The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
Dick Contino—Double Review
176 pages, 18 photographs
Father and Son Publishing
Order from: Petosa Accordions
1) Book by Bob Bove: Accordion Man
total time: 51:13
2) CD Review: Dick Contino:
Forever With You
Dick Contino, accordion and vocals
Review by Henry Doktorski:
What a combination!—the book Accordion Man by Bob Bove and the compact disc Forever With You by Dick Contino go together beautifully. During the last few hours, while reading the book I had the CD playing along at the same time; quite a pleasurable experience.
The CD is an extremely tasteful showcase of various "light romantic" jazz musical styles; ranging from cool jazz (Tonight Is Ours) to the Latin Beat (The Will to Win), from disco (Dancing with Sunbeams) to light rock (Sentimental) to blues (Will You Be On My Side). All tracks feature the legendary artistry of Dick Contino. I was delighted that not for one moment does the accordion detract from the other musicians; the arrangements are interesting and feature all the performers.
I especially liked the blues guitar playing of Fino Roverato in Will You Be On My Side and the saxophone playing of Sam Riney in Sentimental. Although I was not impressed by Contino's singing in the final track (fortunately this is the only song he sings) I was impressed by his accordion playing throughout the rest of the album. He is not like some accordion performers who get stuck in a rut and play the same style of music for decades and decades without changing (I actually heard one well-known aging Washington D.C. accordionist proudly boast that he hasn't learned a new tune in thirty years!).
On the contrary, Contino has moved with the flow of contemporary music: this album features many sounds of the pop music of the late twentieth century, even including rather new-age techniques as the repeated motives of the title cut: Forever With You. I would label most of the music on this album light jazz.
But the big surprise for me was the book by Bob Bove: Accordion Man. I could hardly put it down; it was so engaging and enjoyable. Contino has really had an exciting (and at times depressing) life and Bove makes no apologies for Contino's mistakes.
One cannot help but sympathize with Contino as one learns the full unabridged story of his life. His rise to fame from 1948 to 1951 was nothing less than phenomenal. He performed concerts from New York to Hollywood and appeared 48 times on the Ed Sullivan television show. Wherever he played, lines formed at the box office, lines filled with teenage bobbysoxers who turned out in numbers that hadn't been seen since the heyday of a skinny young crooner named Frank Sinatra. There were 500 fan clubs devoted to him throughout the United States. Contino seemed destined to assume a place in the pantheon of America's entertainment stars.
However in 1951 Contino's world fell apart when he was indicted as a "draft dodger" for avoiding military service. Although he served nearly six months in prison for refusing military service, many people did not know that after his release from prison he served overseas for several years in the army and was honorably discharged with the rank of Sargent after receiving several military commendations and medals. Despite his atonement, when he returned to show-business Contino was heckled during performances. He began drinking and eventually gambled away a quarter of a million dollars.
Then in the mid-1960s he got a break: he was selected to be the star of Ed Sullivan's tour of the Soviet Union to promote cultural exchange between the two superpowers. While in Russia, he was greeted with adoration of such great magnitude that he hadn't seen for nearly twenty years.
The Russian people loved the accordion, and they loved Contino. He said, "As hard as it is to admit, I welcomed the opportunity to play before foreign audiences, to entertain people who would respect my talent and who wouldn't hurl obscenities and vitrio my way." In fact, the Russian people so much loved Contino that he was invited to become a Soviet citizen and a superstar in a country that appreciated the accordion more than any other.
Contino said, "They told me that I would never have to worry about expenses or money or education for my children or a place to live or status as a pre-eminent citizen. Although I was ostracized by many in America . . . although many of the major stars, producers, showrooms, and studios in the United States blacklisted me, I could not turn my back on the country I loved." And so he returned the the States when the Soviet tour was finished.
Contino's first engagement after returning home was at a small lounge in a casino in Elko, Nevada, where he played for cowboys with sheep manure on their boots who tossed silver dollars into slot machines, far removed from the adoring thousands in Gorky Park, Moscow.
Today Contino is still playing throughout the United States at ethnic festivals such as the Festa Italiana in Milwaukee. I met him in 1995 at the Italian Festival at the IC Amphitheater in Pittsburgh. Contino said, "as long as God gives me the ability to perform, and as long as people keep coming to see me, I'll never retire. They'll have to carry me off the stage!"
I have a few complaints about this book. The editing is sloppy: there are an unusually large number of typographical errors; a line of text is missing on page 35, a paragraph is printed twice on page 45 and a few words are misspelled elsewhere, including the word "accordian"! (page 159) Paying readers deserve a higher quality book and more thorough editing.
In addition, the last half of the book seems to drag in tempo and I was disappointed with the appendix: although Bove lists the titles and tracks of twenty Contino albums he doesn't list the labels or year of release, information which might make it easier for Contino fans to find these collector's items through used record search services.
Despite these flaws, I recommend Accordion Man for all lovers of the accordion. You will enjoy it, and learn something about the heyday of the instrument in the United States as well.
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