Frédéric Paris and La Chavannée

(Thanks to my colleagues at — Chris Ryall, Guy, and Quebecois et many cetera — for help on this. Any corrections would be welcome.)
Accordionist (and multi-instrumentalist) Frédéric Paris and La Chavannée, the organization he’s associated with, have been a huge influence on me since I first discovered their cassette tapes at the Button Box around 1998 (when I bought my first accordion, the Hohner Corso). Forgive me, please, if I seem to lapse into hagiography. This is literally life changing stuff for me. I would not be an accordionist without them.  An incalculably positive impact on my quality of life.

The first Paris recording I heard was Carnet de Bal, put out by the Agence des Musiques des Territoires d’Auvergne, or AMTA. It was a cassette tape featuring traditional tunes and Paris originals that, essentially, taught you how it was done. Simple arrangements that were fluid, effortless, precise, clear and … I don’t know … happy-making! This tape absolutely captured my imagination, and in the Dark Age of Irony that was the late 1990s, Carnet de Bal was a dose of joyful, earnest ease. One of the first tunes I ever learned on accordion was “La Marianne,” the opening waltz on this tape. (This waltz was also the “tune of the month” on in January.)

On my next trip to the Button Box, I picked up more AMTA cassettes (every one of which has since expired) and a tune book, Cahier de Repertoire, which had dots and accordion tab for every piece in Carnet and Paris’ other accordion focused CD, Rue de L’oiseau, which I would acquire some months later. Both of these recordings are, now, quite difficult to find, though Rue can be found here.
There is a some Frédéric Paris more easily available (it’s just as easy to order from Amazon France as any other). He and his wife, Eveline, did two discs of French children’s music, Belle Pomme D’or and Petite Alouette (also on iTunes and emusic)These are charming and not at all the sort of processed children’s music you hear in the United States. He did a duet with hurdy gurdy-ist Gilles Chabenat called De L’eau Et Des Amandes (subtitled, “Traditional French Music Today”), comprised of originals that match the best aspects of tradFrance with modern harmonies and rhythms. Paris plays solely clarinet on this. For an accordionist, that might seem disappointing, but it’s just that good. This disc is out of print, but you can stream it here. A lot of its material shows up on Live en Flanders, which has Paris and Chabenat joined by Flemish musicians Wim Claeys (accordion) and Maartin Decombel (cittern). Most readily available is Paris’ work with La Chavannée, available at iTunes and Amazon download.
La Chavannée (founded, I believe, by Fred’s father Jacques Paris, aka Jackie), a traditional music group and cultural organization focusing on culture, music, and dance of the Bourbon region. They maintain a 19th century farm, host events, and recently built and launched a boat based on 19th century plans … and they play unbelievable music. To see them on stage, a core of musicians with any number of friends, multiple accordions, hurdy gurdies, bag pipes, clarinets, trumpets … below is a video of a recent concert. The man himself is on accordion. As far as I know, this is the only video of Paris playing accordion on the ‘net. I’d love to be wrong about that.

Le Canal en Octobre

Perhaps one of the more beautiful accordion videos on YouTube, even with the sub-pristine recording quality.  Below is Dominique Rivière playing a Frédéric Paris tune, “Le Canal en Octobre,” from Paris’ CD Rue de l’Oiseau.

Rivière is playing a chromatic button accordion, different from the type I play.  It’s unisonorous, meaning that you get the same pitch on a button whether you’re pushing or pulling the bellows.  This is as opposed to bisonorous, typical of diatonic accordions like mine, where you get a different pitch depending on the bellows direction.*  Rivière is a versatile musician, with his finger-style guitar and bouzouki work being just as intriguing as his accordion playing.

*Trust me, accordion geeks found those two previous sentences very meaningful.

Corrupting Influence

As so many folk songs say, “You sailors take warning!”

I’m currently in a doctoral program at the University of Maine, and it happens that one of my advisors, Richard Ackerman, plays piano accordion. On the last day of class, he suggested we bring our accordions and jam a bit during break. We did, and it was good. I’m French trad, he comes from boogie woogie piano … we meet at the schottisches. Shuffle and lope along. A good time!

Apparently, one of my colleagues was deeply impressed, went out and bought a small piano accordion. He had come from Wisconsin and loved polkas — he had asked me to play a polka — and the accordions had just made him very “happy.” Fantastic! My goal exactly.

Still … the slope is a slippery one.  Consider the consequences! First you’re making a guy happy with your polka. Then he’s buying piano accordions, and not even consulting his wife about it. I like to think she would have steered him to a button box.

Melodeon or Accordion or Accordéon or what?

“So what is that you’re playing?”

I get that all the time. They’re pointing at my accordion.

“Isn’t that supposed to have … like … piano keys or something. Is that a concertina?”

Saltarelle Pastourelle III, a magnificently fine button
accordion, or melodeon, or accordéon diatonique.
photo by Brigid Chapin

No, it’s not. It’s a diatonic accordion. A concertina has hexagonal sides with buttons on … nevermind.  They glazed over at “diatonic.” So, it’s a kind of accordion, I tell them, and send them on their way. I don’t tell them that there’s disagreement on this topic even in the accordion community!

I belong to a fantastic on-line forum, based in England, called, and there, it seems, any rectangular, free-reed box with buttons and a diatonic push-me-pull-you (bisonorous) action going on is a “melodeon,” not an accordion. An accordion would be … well … not entirely sure, maybe unisonorous piano keys or buttons. Historically, “melodeon” has been used for button accordions with one row of buttons, like Cajun accordions, but my guess is that, at least in England, the word “melodeon” has gotten legs.

In France it’s an accordéon, which is where my nom de blog comes from, though it’s a rogue derivation, a figment of caprice. A person who plays accordéon is an accordéonist, properly. Colloquially, though, a person who plays a melodeon is called a diatonist, because the kind of accordéon a melodeon is, is an accordéon diatonique. Which is what l’Accordéonaire plays, though he is a figment of caprice. In America, he plays an accordion of some sort, and it’s not a concertina. That’s something else.

Bernard Loffet Recordings

Just had some coin to spend so I treated myself to downloads of Bernard Loffet’s two CDs, Action! and Moteur! and, honestly, I can’t say enough nice stuff about them.  I got them on Amazon for $9 US each. They are top notch Breton music, in every way.  Action! it seems, was recorded at an actual dance, and the shuffle-ish feet action really adds to the energy.  The recording is very clear, and the melodeon sounds amazing.  What a sound his machines get!  Also, Action! features a pach pi that I recently put on YouTube … I’m not saying it means anything … just had one of those, “Hey, I play that!” moments.  Moteur! (the older of the two) begins with Perroch’s “Scottish du Regret,” done very nicely — cocktail accordion style — with a lot of swing and variation.  The rest is a marvelous clinic of Breton accordion.  And, again, beautiful sounding accordions, beautiful playing.