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SQUEEZE THIS! by Marion Jacobson


A Cultural History of the Accordion in America

By Marion Jacobson

Pub Date: April 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-252-03675-0
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

A solid, readable academic inquiry into accordion technology and culture, showing how the instrument has adapted to changing times and trends.

This book holds plenty of interest for those who love accordion music, not merely academics who study the instrument or musicians who play it. (The author is both.) What Jacobson terms a “biography of the accordion” traces the development and popular appeal of an instrument that could function as a whole band, is much less expensive and more portable than a piano, followed the immigration patterns of Italians and Eastern Europeans and flourished in the American cities where they clustered, was all but killed by rock ’n’ roll, yet has found new life in a variety of different contexts. “The story of the accordion after 1908 is about people who at critical moments redefined the technology of the instrument as well as the culture surrounding the instrument,” writes the author. She documents the instrument’s various image makeovers, striving for the legitimacy of high culture while attempting to shake its associations with cheesiness, tawdriness (the instrument of the bordello and the saloon) and working-class ethnicity. Jacobson deservedly shines the spotlight on a variety of accordionists: Guido Deiro, who “experienced the most dramatic rise to success in accordion history” and was once married to Mae West; Dick Contino, a would-be teen idol; Myron Floren, far more of a virtuoso than Lawrence Welk; and Frankie Yankovic, a huge crossover recording success. Yet the author slights the likes of Clifton Chenier and zydeco, Flaco Jimenez and conjunto, Los Lobos and Cajun accordion music, focusing more on the less-indigenous Brave Combo and They Might Be Giants. The “Accordions Are In!” ad campaign for the Tiger Combo ’Cordion reflects the humor here that is too rare in academic writing.

A good start on a rich subject.