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TRENDER: Accordion Master Cory Pesaturo

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Just don't request a polka: world champion accordionist Cory Pesaturo.

Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today's Trender is Cory Pesaturo, a world-champion accordion player who defies stereotypes about the instrument and who plays it. Pesaturo graduated as an accordionist from the New England Conservatory of Music, a rare occurrence indeed for a traditional conservatory. His prominence on has given him the opportunity to play around the world, perform for the President of the United States at the White House, collaborate with Wynton Marsalis, take the stage on “Late Night with David Letterman,” and accompany a handful of “American Idol” performers. 

RI Cred: Born in Providence, graduate of Cumberland High School. Lifelong Rhode Islander. 

How'd you come to the accordion? Was it the instrument you chose as a child?

That’s the question everyone seems to ask first. How did I come to the accordion, because why would you come to the accordion in this era, especially in the 90s—it was still very dead. But my dad played when he was a kid and he started playing again when I was about 9 ½, and said, do you want to play? And I said okay. So I went for it. And I always say that if I had been 12 when he asked me, I would’ve said, “Hell no, I’m going to play guitar, or drums, or something else like that.”

Most people who start on accordion move to another instrument because they can’t get enough gigs or it’s just not cool enough, or if they start on another instrument then they say, “Oh the accordion’s cool, let me try the accordion.” But most people don’t start and stay on accordion.

You’ve won some big competitions. Describe how that felt, and what it meant to you.

I’ve had a couple. The Digital World Championship was in 2009, then I had a jazz World Championship, and the last one was the big one in a lot of ways. The Acoustic World Championship in Finland, that was a really big deal, because it kind of fulfilled my philosophy on how to play the accordion and it validated it.

No one from America had ever been accepted in that particular competition.

I didn’t have a teacher, I wrote out all my own arrangements for the band. I improvised a ton of stuff, I just had fun with the band, it was more like a party for me, and everyone treated it like a big, big competition. And I won it. So my philosophy of being a musician on the accordion instead of being an accordionist came to fruition. Plus now, no one can say anything about my playing because it’s been validated too much.

Do you think the accordion gets a bum rap in musical circles?

Of course! But that’s mainly because of the accordion world. The accordion world really destroyed the accordion when the accordion was huge back in the 40s and 50s. Then rock and roll came in, and the guitar went from this crap instrument that nobody cared about—people forget that the guitar was like that—and then BAM, it came up to what it is and has been today.

I think the world could use a change from guitar. And maybe we’ll get there soon. But it’s just, nobody can play the accordion well; it’s a problem that, like violins, I think that only about 1 percent of violinists and accordions actually play it correctly and play it well. The thing is there’s millions of violinists, so 1 percent of that is much larger than the amount of people that play the accordion. But it’s good that it died because when things die they can come back, and this current generation doesn’t really have the stigma attached—the Lawrence Welch stigma, the polka stigma—at least in this country.

What do you love most about playing the accordion?

I didn’t like playing the accordion really, I just knew I had to do it because I knew I had a talent for it—until I found jazz at about 17 or 18, that’s when I really started loving it. But now I’ve realized that it really is the best instrument in the world. It really is. And the reason is because of the bellows. There’s only two instruments that people play that can play 8, 9, 10 notes and that’s the guitar (depending on the strings) and the piano. But both do not have complete control of the volume at all times. Only the accordion does. The guitar and piano can when you use pedals. But that’s not very emotion, it’s down at your feet. The accordion is wrapped around you, so you can play about 12 notes on the accordion or more, and you have complete control of the volume at every millisecond whereas on the piano and guitar once you hit that is the end of what you can do with the volume unless you use other objects. And now because of electronics, people are realizing that it is the best instrument. And the way that the accordion has been electronified, you can see it easily and hear it easily because of what you can do with the bellows on the different sounds.

What band currently utilizes your instrument, and why?

That’s kind of a problem, actually. A lot of bands use the accordion but they use the accordion in a caricature form. That’s the problem with the accordion coming back, is that it’s been coming back in a caricature form versus an actual form. People hire me because they want the accordion sound, or the accordion creates the vibe, and that’s not what we want. Everything today is so commercialized in a caricature of itself. Nothing’s really real anymore. We have to get back to a time where people want the accordion because they want the accordion. Some bands in Scandinavia want the accordion because they really want it, but that’s where the accordion never really died.

Why should young musicians pick up the accordion?

You learn music theory the best through piano, because you can see music. You can actually see it, visually. But let’s look at the accordion. The accordion has the piano, but along with that, it has the bellows which teach you phrasing and breathing just like you would on a wind instrument or the voice. And further, you have the left hand. The left hand is the best way to learn music theory more so than the right hand of the accordion. There’s not even a close second place for the best instrument to learn music theory, and learn music, and learn everything about music. The problem is that it’s a very hard instrument to learn from the get-go. And that’s why people don’t go to it. They go to the guitar because it’s very easy from the get-go. Everyone has just established that it’s a cool, or at least accepted, instrument, where the accordion isn’t, so people are afraid of it.


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