The Founders of the Bay Area Accordion Club (BAAC)

Cotati Accordion Festival Honorary Directors for 2004

Pictured from left to right: Dominic Palmisano, Jim Holliday, Lou Soper, Walter Traverso, Oresty (Rusty) Bartoli

Lou “Mister Chords” Soper

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce my buddy Lou Soper. Lou was born in 1924 in Saginaw, Michigan and started playing the accordion in 1939 at the age of fifteen. His first teacher was George Cailotto who taught Lou enough basics so he could continue learning on his own after studying with Cailotto for a year.

Lou’s instrument of choice is his 21-lb. Sonola, though he has been known to play a Cordovox professionally.

In 1949 Lou began playing professionally and has since recorded several albums and tapes both as a solo and with groups He was a featured performer on local television shows in Fargo, North Dakota for fifteen years.

Lou describes his playing by saying that he presents a total package; a full sound on the accordion, his personality and ability to interact with the audience and a concept t each set that he plays.

When asked to describe his unique playing style, Swingin’ Jazz, Lou calls it a “full sound” derived from the big band sounds of Glen Miller, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, and Tommy Dorsey. “Each band had four trombones, five saxophones, and four trumpets,” says Soper. “The saxophone is a reed instrument like the accordion. If you had five saxes, you could have five-note chords.” Lou listened to the pioneers of this sound where the accordion played a major part by playing complex four-fingered chords. “What they were doing is playing the melody with the little finger (#5 finger) and playing three-part chords with the index, middle and #4 fingers. The difference is that I double the melody with my thumb.”

Also essential to his “full sound” is that the bass must play the root of every chord that is played with the right hand. “You gotta have the root in the bass or the whole thing doesn’t work,” says Lou. The sum of all these parts is what Lou calls his “full sound.”

Asked about his possible legacy to the accordion, Lou hopes he will have inspired others to play the accordion, to try new things, and maybe to carry on his “full sound” style. Lou’s advice to the future accordion players? Simple … (1) Get a good accordion and (2) Get a good teacher.

When asked what the highlights of his career have been, Lou cites four events: Co-founding the Bay Area Accordion Club (now called the San Francisco Accordion Club —ed). Helping to start the Cotati Accordion Festival; being a featured performer at Art Van Damme’s 75th birthday party; and playing a tribute to his buddy, Jim Boggio, at Jim’s funeral.

Lou is so committed to his craft and the advancement of the accordion that he took time to write down his theories of chord construction in a series of two self-published instructional books: Lou Soper’s Easy Musical Chord Retention Method, Volumes One and Two.

So there you have it. That’s my buddy Lou “Mister Chords” Soper. He’s a great guy. Now that you know about him, walk up to him and introduce yourself. After talking with him for a while you might find that you’ve got a buddy just like mine!

—Kristofer Nelson
(Excerpts taken from an article which appeared in the February 1998 ACR Newsletter)

Oresty (Rusty) Bartoli

I’M GLAD TO BE PART OF the San Francisco Accordion Club (formerly the Bay Area Accordion Club). The first time our founding group met at Walter Traverso’s home we were enthusiastic about the idea of starting a club but we never imagined it would be such a success.

It was an exciting time with the club attracting so many talented people. Their contributions have made the club what it is today. Our club has been the inspiration for many other clubs which have sprouted up all over the state.

The accordion is a wonderful instrument and is a pastime that I still enjoy in my senior years. I consider myself lucky to have had many wonderful teachers, among them Gabriel Venneri, John Pezzolo, Bud Seghieri and Michael Parti. These men were more than fine teachers, they were great friends. Now that they are all gone I miss them but can never forget
them. I thank God for the SFAC through which I have met so many good friends. Through the club, accordionists who might have been unknown to each other as competitors are instead familiar to each other as colleagues and friends. I am also lucky that my wife, Thelma, loves the accordion and has been a great encouragement. Viva the accordion!

