By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor,
with help from Assistant Editor, Zamná Ávila
Updated: The text was corrected to note that Joel Guzman will not be performing with Sarah Fox at the Accordion Festival.
On July 6, Grand Performances, a project of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs is putting on the San Pedro Squeeze: An Accordion Festival that aims to celebrate the many communities that call San Pedro home.
Accordion music, whether it’s zydeco from the bayous of Louisiana to forro music of Brazil, mirrors San Pedro’s experience of incorporating newcomers of diverse communities, propelling forward San Pedro’s unique identity. In any case, the Grand Performances is about to put on one helluva show for music lovers. We suggest you hop on the Blue Line from Long Beach and enjoy the show these artists are about to put on.
Joel Guzman and Sarah Fox
Guzman is a specialist when it comes to conjunto music. Though his family have been Americans living in the United States for several generations, he considers himself a traditionalist. His music ranges from traditional northern Mexican ensembles to Tejano tunes, the tropical sounds of cumbia and salsa, and even country and jazz. In a phone interview with Random Lengths News, Guzman noted the range of conjunto and his desire to keep it fresh while keeping the essence purely conjunto.
“I’ve kind of pushed myself to pursue music, challenge myself, across genres, without losing the beauty of conjunto and the soul of traditional music,” he said. “That’s pretty much my story.”
Guzman has a long list of artists he credits for as his influences. At the top of the list is Richard Galliano, a chromatic accordion player from France; master accordionist Angelo DiPippo, Rhode Island; Tony De La Rosa, an innovator that introduced electric amplification to a previously acoustic genre in the 1950s. De La Rosa, ike Guzman, also played the diatonic accordion; and then there’s Esteban Jordan, another diatonic accordionist. Guzman compares Jordan to Jimmy Hendrix in terms of sheer impact on conjunto. It’s not hard to see why. Jordan was a Hendrix-like genius when he played jazz, rock, blues, conjunto and Tejano music with his accordion.
And the crazy thing about this up coming performance at the Grand Performances is that Guzman is just half the excitement that’ll be on the stage, July 6. Well at least that would have been the case if the scheduling was right.The other half is his wife, Sarah Fox, who is so extraordinary that she’s incredible. Unfortunately you won’t get to hear this Grammy award winning couple together on this evening.
Fox is an awesome and gifted vocal talent with bi-lingual singing abilities. On cuts like “Cumbia Mundial,” “Isla,” or “Sangre Azteca,” Fox’s vocals sets you at ease like you’re cruising on a sunny afternoon lulling you into a state of obliviousness to traffic jams on the freeways leading to downtown Los Angeles. The music on each of these are on a incredibly high level that you would assume get heavy rotation on stations like KJAZZ.
If you were just so fortunate to be at the Grand Performances, and Fox was there to properly pull off cuts such as “Pray for Peace” from their Latinology bag, the night might feel complete. Fox pulls out the deep, blue, blues on this cut. If you listen to a few seconds of this one, you might think her vocals were recorded in some juke joint on the border of east Texas and Louisiana. It’s a slow tempo groove, brimming with soul.
But on this night, Guzman will make up for the imbalance and certainly make you move.
Gigi “Gee” Rabe
Gigi Rabe is another featured accordion artist. Known as, “The Accordion Diva.” Rabe’s music ranges from European Polka to Tejano and Cumbia. Then she has vocals that are as smooth as butter. To sit in on her set is basically asking for whiplash as a side order to the ethno-musicology lessons she’ll so ably deliver since she holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in Music and Ethomusicology.
“Most Americans associate the accordion with polka music only,” Rabe said. “But [the] accordion is used all over the world and there are so many great kinds of music out there,” she said.
“I really like exploring some of these different kinds of music as an American accordion player and share what I am able to do on the accordion with those who may not be so familiar.”
Rabe, a native of north Long Beach (currently a resident of Culver City), fell into playing the accordion as a child, thanks to a door-to-door salesman selling accordion lessons. Her parents signed her up for a four to six week program, but turned out to be a lifetime commitment so far.
