The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Email Interview

with Planet Squeezebox Producer

Michal Shapiro

Doktorski: Hi, Michal!

Shapiro: Hi, Henry!

Doktorski: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I was really impressed by "Planet Squeezebox," as you could tell from the review. Producing the 3 CDs and the book must have been a huge project; not something for a person who doesn't have a love for the accordion. Do you play the accordion? Why were you chosen to produce this CD anthology?

Shapiro: I don't play the accordion, but I am a musician, that is, a singer/songwriter. In my life, I have had to sing just about every kind of music there is, so I guess I've got a very open ear. I grew to love the instrument after I embarked on the project.

I listened to so many hours of music, and the remarkable thing was, I never got tired of the sound of the accordion; on the contrary, I found it utterly pleasing and addictive. I think that there is something very physical about the sound, I could feel the breathing of it, and the sweetness of the free reed sound--that and the incredible variety of music that I was listening to kept the job exciting and fresh.

I think I was selected to produce the project because when the president of the company ran the idea by me, I thought it was terrific. I guess he didn't get that response from everyone. The way I describe it in my producer's notes is the way it happened.

Doktorski: How did you find the historic recordings, some of which have never been released? The African and Asian recordings must have been especially difficult to locate. And the photographs! some of them must have been close to a hundred years old.

Shapiro: I was very lucky that I contacted good people right away. Two of the most important people were Jared Snyder (who wrote one of the articles), in Philadelphia, who had a vast amount of knowledge, and gave me many leads. He was also my source for the historic photos. He has been collecting them for many years. As you may have guessed, he loves the accordion, 'tho his tastes run much more esoteric than mine. He really loves field recordings--things I was asked not to use for "Squeezebox". He told me about a discography put out by the Mediatheque in Brussels, which has a vast library of accordion music. I wrote to Etienne Bourse, the archivist, told him about my project, and he sent me a copy free. This is a wonderful resource, listing all the recordings that the mediatheque has by artist, genre and country!

Another person who was very helpful was Faithe Deffner. She turned me on to the Palmer-Hughes track that I used, and helped find a usable recording of it. She also took me to her factory, and explained a great deal about the way an accordion is built.

With the African recordings, I managed to contact the archivist at Gallo in South Africa. After many phone calls and nudging, he sent me the three tracks I used. In particular I was fascinated by the Tshwatla Makala track--soooo powerful! For the Indonesian tracks, I contacted Philip Yampolsky, who has done many recordings for Smithsonian Folkways in Indonesia. I was very lucky to find him in, because he spends a lot of time in Indonesia, and I got him between trips. I asked him if he had ever recorded any accordion music in Indonesia, and was staggered when he said yes.

Of course, them we had to open up negotiations with Smithsonian to get the licensing for the tracks, and it was kind of touch and go, but ultimately, their lawyer was great; really cooperative,, and got it to happen. gotta go, my phone is ringing!!

Dear Henry:

I'm back. Yes, some of the African recordings were not easy to get. I was very lucky to contact Andy Frankel, who worked very closely with I.K. Dairo (who by the way died a few months after the release of the project), who was on his way to Nigeria to "rescue" some original tracks.

I should also mention that Jarod's friend Bob Godfried (who wrote the glossary for "Planet Squeezebox" was extremely helpful, too, and contributed the wonderful photo of the African ensemble on page 41. The photo of Pietro Deiro Sr. was lent to me by Pietro Deiro Jr. I was lucky that he lives in New York.

Another track that was difficult to find was the Alice Hall track. I had been reading a book entitled "The Golden Age of the Accordion", and had been intrigued by her photo. However, I couldn't find any recordings of her. Oddly enough, it was while trying to find a musette track, that I stumbled on it. I had been in touch with a company called Fremeaux & Co., in Paris which puts out NOTHING but vintage accordion music. (I recommend their catalogue. They have an Emile Vacher CD that's superb.)

In the process of sending me tracks, they sent me a compilation called "Accordion Jazz" which had the Alice Hall track on it! It was in terrible sonic shape, so after I had tracked down the original, I had to put it through all kinds of processing to make it listenable. The irony is of course, that Alice is easily reachable by phone, and yet I had to get a recording from France to get in touch with her. I"m glad I insisted on using her track, though, because all the critics single it out for praise. I have loads more stories I could tell you about various tracks, but it would fill a book.

Doktorski: How many recordings did you "audition?"

Shapiro: When the dust settled, I had collected approximately 300 CDs and various cassettes and DATs, and tried to listen to them all.

There is a side to putting a compilation together that the general public ( and this includes critics) doesn't know about. I lost many beautiful tracks because of licensing restrictions. Sometimes, it's just not possible to get the track your heart is set on, because the company that owns the license is set up in such a way that it cannot do business with you.

Sometimes you find out very late in the game, so that you have to scramble like crazy to find a replacement track that fits in the hole the one you lost left. (Don't forget that the set has to flow, and make sense.)There were a few artists I should mention, because they are great players and because I could not get a license,were not included. These are John Kirkpatrick (Great Britain), Ricardo Tesi (Italy), Dominguinez (Brazil), Dino Saluzzi (Argentina), Richard Galliano (France), and Clifton Chenier (USA). We could not do any business with the UK-based Globestyle, and I heartily recommend their series "Accordions that shook the World".

Doktorski: What other albums have you produced?

Shapiro: I've recently produced a jazz/classical CD,entitled Blue Eleven, by guitarist Bruce Arnold, but nothing else with accordion.

Doktorski: If sales warrant it, will you produce a sequel CD?

Shapiro: I have no idea if Ellipsis will be interested in Son of Squeezebox, or Squeezebox Two. I guess that will have to do with sales and any number of other things. I would love to have a crack at it, though, because there were many fine artists whose work did not make it into the project and they deserve to be heard. I'm sure anyone who is a working musician knows that for every famous player, there are at least 100 who are every bit as talented and worthy of attention.

That's about it for now. Any more questions?

Doktorski: That's all. Thank you so much, Michal! It was a pleasure meeting you!

Shapiro: It was my pleasure!

Doktorski: Bye now.

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