The Cotati Accordion Festival is proud to introduce 1994
The article is reprinted as it appeared in the 1993 CAF Souvenir Program.
The festival committee is proud to once again honor accordion pioneers. This year’s joint honorees are: Faithe Deffner, Joseph Petosa, Gordon Piatanesi, and Julio Giulietti. These heroes and their families are responsible for equipping generations of premier accordion performers throughout North America. Previous honorees included: Guido Bocca1eoni, Guido Canevari, Ernest Gloe and our first honorary director Anthony Galla–Rini. These accordionists have been inspirations to generations of students everywhere accordions are enjoyed.
Faithe Deffner, recent past president of the American Accordionists’ Association, introduced successful concepts to bring the national competitions to the public at Disneyworld in 1985 and aboard a cruise ship to Bermuda in 1986. She was on AAA’s Executive Committees of the 1969 and 1976 Coupes Mondiale in the U.S., has edited the AAA Newsletter and journals, has been in charge of national accordion public relations and serves on the board of governors.
She majored in journalism and was chief executive of an advertising agency prior to joining Ernest Deffner Affiliates, the musical instrument firm her late husband founded in 1934. The Deffner business and its affiliates (Pancordion, Inc. and Titano Accordion Co., International) have operated under her presidency since 1971, during which time she also established a world-wide accordion music publishing business.
Ms. Deffner has been the educational director of Keyboard Study Centers, a highly acclaimed accordion school she founded with Lindy Baumgarten of Canada. She served the Accordion Teachers’ Guild as a vice-president and is currently active on its board. Ms. Deffner regularly attends national and international accordion events and. is a U.S. delegate to the congresses of the Confederation of International Accordionists (CIA). Although her initial musical training was on violin, she studied accordion with professional accordionist Billy Costa and is completely familiar with all mechanical aspects of the instrument after spending many decades in the firm’s factory workshop and design facility.
The year was 1922. The man, Carl Petosa, began something that simply will not stop. Undoubtedly, he did not know that he was destined to begin a legacy that would pass to his son, Joe, and then on to his grandsons, Carl, Dean and Joe Jr., who would carry on the same tradition spanning better than a half century of accordion manufacturing. As a child in Italy, Carl loved the accordion. He recalls, “I was crazy about accordions, and I was determined to have one. My father said, ‘No, they cost too much.’ We argued frequently about this until finally with the first money I earned, I bought one.” After Carl learned to play well, he decided to learn all about them. When he later immigrated to America, he settled in San Francisco where he served an apprenticeship at the Guerrini Accordion Company, learning every aspect of accordion manufacturing.
When Carl had learned everything about accordion building, he decided to start his own business. So, in the basement of his home in Seattle, he single-handedly devoted himself to the task of constructing high-quality instruments. Here, he meticulously and painstakingly measured, hand-cut, sawed, shaped, and molded pieces of wood, metal, and celluloid which were miraculously transformed over several months into beautiful hand-crafted accordions of the highest quality imaginable. Just how many accordions he built in this way will never be known. We know however, that many of these accordions are still in sound, playable condition today.
Carl Petosa’s son, Joe, helped in every aspect of the business. Joe began playing the accordion at age 10 under the tutelage of Joe Parente and Anthony Facciuto, his first and only teachers. By age 12, it became apparent that Joe could become a serious musician. But, he also had a keen interest in learning to build accordions, and his father was eager to teach him the trade. After much agonizing; Joe made the difficult choice to follow in his father’s steps, focusing on the art of building accordions rather than playing them as a career.
When asked by Accordion World if he has ever had any regrets about choosing his father’s profession, Joe said, ‘No, not one. Making accordions is what I love to do. I can never imagine retiring. Life would lose its meaning then. You can’t stop doing the thing you love just because you’ve reached a certain age.” It is also apparent that Joe is equally happy that his own three sons have followed him in the trade and are actively involved in the business.
The Petosa Accordion Company is located at 313 N.E. 45th St., in Seattle. It has been at this location since 1955 when Carl and Joe moved from the small shop where the firm had its original beginning. At this location, Joe Petosa and his father worked together until Carl’s death in 1959. They also had the foresight to expand the business in 1946 by starting a factory in Castelfidardo, Italy, where Petosa accordions would be manufactured and then shipped to Seattle for final adjustments and tuning.
