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Squeeze This!

Squeeze This!: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Squeeze This!
    Book Description:

    No other instrument has witnessed such a dramatic rise to popularity--and precipitous decline--as the accordion. Squeeze This! is the first history of the piano accordion and the first book-length study of the accordion as a uniquely American musical and cultural phenomenon._x000B__x000B_Ethnomusicologist and accordion enthusiast Marion Jacobson traces the changing idea of the accordion in the United States and its cultural significance over the course of the twentieth century. From the introduction of elaborately decorated European models imported onto the American vaudeville stage and the instrument's celebration by ethnic musical communities and mainstream audiences alike, to the accordion-infused pop parodies by "Weird Al" Yankovic, Jacobson considers the accordion's contradictory status as both an "outsider" instrument and as a major force in popular music in the twentieth century. _x000B__x000B_Listen to an interview with Marion Jacobson on WNYC: _x000B__x000B__x000B__x000B_Drawing on interviews and archival investigations with instrument builders and retailers, artists and audiences, professionals and amateurs, Squeeze This! explores the piano accordion's role as an instrument of community identity and its varied musical and cultural environments. Jacobson concentrates on six key moments of transition: the Americanization of the piano accordion, originally produced and marketed by sales-savvy Italian immigrants; the transformation of the accordion in the 1920s from an exotic, expensive vaudeville instrument to a mass-marketable product; the emergence of the accordion craze in the 1930s and 1940s, when a highly organized "accordion industrial complex" cultivated a white, middle-class market; the peak of its popularity in the 1950s, exemplified by Lawrence Welk and Dick Contino; the instrument's marginalization in the 1960s and a brief, ill-fated effort to promote the accordion to teen rock 'n' roll musicians; and the revival beginning in the 1980s of the accordion as a "world music instrument" and a key component of cabaret and burlesque revivals and pop groups such as alternative experimenters They Might Be Giants and polka rockers Brave Combo._x000B__x000B_Loaded with dozens of images of gorgeous instruments and enthusiastic performers and fans, Squeeze This! A Cultural History of the Accordion in America represents the accordion in a wide range of popular and traditional musical styles, revealing the richness and diversity of accordion culture in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09385-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Like many who started playing the accordion in the late twentieth century, my introduction to the instrument happened quite unexpectedly, resulting from a series of chance encounters. While strolling down Essex Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side on a brilliant fall day in 2002, I impulsively ducked into Main Squeeze Accordions. I do not recall what drove me into the store to examine the used and new squeezeboxes, browse through sheet music, and talk at length with owner Walter Kuehr. Perhaps I was curious as to what an accordion store was doing in this neighborhood, at the crossroads of Orthodox...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Advent of the Piano Accordion
    (pp. 15-49)

    The lushly symphonic sounds of the accordion filled the parlors, salons, and concert halls of nineteenth-century Europe. Accordion scholars generally trace the beginnings of their instrument’s history to the “Demian,” a new free-reed instrument patented by Austrian organ builder and inventor Cyril Demian in 1828.¹ These diatonic button accordions were equipped with two, three, or four rows for a variety of harmonies, and could create multivoiced textures and simple rhythms suitable for folk and traditional dance music. Demian brought about the first significant transformations with an instrument he called the akkordeon, from the Italian word accordare (“sound together”), a name...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Squeezebox Bach: The Classical Accordion
    (pp. 50-90)

    The april 18, 1939, Carnegie Hall Accordion Concert featuring Magnante’s quartet was “the biggest single event to occur in the world of the accordion.”¹ Cue printed a tantalizing advance notice of this concert, which was covered by a half dozen critics in the mainstream media.

    For no very good reason, the piano accordion is usually associated, in the minds of many, with college reunions, trade association dinners, and barrooms. Charles Magnante has made up his mind that this shameful misconception must stop, and he’s going to fire the opening gun in Carnegie Hall next Tuesday night. With his quartet, he’ll...

  7. Color illustrations
    (pp. None)
  8. CHAPTER THREE Squeezebox Rock: The Rise and Fall of the Accordion in American Popular Culture
    (pp. 91-115)

    The perspective i have taken on accordion advocates in the previous chapter may have created the impression that the accordion’s place in American mainstream culture was secure. Ensconced in the cultured musical institutions, the accordion would continue to develop as a concert instrument, safe from the influences of ethnic music and the vicissitudes of popular taste. Such was the highbrow vision for the accordion. However, events in American culture of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s intervened dramatically in the life of the accordion, transforming it in subtle and profound ways. The first section of this chapter chronicles the response of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Crossover Accordionists: Viola Turpeinen, John Brugnoli, and Frankie Yankovic
    (pp. 116-144)

    Accordionist viola turpeinen began her career entertaining Finnish-American farmers and mineworkers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1920s. Furthering her art through studies with Italian accordion teachers, she moved to New York City, where she won a larger audience in the city’s Finnish halls as well as in theaters and ballrooms throughout Manhattan. Although Turpeinen recorded for Victor and performed on radio broadcasts, it was her live performances and her regular appearances in her hometown of Iron River that earned her a unique Finnish-American title: Hanuriprinsessa (accordion princess).¹

    In the 1940s, John Brugnoli, an accordionist from Borgotaro, spent five nights...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE New Main Squeeze: Repositioning the Accordion in the Music Industry
    (pp. 145-172)

    Anyone who read magazines and newspapers or heard popular music on the radio and television in the 1990s might have noted a new wave of fascination with the accordion. Keyboard was among the first observers of the phenomenon, reporting that “against all odds, despite the image problems and all the high-tech hoopla, the accordion is back.”¹ There had been dramatic surges earlier, in the 1930s and 1940s, peaking in 1955 when accordion sales reached their height. The midcentury accordion craze was precipitated by causes different from those of the 1990s, fueled primarily by postwar prosperity and the educational and cultural...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Out of the Closet: Reimagining the Accordion in American Popular Culture
    (pp. 173-206)

    Some observers of the accordion world, and at least one prominent composer-accordionist (Pauline Oliveros) expressed optimism about the accordion in the 1980s and 1990s, a time when Americans began to unravel some of their assumptions about the accordion and the people who played it:

    The accordion is shedding its square image—this generation doesn’t know who Lawrence Welk is. It’s a new era.¹

    The accordion has come out of the closet. In fact, it has practically broken down the door, and strange things are happening.²

    The accordion is a symbol of the outsider.³

    Ten years into a new century, it...

    (pp. 207-220)

    When helmi harrington, a musicologist and curator of the World of Accordions Museum, responded to my 2003 request for information about the history of the accordion, she said earnestly, “it’s about time someone approached this topic in a serious-minded way.” Echoing many other accordion devotees I interviewed, Harrington suggested that her interpretation of the scene as a whole, as well as her explanations for her own involvement in it, would depart from my own. When I visited her collections on two separate occasions in 2005 and 2009, she made sure to remind me that this was the case. In this...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 221-244)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 245-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-259)