2014 Honorary Director
2Article by Sheri Mignano Crawford
Maestro Corino has spent a lifetime devoted to teaching, performing, recording, and composing for the accordion. His passionate love and limitless enthusiasm have certainly contributed to him having earned the title of Honorary Director for this year’s festival.
It all started 96 years ago on April 27, 1918 when he was born in a tiny town in northern Italy. As a child he learned solfeggio, a prerequisite for learning any musical instrument. Growing up in the Piedmontese region near Torino, he would bicycle 1-1/2 hours to receive his accordion lessons from Felice Piano. His sister Maria gave him his first accordion (two-octaves with only 12 bass buttons). A natural talent with the squeeze box may have saved him from becoming a priest as his mother preferred him to be.
Although no one played accordion in his family, within a short time a famous Italian Maestro Angelini at the “Sala Gai” heard Mike and hired him on the spot as the solo accordionist with his orchestra. Angelini saw how important it was to bring in the versatility of the accordion into a dance band. At 17 Mike was playing among the best musicians and vocalists of his time; he accompanied tenor Victorio Bellelli who was very popular and sang like Perry Como. Mike hadn’t even graduated from school but was on a professional career path as a musician and entertainer.
In 1938, Mike started on the theater and film circuit performing at Cine Città with tenor Carlo Butti in Rome. Then, the war came. Parachuting in the Italian army earned him a Certificate as a Patriot signed by Field Marshall Sir H.R. Alexander of the British Army.
During World War Two, Mike had his accordion with him as well while performing as a secret agent and in his partisan duties. He watched helplessly as he saw some of his buddies disappear. The post war torn towns were barely able to employ the men who returned from war so Mike made a life-changing decision: he came to the United States.
Immigrating in 1947, he arrived on the same ship with another passenger, the world famous conductor Arturo Toscanini who was headed for the Metropolitan Opera. It was an auspicious journey. Mike stayed for five years, returning to Italy to see his family but returned in time to benefit from accordion-mania in the San Francisco Bay Area. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. His predecessors, such as Charles Magnante, had played at Carnegie Hall; in San Francisco, the five Pezzolo brothers and Lou Allara had been teaching, performing, and actively promoting the accordion for decades.
The Corino Music School opened in North Beach, the Italian neighborhood in San Francisco on September 5, 1961—just in time for going back to school. It was a busy hub for teenaged baby boomers. It was a wild mix of Beatniks, coffee houses, bookstores, strip joints, and accordion factories. In 1956 “Papa” Gianni Giotta opened the first espresso house on the west coast and Lawrence Ferlinghetti had opened City Lights Bookstore. Both destinations were within a block of the music studio. To put this all in perspective, by 1966, there were no fewer than five accordion factories in San Francisco (most of them in North Beach), and there were 13 accordion dealers, many located in North Beach. It was a neighborhood that never slept; it was filled with an active nightclub scene for dance bands that featured accordionists.
Mike’s popularity and notoriety resulted in being recognized as a great entertainer by those who followed his demanding European recording schedule. Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco columnist, immediately dubbed Corino the “Desi Arnaz of North Beach.” No doubt it was Mike’s handsome good looks, brilliant music arrangements and compositions, as well as his talent as an accordionist that made him popular and brought worldwide acclamations. He welcomed celebrities from all walks of life. Domenico Modugno who composed “Volare” stopped by to sing with Mike. His photo albums are filled with politicians, actors, and musicians. Frankie Lane of “Rawhide” fame and other Hollywood superstars always looked up Mike when they were planning to perform in San Francisco.
Mike’s students benefited from his status as a world renowned accordionist. A whole generation of accordion players learned from him. While he closed his store in 1981, he continued to teach privately in his home. With various ensembles (Godfather Trio) and a full-time dance band, he juggled teaching with entertaining. His ensembles included a stable of mandolinists such as Pete Tarzia, Rudy Cipolla, Joe di Luca, and Gino Pellegrini. To complement his original arrangements, he would hire Charlie Rosso on violin, Bobby Garay (guitar), Joe Miseli (mandolin), and Francine Passa, and others on sax, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, or drums. He arranged the music and created interchangeable parts for his 12-piece orchestra.
Over a lifetime, he has kept a meticulous weekly journal with entries revealing an astonishing variety of venues, patrons, and clients. In the music business, Mike still enjoys the financial benefits of his recording efforts because all his songs are still performed throughout the world. His compositions are regularly performed on radio, the Internet, RAI television, or in live performances at festivals around the world. Two of his most popular compositions remain “Fisarmonica Impazzita” (1941) and “Tango delle Stelle” (1958). Both have been performed on the main stage during the 2004 Cotati Accordion Festival when Fabio Giotta (one of Mike’s finest students) and I performed.
Mike still picks up a strolling-size accordion to demonstrate how to “play with the heart.” Whether it’s a mazurka, a polka, or a simple melody, he makes it look like fun.
Still a kid at 96!
Listen to Mike play Fisarmonica Impazzita – one of his most famous compositions.
Corino Compositions: Attraversando Il Nevada, Come Una Volta, Continental Tango, Dallapè, El Chico de Miguel, Fisarmonica Allegra, Fisarmonica Impazzita, Giorni Felici, Graziella, Incanto Mazurka, La Lepre Zoppa, Lina Mazurka, Lulù Polka, Nello E Lilli, Polka Moderna, Prima Neve, S. Francisco, Tango dei Baci, Tango delle Stelle, Tarantella Bella, Three Hours in Paris, Una notte a Parigi, Un Giorno a Tolosa, Vincenzina, Viva Lawrence.