Jim Gilman

Jim Gilman: The Squeezinator
In Memoriam Honorary Director 2021
Sheri Mignano Crawford

The late Jim Gilman (1942-2020) brought a great sense of humor to his style of playing accordion. It was something he cultivated in his long, distinguished career as a professionalaccordionist. After decades of devoting his talents to elevating the accordion, he became the designated “Squeezinator.” By combining his theatrical, fun-loving attitude with a sophisticated jazz temperament, he left no request unfulfilled. His limitless, encyclopedic music reservoir made him one of the most popular accordionists at the Cotati Accordion Festival.

He launched his career in the 1970s after answering a classified ad in a local newspaper and was hired at Knotts Berry Farm to play accordion eight hours a day, five days a week at $1.85 an hour. As he explored his potential as an all-around keyboardist, he expanded to the Cordovox and to the Midi when he went on the music circuit with a saxophone player under the auspices of the Holiday Inn and even appeared on late night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. 

While Jim invested his talents and energy into southern California’s entertainment industry, he began to think beyond the well-traveled road lounge circuit. Soon Jim was donning his Oktoberfest gear wearing lederhosen with suspenders. Whether he was gigging with cow bells or not, he was the main attraction at the Yorba Linda community Center and at a nearby a ballroom with his wife of 38 years, Linda, always smiling in the audience and inspiring him to keep the dancers on their toes.

Jim at the keyboard with the Burgermeister Boys during Oktoberfest

California’s great weather found Jim booked for outdoor events, too. He found himself at the annual accordion festival in Cotati where a curious visit turned into an annual pilgrimage. Gilman’s regular presence focused on the polka tent. Renting a U-Haul style truck, he loaded up his technical equipment and musical instruments, and his one-man show became an integral part of the festival.

Even when the festival closed in the evening, he’d find himself playing with his colleagues at Volpi’s, and those extracurricular activities always added to the wonderful energy at the festival. He and his friends provided endless energy and more opportunities for more people to hear the beautiful sounds of the accordion. These spontaneous jam sessions allowed everyone to take enjoy the accordion.

Jim in the “green room” behind the main stage at Cotati. Getting ready to wow the crowd.

We salute Jim Gilman as an accordion hero. He has made us all a little happier! His positive, engaging personality encouragedus all to keep squeezing. We will miss him this year, but we know his spirit and enthusiasm will still be felt at the festival. Thank you, Jim!

Sheri Mignano Crawford

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