affordable and portable for school and army sing-alongs, maybe the most ubiquitous sound from a "western" instrument in its early movie history. Also in India, Russia....

Mar. 20 2012 02:23 PM
Bill Frohlich from Long Island

During the 50s and into the mid-60s, I played the accordion, but not polkas and the usual fare. I played classical and light classical, but then got into Modern Jazz and pieces by Art Van Dam. Whatever happened to him?

Mar. 20 2012 02:23 PM
James B. from Rahway NJ

I'd like to hear how Zydeco fits into the accordion story.

Mar. 20 2012 02:23 PM

lets be honest,i like the accordian[in certain contexts] but, it's not a terribly sexy thing to wield around, while palying. [unlike the overtly phallic guitar.] and i don't think, air accordian contests are going to pop up anytime soon.

Mar. 20 2012 02:22 PM
Michael from East Harlem

I just wanted to point out that the accordians cousin, the melodica, has long had a presence in Reggae and Dub music.

Mar. 20 2012 02:20 PM
Sandy from WE

A big shout out to Weird Al for keeping it alive! I love the smell of the air that comes out of the accordion.

Mar. 20 2012 02:20 PM
donkey at the disco from brooklyn

PLEASE DO NOT FORGET WEIRD AL! Yes he does wacky covers, but his first hit was an all accordian song, and he really got me into music as a kid to begin with.

Mar. 20 2012 02:16 PM
Ellen from NYC

What about zyedco? Kind of the polar opposite of Laurence Welk.

Mar. 20 2012 02:16 PM
b from BK

how about Nathan Abshire


Aldus Roger

The bosco stomp!

Mar. 20 2012 02:16 PM
b from BK

how about Nathan Abshire


Aldus Roger

The bosco stomp!

Mar. 20 2012 02:15 PM

in this discussion,are we including the bandoleon in tango,and the smaller accordion, used in tejano music,also ?

Mar. 20 2012 02:12 PM
Siouxie from Bronx

Now you've jumped the shark! OUCH!

My father was a regular viewer of The Lawrence Welk Show, but even as a kid, I knew garbage when I saw it. Awful.

Mar. 20 2012 02:12 PM

So sad that the accordion is considered uncool here. In Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and many other places in Latin America, it's beloved and even perceived as cool!

Mar. 20 2012 02:07 PM

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