Costa Mesa, CA--Perhaps it was the phone salesperson from a Chicago accordion school who called Jim Gilman’s parents 52 years ago offering six weeks of free accordion lessons that should get the credit for igniting his musical career. After all, part of the pitch included the comment ‘they had heard their son had talent. "
The telemarketer was right, regardless if that was a standard part of the sales script. Gilman, now 60, developed an early love affair with the accordion at age 7. He is one of the featured performers at “The Big Squeeze”, the 1st Orange County Accordion Festival on Sunday, October 11 at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa.
Gilman continued playing the accordion long after his six weeks were up and until his family moved to Southern California when he was in high school. He became uncertain if his love of the accordion would translate to the land of sand and surf.
But after his father saw a classified ad in a Long Beach newspaper requesting the services of an accordion player, Gilman was on his way to a professional career. He put himself through college as a street performer at Knott’s Berry Farm playing the squeeze box eight hours a day, five days a week while getting paid $1.85 an hour.
In 1972, he joined a trio that performed at Holiday Inns across the Midwest. Since then, Gilman has played countless gigs, including sharing the stage with John Denver as well as performing at international festivals including the Cotati Accordion Festival in Northern California and the Las Vegas International Accordion Festival . He’s also played in some unique venues including a sewer in Los Angeles as part of a KFI-AM broadcast radio stunt and on a small plane for a wedding while flying over Los Angeles.
Though he still plays with his band now and then, he has taken on an entirely different persona, in which he refers to himself as “The Squeezinator”
It’s entirely possible for one person to play a range of musical instruments on a recorded piece of music. Occasionally, a few ambitious souls create novel methods that allow them to play several instruments at the same time. But Gilman takes the one-man band concept to a whole new level. Using his trusty accordion as his base, Gilman has added high-tech wizardry to his old-school instrument, including a MIDI, two external keyboards, a synthesizer and a vocal modulator.
He’s nothing short of a one-man orchestra.
“It’s truly amazing what electronics, computers and MIDI have done for the accordion,” he says. “Acoustic purists may turn their noses up at all this stuff, but the audiences love it.”
With more than 50 years of experience strapped to his mid-section, Gilman says he’s played just about every kind of music imaginable.
“I don’t think there’s any particular style or genre that I prefer,” he says. “I’ve always prided myself on doing a wide variety of music, although I do lean to older music if for no other reason than it’s better constructed—nicer chords, prettier melodies, more interesting rhythms. That would be especially true if I were just playing an acoustic accordion. With the advent of all the electronics I now have at my disposal, it’s become much easier to move in a whole new direction. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun."
Playing the accordion professionally isn’t the cheapest vocation.
Gilman uses a Bell accordion, made by the Italian firm Borsini, which cost $13,000. His modified Limex MIDI system cost an additional $5,000.
And, he says, it’s worth every penny:
"Over the years, the accordion hasn’t gotten much respect, which is too bad because when all is said and done – the accordion is fun. It’s the only musical instrument that will play bass notes, chords, rhythm, and melody all at the same time and still be portable and relatively easy to learn.You can’t know the number of people who have come up to me over the years and said something like ‘You know my father, my aunt, my sister, brother, etc., used to play the accordion.I wish they hadn’t given it up.’I don’t think many other instruments can make that claim.It seems to bring people back to a happier time.
The Big Squeeze is all about bringing people together for a happy time.
Along with Gilman, who performs at 10:15 a.m., noon and 3:30 p.m. and will serve as a stage emcee, the new event will bring together dozens of other accordionists playing a variety of traditional and contemporary accordion music including Cajun, Zydeco, Old Creole, Russian Folk, Polka, Tejano and other music genres during the one day festival held in conjunction with the Orange County Market Place, the weekend swap meet at the O. C, Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include four stages of accordion based bands and solo accordionists, strolling entertainment, dance lessons, an open jam session, educational presentations , special vendors including music stores and accordion related items, all of which will be presented amidst the other swap meet activity,
In its 40th year the Orange County Market Place is held every weekend (except during the Orange County Fair) at the O.C. Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. Hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and include nearly 1,000 merchants, fresh produce, gourmet foods to go, artisans and crafters, manufactured homes, kid’s play area, inflatable attractions, hair salon, food concessions and more. Admission is $2 but will be waived with a canned food donation for the Orange County Food Bank. Entrance is free for kids 12 and under.
More information on these events may be obtained by visiting www.ocmarketplace.com or by calling 949-723-6660.