IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Each of these accordionists has submitted their stories about growing up and studying the accordion. We welcome these accordionists who believe in a younger generation learning to play the accordion.
FRANK LIMA (AKA The Great Morgani)
It is 1951. Little Frankie Lima is 9 years old and is supposed to learn how to play the guitar. We lived on a chicken ranch, in Santa Cruz. Some fast talking, door to door accordion salesman, from San Jose, came to our chicken ranch and forever changed the life of little Frankie Lima. He said since I was left-handed, that the guitar would not be appropriate, and fast-talked my parents into that 12 bass rental accordion, and local accordion lessons from Louise Kegg. I took lessons from her for about 3 years, and then it was suggested, she could teach me no longer, because… “I was playing by ear, and not by the sheet music in front of me.” And then, many, many decades later, about four of them, I became THE GREAT MORGANI, but that is a whole other book… In fact, my book: THE CREATIVE MADNESS OF A MIDDLE-AGED STOCKBROKER, TURNED STREET MUSICIAN can be found on sale at the Cotati Accordion Festival each year.
When I was 10 years old in the 4th grade, I started playing the tuba in the elementary school band. One day shortly after starting to learn to play it, I came home to find my dad playing an accordion! He told me he tried to learn when he was a child, but he was too stubborn to read music and preferred to play by ear so his teacher refused to teach him. In his 40s, he was trying to learn again. I showed interest at what he was doing, so he put the accordion on me, and taught me to play a waltz pattern in the left hand, and a C Major scale in the right hand, all by ear. All this in one sitting!! When he told my mother, they agreed to find me a teacher and so it began. Four years later, I took piano lessons, and while my teacher was a fine pianist and an excellent teacher, I realized I had no interest or desire to play the piano, so I decided to do what I liked best, and that was the accordion. And yes, I took a lot of kidding from school friends and strangers about playing the accordion in the 1960s, but I can and they can’t…so there!! LOL!
I did continue music in school and switched to trombone in the 7thgrade, and finally to saxophone in the 8th grade, and continued the saxophone throughout high school, and into college jazz band, but all the while I played accordion professionally in a Humboldt County ballroom dance band known as The Polka Dots. I began to teach accordion at age 15 and I am still a teacher.
I would like to see more young people come to the accordion and since I see it more and more on TV and radio and featured in country, folk, ethnic, and modern pop music, I think it may catch their interest and they’ll realize it’s not just Grandpa’s instrument, but rather a marvelous musical invention!
Postcript: Lindy has been teaching for many decades and believes that every student deserves a great teacher. SMC
I grew up in Providence, RI in a tenement style building and my family moved to a bungalow that had an attic. I noticed that my Dad would disappear up into the attic and as a child, I would hear the accordion being played. He was a singing accordionist during prohibition, playing in the “speakeasies” of his day back in the twenties. One day I decided to follow him up the stairs to where he played. I sat there in amazement, both watching and listening. He was playing “Sharpshooters” march and other old tunes. He turned and said, “Would you like to learn? I’ll teach you!” I said sure and that was my start. He had an old full-sized Paolo Soprani (I still have it). Problem was that it was really cumbersome for me to hold. I started my lessons with that but soon he bought me a smaller version of a Silvio Soprani (Paolo’s son; it seemed only right). During the 50’s in Southern New England, it seemed everyone was taking accordion lessons. Soon my Dad started teaching on Saturdays and within a year or so he had about 8 students. I was the only one to continue beyond about my early teen years.
My Dad was so proud when we played a Father/Son duet at the local accordion recital. We played Sharpshooters March and soon after, I entered the American Accordionists Association competitions in New York City and twice came in the top 10 of my age group. I played “Dizzy Fingers.” I still play it to this day. I started playing “out” at around 15 and did so in various venues on weekends. I was a union accordionist in NYC, Worcester, MA and Providence, RI. I did a lot of strolling table-to-table in Italian restaurants, singing Italian songs and just having a great time. Music defined me in my earlier years and I am still enjoying playing it. I have been playing the accordion for 63 years. I began in elementary school and I’m still an accordionist.
Lou Di Maggio
I really did not know what I was doing, except that people around me said that it sounded pretty good. I continued to practice and learned more songs. During that formative time I did not learn harmony or theory. The method taught to me, I believe, was called, rote memorization. I guess it meant that through repetition, you would learn where and how to put your fingers here and press this note, and pull out and push in.
My teacher thought that I was doing fine, so he wanted me to perform at a local theater.
The theater was called the “Flea House” because, when you walked out you were scratching yourself all over. In those days the seats were made of wood only and they folded up. That night of the performance, the theater was filled with the entire Italian neighborhood. When it was my turn to go on, I was sitting in the first row of the theater. My teacher called me up. My father strapped on my accordion on, and I climbed up on the stage from the side stairs. When I was stepping up, I fell and my father picked me up and guided me on stage.
As I started to compete in talent contests around the area, I did well and pretty soon, I was invited to the Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program on the radio. Dick Contino had made his debut on Heidt’s show but had moved on. My opportunity came and I won the quarter finals and went onto the Grand Finals. He succeeded and went on to perform accordion with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Roy Rodgers, Robert Lynn, Edgar Bergen, The Three Suns, and performed for several USO shows.
Postcripts: A professional entertaining career continues long after an active musical career. He has taught accordion and offers his knowledge, experience, and expertise to aspiring accordionists. Lou teaches all levels and believes that the accordion is not only fun but rewarding to anyone willing to work a little to receive a lot of pleasure. — Sheri Mignano Crawford