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Play Me a Tarantella, a Polka, or Jazz

Play Me a Tarantella, a Polka, or Jazz

Italian Americans and the Currency of Piano-Accordion Music

(p.156) 8 Play Me a Tarantella, a Polka, or Jazz
The Accordion in the Americas
Christine F. Zinni
University of Illinois Press

This chapter looks at the emergence of accordion schools and accordion bands in the United States established by Italian Americans. Approaching the subject from the perspective of grassroots oral history and performance theory, it maps the ways in which the efforts of Roxy and Nellie Caccamise (pioneers of the piano accordion in upstate New York) were connected to a longer history and larger matrix of Italian American musicians, composers, publishing houses, and manufacturers in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco. The chapter also suggests how the interactions and interplay of peoples within, and through, these community-based networks functioned to create a parallel economy and a cultural space that was not only imbricated in the politics of identity but helped span gaps between folk and fame. Taking an actor/action-centered approach to life-history narratives, it suggests that the accordion schools created by Italian Americans operated through the interstices of two cultures and proved to be a strategic intervention in American cultural life with polysemous meanings.

Keywords:   accordion schools, accordion bands, Italian Americans, oral history, performance theory, community-based networks

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