Beyond "Lady of Spain": Accordionist Cory Pesaturo
When I was growing up, one of the most popular shows on TV was Community Auditions ("New England's Showcase for Talented Amateurs"). At one point, they were the longest running local TV show in the history of mankind. After a hiatus, they are apparently back. Although I haven't seen the latest, jazzed up edition, I spent many a Sunday mornings watching the precocious four-year old lip synch "Chantilly Lace"; the atrocious "I'm Mack/I'm Clack" comedian whose funniest joke had a punchline about a woman who looked like RinTinTin; Irish step dancers; Irish tenors; jazz-tap-pers; and a guy who did trick basket-ball dribbling.
Each week, people mailed in their votes, and, although I don't now anyone who actually voted, we eagerly awaited the moment when we learned who last week's winner was (not to mention the "Series Champion", and the culminating "Grand Champion").
One of the recurring talents on Community Audition was accordion playing, usually "Lady of Spain."
In fact, one of the only people I knew who appeared on CA played the accordion. His sister was on a few weeks later, twirling her baton. Teddy and Roberta were neighbors, and while we knew them, we really didn't know them. They belonged to a Lithuanian parish and went to a Polish grammar school, and were, thus, considered too far out of the mainstream to actually know-know. Anyway, they both lost, which we knew was going to happen because no one from Worcester ever won. In fact, we considered the contests rigged for Bostonians - those block-voters.
Although we knew that we wouldn't win, my friends and I talked constantly about coming up with an act and going on CA. The problem was not that we weren't amateurs; our main problem was that we weren't even as talented as the kid mouthing Chantilly Lace while holding a toy telephone. ("This is the Big Bopper speakin'...You know what I like.")
I thought of Community Auditions because of an article that appeared in yesterday's Globe on Cory Pesaturo, the World Digital Accordion Champion, who won by:
dazzling judges with his rapid-fire playing style and showmanship.
Pesaturo is, apparently, making accordions jazzy and hip. (That sound coming from North Dakota is Myron Floren rolling over in Lawrence Welk's grave.)
Don't believe me? Go see for yourself (on YouTube, if this embed doesn't work).
Well, he certainly is a virtuoso. And it's certainly a lot hipper than Franky Yankovic playing The Blue Skirt Waltz. (BSW was my German grandfather's favorite song. We have no record of what my Irish grandfather's favorite song was, but I'll nominate Back Home Again in Rogers' Barroom (to the tune of Back Home Again in Indiana), and the theme song of his saloon, which was in Webster Square in Worcester, not in Indiana.)
The article mentioned that Pesaturo was "laughed off “America’s Got Talent’’ by panelist David Hasselhoff this year," prompting me to ask the question who the hell is David Hasselhoff to be laughing anybody off a talent show? Sheeshhh.
Having grown up around accordions, I'm actually something of a passive accordion fan.
My German and Irish ethnic-tradition music both have a lot of accordion in them. My Grandfather Wolf, and my uncles Jake and Bob, all played accordions - piano accordions, I think, as opposed to button accordions, which I associate with the Irish.
If I had a scanner, I'd insert here a publicity shot of Jake Wolf and the Midwesterners, who had a country and western polka band - at least they were wearing cowboy hats in the picture.
We were also a Lawrence Welk family, watching the show religiously - even though we were all (other than my no-make-fun mother) taking pot-shots at the bunch of them - Joe Feeney, Larry Hooper, Jerry Burke, Norma Zimmer, Myron Floren, the Lovely (in Lawrence speak: Luffly) Lennon Sisters, Barbara and Bobby - throughout the show. My (Irish) grandmother always claimed that Jerry Burke, who played the organ, was a stiff, playing posthumously. My (Irish) father could not understand why Lawrence himself had never shed his thick-as-a-summer-sausage Germanish North Dakota accent. And the Luffly Lennon Sisters....well, they were too damned goody-goody to be true.
Back to Pesaturo: he plays a digital accordion, which:
... has bellows like an acoustic accordion, but instead of reeds it uses computer-chip technology to mimic other instruments, much like a synthesizer does. Within the small world of serious accordion players, challenging tradition has become a sore issue, he admitted.
“I tell them we have to bring back the accordion as something cool first,’’ Pesaturo said. “We’re not trying to kill off the acoustic accordion. The electric guitar didn’t kill off the acoustic guitar, did it? I can’t play a techno song on a traditional accordion. My philosophy is, you have to be a musician first and an instrumentalist second.’’
Pesaturo is something of an accordion prodigy, having been playing since the age of 9. He's played at the White House - Bill and Hill are fans. And he certainly is a virtuoso who's taking the accordion well beyond Lady of Spain.
So, best of luck to Cory Pesaturo. In honor of Jake Wolf (my godfather) and the Midwesterners, I may actually buy one of his CD's. (Wonder if Cory knows the Blue Skirt Waltz?)
I dream of that night with you, lady when first we met.
We danced in a world of blue. How can my heart forget?
Blue were the skies and blue were your eyes,
Jjust like the blue skirt you wore.
Come back, blue lady come back.
Don't be blue anymore.