I was sad to hear that, earlier this month, the Maestro Dino Baffetti passed away. When one considers the reach of Baffetti Accordions, the amount of joy he’s responsible for bringing into the world is amazing. As a tribute, here are some videos of folks playing Baffetti accordions and translating that joy. Thanks to friends at mel.net for helping put this together.
Disaster Narrowly Averted
A thing of beauty. A wonder to behold.
|Sure. He looks unassuming. Mostly harmless.|
|Le Bon Truc. We love each other.|
Videos down below!
The Dino Baffetti Tex-Mex II/34 arrived on Thursday! Very exciting! I had intended to do an internal examination of the box, a la Owen Woods or Daddy Long Les, but I found I couldn’t bear to take a screw driver to it, not even to remove the grill. I’m made of less stern stuff than that, it seems.
Instead, I’ve been playing the heck out of it. Here are some first thoughts:
- Big one! Playing a three row is different from playing two or two-and-a-half row or even two-row-plus-accidentals. Possibly this is obvious. The three row quint box can do different things that I don’t yet know how to do. New frontiers!
- The two row repertoire works just fine on this one. Even if it is obvious that playing up-and-down the rows is not what it was built to do, everything I’ve been learning for the last 15 years is essentially transferable!
- At melodeon.net there is a recurring discussion about stepped keyboards vs. flat keyboards. Playing a flat keyboard for the first time in years has made no difference to me.
- Even though this is an F/Bb/Eb box (which is exactly what I was after) I’m choosing to name it as G/C/F and recognize that it’s a transposing instrument. All of the sheet music and tab is for G/C/F, so this seems simplest.
- It sounds AMAZING. Essentially, as one colleague mentioned, it’s a clone of a Hohner Corona, done to a absurdly high level of quality. The sound is so very sweet. And the touch is effortless. I do have fond feelings for Hohner accordions, but this is a cut above.
- I love it.
- It is a little silly that with five rows of box to my name, I still don’t have a D row. What sort of psychological block am I dealing with? Is it PTSD from the Minneapolis Irish sessions?
Daniel Thonon was a first contact for French music for many North American players. Residing in Quebec, the multi-instrumentalist — accordéon, pipes, hurdy gurdy, recorders, harpsichord — was one of several key members of Ad Vielle Que Pourra, which was a featured group on the Green Linnet label, and their sub-label, Xenophile. Being associated with Green Linnet during the Celtic music boom of ’90s brought them into my sights. I was playing Irish flute and whistle at the time, and, honestly, had a narrow view of what music ought to be. Hearing Thonon and crew rip through their “New French Folk Music,” much amazement ensued. Worlds opened up.
Ad Vielle Que Pourra used traditional French instruments to produce a music that blends tradFrench, Breton, and Quebecois music. There are also touches of Parisian bal musette, and even some baroque. (Thonon is an impressive harpsichordist.) But rather than producing a sort of “more eclectic than thou” folk music, Ad Vielle Que Pourra produced music with a focused vision that captivated me. Perhaps this was because almost all of the music was original, thoroughly in the style of trad.
Throughout his time with Ad Vielle Que Pourra, Thonon played a bit of everything, most prominently the vielle à roue. I was not a box player at the time, and didn’t notice in that context what extraordinary things he was doing with his Castagnari Mory. In 1997, Thonon released Trafic D’influences, a recording that focused on his box playing. It has since been re-released as the less-obscurely titled, Master of the Diatonic Accordion. Again, worlds opened up with this set of mostly original-in-a-traditional-style played on a two and a half row, twelve bass, beautiful sounding instrument. (Aside: when word got around that the Mory had been destroyed in an airline baggage accident, more than one player bowed their head in grief.)
When I moved to Maine in 1997, I met Matt Szostak, a hurdy gurdy player and builder from Camden. I was just beginning my accordéon journey, hearing La Chavanée for the first time, and Matt was a fantastic resource for me. It also happened that he was friends with Daniel Thonon. Matt put me in touch with Daniel, and when I took a trip to Montreal in 1999, I drove out to Daniel’s for a lesson on the box. I can’t say for sure what I learned there — other than the fact that Daniel Thonon is a fantastic, generous person, and a great teacher. Daniel’s approach to the lesson was to watch my very rudimentary playing and make kind suggestions. “Have you thought about this?” or “Did you know you could do this?” Without being able to say exactly how my playing changed, I improved tremendously in that hour and a half. Certainly, I came away encouraged, enthused and loving the box and French music more than ever.
I haven’t heard much out of Daniel Thonon’s camp in recent years. Listening to his catalogue as I write this piece, I can tell you I very much would love to hear more music from him. There are no videos of Thonon playing box on YouTube, but here’s a vid of an accordéon group in Helsinki playing one of Daniel’s compositions. If you notice in the comments section, Daniel himself “liked” this.
Just received from the Button Box a Castagnari Nik (G/C) “on perusal.” I’ve taken a turn in my eternal quest for “the last accordion I’ll ever buy,” and gone away from the three-row, full-stop big machines. Saw this on the Button Box web site and just swooned for the idea of a simple, light two-row in the French keys. Also … y’know … Castagnari. Color me slave to fashion.
Under my fingers, the thing feels … like something that ought to be discussed using inappropriate metaphor. It’s just effortless. The tuning (called “American Tremolo,” not sure what about it is American) is very sweet. Even wife Bethany — who is very supportive, but more critical about quality issues than I, and far less likely to fall for an object like this — can’t imagine why I would send it back. So I spent the evening making videos. The first is a French scottish written by Sylvain Piron. It’s called Charlie in honor of Charlie Chaplin. The second is a Breton waltz (don’t know the title), which I got from Daniel Thonon’s CD Trafic d’Influence. Enjoy.
The bourrée is the signature dance of Musique Traditionnelle du Centre France. This isn’t the baroque bourrée of Bach and his suites, and it’s not the jazzy bourrée of Jethro Tull. The bourrée of the Massif Central is a thing about to erupt. It is chaos imminent. Two lines face each other, and seem ever on the verge of colliding. When I took an accordion lesson some years ago, Quebecois multi-instrumentalist Daniel Thonon told me, “The bourrée is a crazy dance! Crazy!”
Here’s a set with a 3/8 bourrée followed by a very fast waltz performed by me in my living room. The waltze I learned from a La Chavannée tape, Cotillon, about ten years ago. The bourrée is in the Massif Central Tune Book (OP) compiled by Mel Stevens. I should mention that for years I have lived under the impression that the waltz I play here was, in fact, a bourrée. Thanks to Chris Ryall at Melodeon.net for disabusing me of that notion. I’m not sure why I thought it was a bourrée, since my sources all list it as a waltz, but there you go.