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September 16, 2005


Meeting Notes

Even in this busy back-to-school time we had a good turnout Sept. 13 to hear two members of the great Baltimore band The Crawdaddies. (Actually, the accoustic duo has its own name: The Mudbugs.) Accordionist Kraig Greff, accompanied by guitarist Chris Huntington, demonstrated how to "expand the functionality of the accordion" to simulate the sounds of other instruments: the Hammond B3 organ (by switching from a dry register to musette and increasing the volume); a variety of horn voicings (for example by playing octaves); and the roots rock sounds of an electric bass - or maybe stride piano.

Classically trained, Kraig has been playing the accordion for 45 years, and also plays the Hammond B3 and piano. Never has it been more obvious that the accordion is a portable organ: If you closed your eyes while Kraig and Chris played "Spice It Up," you might have thought someone had sneaked a Hammond B3 into the room.

WMAS members had lots of questions. Some people were unfamiliar with Cajun/zydeco/roots music and wanted to hear more. Others wondered how Kraig's Gabbanelli has held up. First of all, he said, the better the instrument, the better the reeds, but he has blown a lot of reeds playing with the band. Also, he's ripped the entire bass side of the accordion off during a performance. A little duct tape patched it up temporarily, and now Gabbanelli has reinforced the instrument specially for Kraig.

Someone also asked if The Crawdaddies improvise or whether everything is written out. It's generally the latter, Kraig said, but the band does write in lots of time for solos, when each musician can improvise. He and Chris demonstrated "trading 4s," in which the musicians take turns playing four bars until one messes up. (You can trade 8s, 2s, or whatever.)

Kraig recommended learning to play in all the keys so you can work with singers and other instruments. Also, some of the harder-to-play keys are especially beautiful. For example, the Crawdaddies song "Hot Tamale Baby" is easy in G but sounds great in E-flat -- a key requires an uncomfortable hand position, he said.

The Crawdaddies are a loud party band that plays mostly original tunes, but they also mix in tunes by musicians such as Little Richard and Willie Dixon.

If you'd like to hear the band, it has at least two CDs out and also plays around the area; check www.thecrawdaddies.com for more info.


Before the program we had a couple of announcements. Clay passed around a book on improvisation by Gordon Kohl, and Joe Kulick mentioned that the National Gallery of Art will be hosting a free accordion concert on Sunday, Dec. 4. Unfortunately this is the same date as our holiday concert, but we'll post the NGA event on our web calendar as soon as the details are available.

Joan announced that the "Coupe Mondiale" -- in which national accordion champions from around the world compete -- will be held in the Washington area in 2007, probably in the second week of August. Our group has been asked to help with advance publicity and registration during the event. It is a great honor for our area to host such a prestigious competition.

Joan distributed music for the holiday concert, but she had to leave right after the program so we didn't get a chance to try it out. We will try to do that next month. Meanwhile, please practice the music at home. If you have a second part, it is a good idea to tape the first part and then play along with it. We rehearse Tuesday evenings in November; check the calendar at www.washingtonaccordions.org for more details. Also, please start thinking about your solo or small group performance in the concert.

Several people have already signed up to play at our Oktoberfest meeting Oct. 11, but there is room for plenty more. All levels of musicians are welcome to play. Here is the list so far:

Peter DiGiovanni TBA
Jim Vandelly TBA
Stella and Joan TBA
Mara and Rick TBA
Mara, Leone & Clare Just Because & Little Gem Polka
Vic Aijala TBA
Karen Malan-Uribe Tick Tock Polka


WMAS Web Site
Our web site has been updated recently (after being down for almost a month), so please check it out and let us know if you see anything that needs to be fixed.

Open Mic Night
Gary Koerner would like to organize WMAS members to play at a Jammin Java open-mic night sometime soon (in Vienna, Va.). If you are interested, please contact Gary at glkoerner@earthlink.net.

Accordion Story
An New York accordion friend sent this story from Australia:

Technology Has Yet to Replace a Man Playing Accordion and Piano Together
By "Retractor"

Technology is truly amazing. Not just the technology that enables us to hit a comet with a probe somewhere in space, but the type that we see in our household and in our pockets.

For instance, take my iPod shuffle. This device is the size of a couple of fags and packs in 14 hours of my favourite music, which I can hear in order or mixed up. The sound quality is good enough for my ears, which are the limiting factor in any sound systems I own.

When my mobile phone died I bought the cheapest replacement I could find. But it had a camera in it -- the marketing people who convince folk they need a camera in their phone are in the same class as those who tell you one brand of bottled water is better than another. I am not big on buying overseas bottled water in restaurants -- if I buy bottled water, I want Australian bottled water. But I digress.

The other night we went to a local RSL club to hear Micheline Van Hautem sing the songs of Jacques Brel -- Jacques has been a favourite of ours since we watched on the ABC Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris.

But I was probably the only person at the RSL who didn't really go to see Micheline, but to see her accompanist, Frederik Caelen.

Frederik was more than an accompanist -- he was a star in his own right. He has two diplomas -- in piano and in piano accordion -- from the Antwerp Conservatory. He is probably the only accordion player in the world who doesn't have people constantly making rude remarks about his instrument. We accordion players are thick-skinned.

At a kd lang concert, the singer was accompanied by an accordion player on a few songs. She said no woman could say "No" to a man with an accordion. This may apply to a man like Frederick, but playing the accordion hasn't put me in a position of fighting off women.

kd, Bette and Micheline's songs are all in my iPod now, but Micheline song's have five stars by them, so they will be played more often.

When I had a stress test recently, the woman next to me found out I was a doctor and started to talk, but my iPod saved me.

Anyway, back to the Micheline evening -- the startling thing about the night occurred on the way there. As I walked briskly from the station to the venue, my mobile phone took a picture of the inside of my pocket and sent it to someone. I kid you not. Now that is technology for you. For years science fiction writers have been writing tales in which machines begin to act independently -- my mobile phone is probably a spy sent in the advance party. Wow.

My DVD player will not be in the fray when the machines rise up -- for it died.

It cost $570 five years ago, but the cost for a repairman to look at it was $60, and the quote to fix it was $310. At the shops I found a DVD player for about $100 that can do anything mine could do.

It is nice that these things are getting cheaper, but the early-demise-and-discard mind-set is a worry. All those lovely chips and wires landing on the scrap heap after only five years. And not just the high-tech stuff: break the toaster in its warranty period and they bin it and give you another - it's not worth the cost of the labour to fix.

Things aren't made like they used to be. Mrs R's sewing machine was bought second-hand in 1967 -- and still purrs along. The Kenwood cake mixer bought in 1971 just died. And these appliances had serious moving parts that wear and tear. Redundancy is the go today. But you would think we could recycle this stuff in a better way -- God knows, we can do it to our everyday garbage.

Of course, we can still recycle piano accordions. The technology has really changed since the Yanks put the keyboard on the European button accordion. You can get a midi system to plug accordions into and use a computer to make them sound like a symphony orchestra, without even having to squeeze. I can work a piano accordion, but I can't do a delayed recording off the telly when I am out.

But although I love my new technology, I am less impressed by it than I was with Micheline and Frederik live. Especially Frederick -- because he played accordion and piano simultaneously. There is no machine that can do that -- yet.