Tribute to Dino Baffetti

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.

The Button Box and the Mory

Disaster Narrowly Averted

Castagnari Mory.
A thing of beauty. A wonder to behold.
I was working with a school in Western Mass. last week, so I decided to swing by the Button Box. Had a good talk with Doug while playing his stock. I had no money and he knew I had no money. And he showed me this accordion that had just arrived as a trade in. It was a Castagnari Mory (GC). “Here,” says Doug, “Can you try this out for me?” It hadn’t even made it onto the website, yet. I played it and … who knew that such a thing of beauty could exist in the world? It was amazing to both the fingers and the ears. I left feeling the distinctive cracks of a heart breaking. My heart.
As I drove home I started concocting a plan … steeped in the intoxicating memory of the Mory … I could trade in ALL OF MY ACCORDIONS for that one. I could be happy! I could make this work! It’s a crazy old world, but sometimes, things work out! Right?
My daughter, Emma, stopped me. “You can’t do that, Dad. The band. Your band. You love your band. You need all those accordions for the band.”
Yes. Yes. I love my band. Le Bon Truc. The good stuff.
Doug and the Mory*
Sure. He looks unassuming. Mostly harmless.
The fevre dream did not abate, however. And perhaps Doug knew that.
Sure, he looks nice. Innocent. Maybe even charming. But that was some seriously, sinister salesmanship. “Here,” he said, “Could you try this out for me?” As if to say, “I don’t want to be an imposition.” Or, “You’d sure be doing me a favor.” Or, “I know this is a burden for you …” but could you play this unbelievably wonderful accordion and let me know how it feels?
Yeah. Yeah, Doug. I can do that.
The Castagnari Mory has held a totemic power over me for over twenty years. The first tradFrench music I heard was from Ad Vielle Que Pourra, led accordionist/hurdy gurdy-ist Daniel Thonon. Daniel played a Mory and I was completely ensorceled by that sound. And I get it! I swear to God, I get it! The instrument does not make the player. I wasn’t listening to a Mory, I was listening to Daniel Thonon playing a Mory. Later, I would hear other players playing wonderfully on other boxes. But that Mory stuck with me. Then, I found out that Andy Cutting also plays a Mory (he owned three when I asked him) … I’m pretty sure I don’t have to justify the desire for an accordion to you, fair reader. All I’m saying is that the Mory has been a grail-shaped-beacon for me for many years.
Disaster Embraced, Quality of Life Improved
 
Skip to the end, the Castagnari Mory is winging its way to my house, even as I type. How did I get to this state?
Le Bon Truc. We love each other.
Well, it wasn’t that I had to break down and succumb to temptation, so much as getting a clue as to what my priorities ought to be. My friends brought me around. First, my band mates — Le Bon Truc — each said something along the lines of, “Hey, if you wanna do this we will support you!” and “Follow your bliss!” Then I did the math and realized that I wouldn’t really have to trade ALL of my accordions, just two of them. Then, through karma and generosity, that number was reduced to one.
Not only was this possible. It was reasonable. My heart fluttered a bit.
Every accordionist is chasing after THE LAST ACCORDION THEY WILL EVER HAVE TO BUY. It is a mythical creature, and we all recognize that. But this mythical creature haunts us. The Mory had been that creature for me for twenty years — think of that! where were you twenty years ago?
I will report more when it arrives. Thanks, all.
*Disclaimer: I am only joking! I have known Doug for twenty years, now, and he has never been anything other than a great guy, reasonable and kind. A good friend. Still, he knew exactly what he was doing when he brought that box out.

 

First Tunes with the Baffetti

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?
Here are three videos with the Baffetti. The first is a hanter dro written by Sylvain Piron.

The second is another hanter dro, traditional, that I learned from Steve Gruverman.

The third is a Breton March, traditional, that I learned from the playing of Daniel Thonon.

Appreciation: Daniel Thonon

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.

Daniel Thonon, with the accordion that came
after the legendary Mory
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.

The Last Accordion I’ll Ever Buy?

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.

Bourrées

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.