Rabe loves to work with artists across genres, almost to the neglect of her own original material.
“I’ll do solo work but, I guess my preference is to work with other people and collaborate… For me it is more fun to create music with other people than just do it by myself.”
Though Rabe is accustomed to being an accompaniment to many different bands, on the night of the accordion festival, she’s going to be the band leader.
“This time …will be a little different,” she said. “I’ll … be exploring some music that I have been wanting to develop toward my own group… It’s going to be a little like jazz or swing … with some Latin stylings … more along what you might have heard in the 1950s or 60s, kind of a retro thing.”
Here’s “Gee” Rabe performing at a straight zydeco gig with Lisa Haley & the Zydekats at Mammoth 2012.
Accordion impresario, Cory Pesaturo is another headlining act featured at the the festival. But to really understand his genius, you have to both watch and listen to this man in action. His technical and improvisational skills is just crazy ridiculous. To understand his genius, take at the following YouTube clip.
In the above clip, Pesaturo was performing his rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” If you don’t remember, Ellington was the master composer/songwriter/orchestra leader of all time in the history of music… period. In the original song, there are horns, piano, and string instruments. Petsaturo brings the piano accordion and then goes to town on the “Caravan.”
His fingers race across those keys without hardly a glance,his play weaving and bobbing around that of his band mates. Though if there was one critique in his rendition of “Caravan,” it would be that his tempo was a little too fast. Though that very well could be due to his youth. He’s only 24 years old. But even then, his skills are undeniable.
“It’s not that I strive to sound like any of these people but that they’ve inspired me in many ways,” Pesaturo said to Random Lengths in an interview recently.
And though he loves to improvise and modernize the different styles of music these days through cover songs that show people what the accordion can do, he said his Italian culture often is present in his music.
“I don’t know if it directly influences, but it’s there, because there are certain things that I am going to play that if you really got into analyzing every note I play, if you went into it you’d definitely find Italian influences,” said Pesaturo, who lives in Cumberland, R.I. “I play all of the Italian music … So, it’s definitely embedded in my fingers … It’s there and I want it to be there.”
Pesaturo picked up the accordion at the age of 9. His father, an amateur accordion, suggested Pesaturo try it. The boy turn out to be a natural, receiving multiple awards as well as becoming the youngest person ever to win the National Accordion Championship. He was even invited to play at the White House on four occasions. But at the time, he didn’t love the accordion.
“I did it but I was forced to practice and I never loved to do it,” he said. “It wasn’t until I found jazz and really started doing a lot with improvisation in all styles, when I was 16 and 17 … that’s when I started to love the accordion and realized how versatile it was,” Pesaturo explained.
After his complete conversion to the accordion, Pesaturo began proselytizing to the world what the accordion can do by producing more pop oriented songs.
“I’ve always been called, ‘the rebel,’ and that feels good. I’m always trying to push the boundaries.”
This explains his 2011 collaborative effort on the singles, “Jealousy,” “Save Me From This Cage,” and “Hook Up Tonight” with Yasmine Azaiez, a fellow prodigy that plays the violin.
Pesaturo said he initially planned to play solo, but has since decided to find talent to play alongside him at the Grand Performances. But he kept close to the vest who he was thinking of bringing to accordion concert. Hopefully he’ll bring Yasmine Azaiez. He would probably turnout the entire festival if he did.
To see more of Pesaturo before the Grand Performances, I strongly suggest you peep the YouTube clips. Otherwise, go to the Grand Performances on July 6 and have a good time.
Jelena Milojevic, born and raised in Croatia, but is ethnically Serbian, has been winning competitions left and right for quite some time, consistently placing in the top three. Playing the V-Accordion, Milojevic is a straight ahead classical accordionist who also aims to put the accordion on the map. Random Lengths was not able to interview her in time for this story, but from what we can tell from her clips online, she’s not one to be missed either.