Guido Canevari

The Cotati Accordion Festival’s 1992 Honorary Director

by Virginia L. Jansen

Guido Canevari (hereafter referred to as “Guido C.”) was born in Santa Rosa, California on March 27,1908. He is one of five children (the “last of the Mohicans”) born to Joseph and Frances Canevari. In trying to recall the exact year in which his parents came to this country from Italy, he said it was so long ago, he couldn’t remember. He has one son, Lindsi, and five grandchildren.

As one enters Guido C.’s studio, which is a fairly good sized room, the unsuspecting is in for a shock! Not only are all four walls literally covered with photographs (many autographed) but every surface of every shelf, stand or table is loaded with even more photos and an assortment of accordion memorabilia! On the table in the center of the room are displayed five large accordions. One could spend hours inspecting his collection of which, according to Guido C., half again as much is stored elsewhere.

The five accordions on display are the various instruments Guido C. used over the years. These are in addition to a Roma, the twelve base type, “a little square box type.” He listed them by name: a Soprani which was traded in for “Special Model Excelsior, N.Y.”; a Sonolo; a “Special Model Colombo”; and Excelsior New York with four “rocker” switches. All but the Excelsior, made in New York, were Italian made.

Guido C. has been playing the accordion for over fifty years. One of his first teachers was Johnny Tisserand (sic] of Santa Rosa. He played for Lena’s Italian Restaurant off Wilson Street. Other instructors were Nerino Turchet (Santa Rosa) and Caesar Pezzolo of San Francisco. He also studied accordion in New York City under various instructors. “I was an eager beaver. … Many of my teachers asked if I intended to become a concert artist. My answer was, ‘No, I didn’t want to live in a suitcase’!”

As a young fellow, Guido C. worked in a grocery store and later became the assistant manager. That work enabled him to pay for his accordion and band lessons. (He remarked that he had also “taken up” impersonation and magic butĀ gave those up for his music career.)

Guido C. started lessons on a small accordion, a “twelve bass” – 12 buttons in the bass. ”Today we graduate from this type to a 120 bass. Years ago, they didn’t make all the sizes they make today … medium, petite … some so big you have to look kinda sideways to find the keys.”

For some fifteen to twenty years, Guido C. held concerts at the Veteran’s Building in Santa Rosa. Many of the photos on the studio’s walls are of famous performers who were featured soloists at his shows: Dick Contino, Myron Floren, Joanne Castle to name a few.

“You can put this down, I took lessons for sixteen years; I missed six lessons and that’s because I was sick in bed. You see, one out of a hundred make it.”

Guido C. commented, “1 hope to put on a show this year – maybe in September. I’m going to call it ‘A Night in Europe’.” Pointing to a photo, he explained, ”That was one of my bands. I had sixty three students in it and rehearsed for three months. Believe it or not, 1 never had to stop any of my bands – even once – to make a correction. These were kids we’re talking about! At the concert, my students would perform for about one hour and a half then the guest artists would come on – dancers, soloists. 1 was the conductor – everything. My advertisement for the show would read something like this: ‘Guido Canevari, Accordion Instructor, Presents – A Gala Accordion Concert’ .”

Guido C. chose not to become a professional performer, but rather, a professional instructor. In addition to having to prepare for his own classes, he owned two music stores and two accordion studios. He employed two teachers.

When questioned about the number of successful students he’d had over the years (those who had actually gained “professional” accordion status) Guido C. explained that perhaps ten to twelve out of over a thousand students had truly succeeded. The following is his lengthy reply. “You can put this down, I took lessons for sixteen years; 1 missed six lessons, and that’s because I was sick in bed. You see, one out of a hundred make it. The youngsters of today miss so many lessons. They don’t practice – there’s not enough effort put into it. It’s a shame. Nowadays, the parents seem to be too busy – too occupied to help. I’ve been asked many, many times why we have only a few concert artists. The reason is, to be one takes at least eight hours of practice a day like going to work on a job from 8:00 to 5:00. How many youngsters are you going to find who will dedicate themselves to that?”

Guido C., who is still instructing students, continued his commentary: “I can sit here, at my age, for eight hours at a time. I haven’t one student who can sit for that long. A youngster today averages less than a half an hour of practice – maybe three or four times a week. What’s a youngster going to do without a parent or someone to listen while he practices? He needs someone to say ‘You’d better go over that once more, Johnny; it’s not quite right.’ Youngsters need encouragement. If a child is interested, I’ll pour my heart out. If he has a poor lesson, I suffer. It’s not just the money with me.

As for the chances for musical success, I think it was much better in my time years ago – before we had all the cars, the T.V.’s … and so on.” Pointing to a photo above his desk, Guido C. enthusiastically commented, “The students in this quartet were some of the best I ever had: Bill Birkhofer, Patricia Mattis, Ken Chambers and Marie Acquistapace [married name, Totty]. Pat and Ken have their own bands and, I understand, are booked solid.”

In spite of his eighty-four years, Guido C. plans to go forward. His one-of-a-kind photograph of an accordion picnic, held in 1933 in a park north of San Francisco, along with his written comment, will be printed in a forthcoming book by the authors of The Golden Age of the Accordion. (A copy of which was displayed in his studio.) His wry humor came through as he described that picnic. “We had 10,000 people there and I never saw so much Italian salami, red wine and French bread in all my life.”

Guido C. has been contacted by a television program representative. He feels fairly certain that his studio will be featured on television at some future date. He has told the representative, “If you do come to my studio, I doubt that you will have seen anything like it.” This writer can attest to that! Accordion lovers everywhere should see Guido Canevari’s collection; they should also plan to spend the day!