—Oresty (Rusty) Bartoli

Dominic Palmisano

What an honor to be recognized by the Cotati Festival 2004, for co-founding the San Francisco Accordion Club. The endeavor to advance the accordion started in 1990 in an effort to make it the official instrument of San Francisco. Much can be said about how mutual interest brings people together. The original gang of five decided in the spur of the moment to create a club for accordion enthusiast. Our first meeting began in May 1990 with 17 charter members; little did we know that our excitement would influence many communities to do the same. My part was to develop the newsletter called the BAAC Page. What a struggle it was then, I didn’t have any computer experience. I wanted to produce a fun and interesting read for our members. The monthly publication was truly a work of love, spending tens of hours learning the computer just to get a completed newsletter. Nevertheless, each month I was always thrilled with the results!

Now that we’ve accomplished our goal to create a monthly format for accordion enthusiast, also to help make the accordion the official instrument of San Francisco, your recognition is sincerely appreciated. Thank you for the honor…

—Dominic Palmisano

Jim Holliday

I was born in Washington, DC in 1919 and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. As a very small boy, I remember sitting by my mother’s feet as she played the piano at gatherings surrounded by family and friends.

I had many interests and activities when growing up and two obsessions—airplanes and the accordion. I saw my first live accordion performance at a children’s picnic and resolved right there to learn to play one. I eventually obtained a 120-bass Hohner accordion and studied with a famous old vaudeville accordionist, Santo Santucci. World War II brought an end to that.

In 1941 I became involved in a pilot-training program that led to becoming a flight instructor at the Chicago Pilot Training School. There I taught both Army Air Corps and U.S. Navy aviation cadets to fly and trained additional flight instructors. In 1943 I was hired as a co-pilot by Pan American World Airways in Miami, Florida. Pam Am was heavily involved in flight operations for the Army Air Corps Air Transport Command. I spent most of 1943-45 flying a 12,000 mile route from Miami, Florida to Calcutta India, a focal point in the China-Burma-India theater.

I transferred to Pan Am’s San Francisco Division in 1955 to begin 24 years of Pacific operations. I transported both cargo and troops during both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

In 1979 after 36 years with Pan Am, I retired as a B-747 captain with approximately 30,000 hours of four-engine pilot time and a million memories.

Retirement gave me time to focus on the accordion again and in 1990 I helped form the Bay Area Accordion Club. Six additional local clubs have evolved from the BAAC (now called the San Francisco Accordion Club).

It’s been a great ride.

—Jim Holliday

Walter Traverso

Walter Traverso was instrumental in establishing the Bay Area Accordion Club. The first meeting in 1990 was held in his home where the founding members decided to form an accordion club.

Following is a “mission statement” set down by Walter: The Bay Area Accordion Club, founded in 1990, already has more than 260 members. Most of us play the accordion, but many members simply enjoy hearing the instrument. We particularly welcome them.

Our group is made up of many musical styles and we attempt to support and encourage those various talents. We seem to have unleashed a partially dormant local interest in the accordion, which, as you may know, has been somewhat, maligned in the past but which has recently been experiencing a welcome renaissance.

Our first purpose is to enjoy the accordion. Our instrument is well suited to jazz, ethnic music, to dance music, to sing-a-longs, and to light classics. At our monthly meetings we play all of the above plus a few more for one another. After our meetings those who have not heard enough regroup at a local restaurant for more playing and more conversation.

A highly important secondary purpose is to promote the accordion to: promote the accordion; increase its visibility in the Bay Area; perform in public whenever possible; and encourage youngsters to learn the instrument.

We are always searching for new members … for others who care about our instrument and want to help us enjoy and promote it. Our meetings are held the second Thursday of each month; 7:00 pm, at the Moose Lodge, 7535 Mission Street in Daly City. For more information, call (510) 531-4836.

Walter came to the accordion later in life. He was a barber by trade and later worked in real estate. He started taking lessons at the age of 57 from Dino Benetti.

At one of his first engagements, Walter was hired to play for a dinner dance. That’s where a lady came up to him and asked him to play Somewhere My Love. “That lady turned out to be the, ‘Love of my life,’ ” says Walter. They are now married, as Walter says, “Thanks to the accordion.”