As in the early days, it still takes a year or longer to build an accordion. Says Joe, “You can’t hurry quality. The time involved in making each accordion makes higher production impossible. The wood used in the instruments must first be aged for 20 years before it is ever cut and shaped into accordion pieces. After a case is glued up, it must dry and age another 6 weeks. A quality accordion is like a violin. You can’t just stamp one out, making one on an assembly line.”
Petosa recalls with excitement that the accordion got a great boost just after World War II with the rise of the popular player, Dick Contino. “In that era, he was like Elvis Presley. He was just it! Dick Contino started the boom, and it lasted quite a while. Then came the Lawrence Welk Age, and later the waning of the accordion’s popularity as the guitar rose in serious competition.” Joe Petosa is quite optimistic about the future of the accordion. He believes that its popularity in the U.S. will indeed rise again and that we have already begun to see signs of its resurgence. The Petosa company will be right there to support this accordion renaissance.
Reprinted from Kate Taylor, Chronicle Correspondent
When Colombo Piatanesi left the cobblestone streets and spiny cathedrals of Castelfidardo, Italy, he brought with him a few fine tools and the hope that he would be able to continue his family trade of accordion-making in San Francisco.
Almost 90 years later, his 68-year-old grandson, Gordon Piatanesi, has tuned up the last of the instruments remaining in a small San Rafael workshop and retired with the nation’s oldest accordion company.
When the doors to Colombo and Sons Accordion Corp. closed for the last time, the United States lost one of the few people left with the knowledge and skill to expertly repair the complex instruments.
Piatanesi, who took over the family business after the deaths of his grandfather and father, said his retirement is bittersweet.
“It’s sad to have to lock up an 87-year-old business,” said Piatanesi, sitting on a stool beside shelves of gleaming accordions in his workshop. “But then, I’ve been doing this all my life. It’s time.”
In the 1930’s, when San Francisco was considered the “accordion capital” of the nation and there were at least seven accordion factories in a six-block area of North Beach, Colombo and Sons sold more than 500 accordions a year – some handcrafted, some imported.
On weekends, Colombo Piatanesi would open the factory doors for spontaneous accordion concerts, where polkas were traded for ballads and all sorts of other music, Piatanesi said.
Although many accordion companies have gone out of business, Piatanesi said that there is no danger of accordions becoming. extinct. In fact, he said, accordions are becoming even more popular with several popular trends, like Zydeco, Cajun and Tex-Mex music.
However, there is a painful scarcity of factory-trained accordion crafts people, whose knowledge gives then an edge in both tuning and repairing the instruments. Piatanesi said he is one of just 10 in the United States.
“You can get someone who can tune a note or two, but not someone who knows accordions inside and out, backwards and sideways,” Piatanesi said.
Piatanesi has tried to find a successor to his family business, but he said his two sons have other careers and nobody else has the training to take on the job. Still, he finds some consolation in Castelfidardo, where his relatives carry on the family tradition in a shop with the Piatanesi name over the doorway. And when he presses the bellows of an accordion against his heart, he said that the vibrations bring him closer to his father, his grandfather and to that distant village.
Many musicians become attached to their instruments, but accordionist Julio Giulietti said he can rightly claim that his instrument may have saved his life.
An army officer who liked Giulietti’s playing made it possible for Giulietti to skip combat and remain at a Los Angeles military base, playing accordion for troops shipping out and returning from combat during World War II.
“The accordion saved my life,” laughed Giulietti, now 82 and the owner of Giulietti Accordion Corporation at 3 Cross Street.
As a boy growing up in Italy, his mother taught him how to make the reeds, the metal tongues inside the accordion that vibrate in response to air currents to produce different tones.
His father, Luigi Giulietti, was an accomplished accordion maker, crafting the instruments by hand in Castelfidardo, Italy. Difficult economic times forced the elder Giulietti to emigrate from his country to the United States in 1914, when son Julio was only 3. His father left his family behind intending to bring them to the United States once he was settled.
The young Giulietti, by then 13, spent his days in school learning English and his evenings practicing the accordion and working in the accordion company his father established in New York in 1923.
His father was impressed with Giulietti’s accordion playing and encouraged him to play professionally, which he did. He gave up performing after his father’s death in 1950 forced him to take over the reins of the Giulietti Accordion Corp.
At an age when most business people would have been long retired, Giulietti still runs his Cross Street shop and visits Italy at least twice a year to check on the companies where the Giulietti brand accordions are manufactured to his specifications. Few realize the time and effort that go into making an accordion some 200 hours of intensive labor, Giulietti said. And it is a very practical instrument to own, he said. “It’s a solo instrument, and you can entertain (others) all by yourself,” he said.