At our annual festival in La Plaza Park one gets about an hour of enjoying the talents of each performer, and then it’s onto the next world class musical treat. We get to behold so much in two days, but we are only really getting a glimpse of these performers who have major backstories that are rich in experience, excitement, and sometimes great courage.
This year we have Sourdough Slim having just done his act, as only he can do, in the new hit TV show High Desert with Patricia Arquetter and Matt Dillon. Then there is Jenny Conlee taking a touring break from one of the biggest break out Indie bands, The Decemberists, and Erica Mancini just finishing her tour with the internationally incomparable, Gogol Bordello. The high level intensity of touring with such groups and the thrill of massive adoring crowds are these accordionist’s dreams coming true. It’s our dream come true to have them in Cotati this year.
However, the most moving stories are the current sagas being experienced by two of our featured acts this year, Carlos Mejia Godoy and Elena Stenkina. Both artists have had to go into exile in the U.S. for daring to take stands against the policies of the totalitarian regimes that they both were having to deal with in their home countries, Elena being from Russia and Carlos from Nicagragua. When we watch them play this year at our festival we have to remember the stress, conflict and courage that brought them here. We need to remind ourselves what they had to go through in order to play before us in La Plaza Park.
This introduction brings me to the June performers of the month, Cory Pesaturo and Yasmine Azaiez.
Cory’s history is a collage of awards, rare performances, and rich circumstances. Of course, with Cory there is the trio of World Championships on acoustic, digital and jazz accordion; being the only accordion graduate of the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; and having performed in the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops. Yet, his real story is one of unbridled energy, combined with world class talent, meeting self-created opportunity and chance.
All I need to say is” Let’s Make A Deal”. Cory having been on that show could make my main point that he is essentially everywhere(I don’t know if he even remembers what his home looks like). For instance, he has also been on Letterman, That’s My Jam, and TV shows in England, Canada, Italy, Tunisia, France and Finland. In Finland Cory had the chance to meet an exceptionally talented group of accordionists, all of whom are young, female, and superbly talented when it comes to the accordion. Because of Cory’s lobbying talents, they all became performers at the Cotati Accordion Festival. Here I speak of Netta Skog, Tiia Karttunen and Viivi Maria Saarenkylä.
Before I get too far off track, I want to get back to this year’s travels of our ubiquitous accordionist while he flies to dinner with Mario Andretti on Mario’s jet(Mario is a big fan of the accordion). Next he is being the guest of honor at Ted Danson’s birthday party for Mary Steenberg(an accordionist in her own right). In the next jaunt he is collaborating with Quicny Jones and Wynton Masalis after making a stop to perform with Johnny Depp. All in the same year he was asked to put together a band to perform on the Main Grand Plaza Stage at the NAMM show this year. As I mentioned earlier, he is everywhere.
However, the biggest name drop I will do involves the Clintons. Cory performed four different times in the White House during President Clinton’s years and 8 other times for the President and his wife. Cory has built up a lot of performance capital in these adventures and it is to our benefit that the great young players that he meets in his travels around the world all hear about how “necessary” it is to come to perform in Cotati, Ca. For that, we will always owe a debt of gratitude to Cory.
This year Cory is bringing to the festival our second June performer of the month, Yasmine Azaiez.
Yasmine’s credentials and affiliations are too voluminous to list. However, Her beginnings are telling, as this Tunisian woman, raised in the UK, studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School concentrating in classical music. She then went on to study improvisation and composition at the New England Conservatory. To use these studies and to get back to her roots, she created the 1st ever violin competition in Tunisia.
All this being said, it belies what we will see on stage. When she gets on stage with Cory and they ramp up into an escalation of jazz based riffs, it’s like all hell is going to break out. Yet, in her total violin mastery, she brings it all together and dovetails in and out with the genius of Cory’s accordion fire. What first seems like an explosion of musical notes on stage, quickly becomes a hypnotizing cascade of perfect string jazz serenades. Her performances are a blend of violin intensity and note choosing perfection, resulting in a stage presence that becomes large than life.
The stage presence of the two of them stays in the viewer’s consciousness long after each song is done. Yet, just when you have time to digest what you have just seen and heard you are sucked into another cyclone of beautiful sounds as Cory and Yasmine continue to play off of each other in an arena of world class music. Writing this, I cannot wait for August to hurry up and arrive.