Joe Biviano

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April 18, 1939, was a great day in the history of the accordion. This was the day Joe Biviano, Abe Goldman, and Gene Von Hallberg became the first people in history to play the accordion in Carnegie Hall.…
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April 18, 1939, was a great day in the history of the accordion. This was the day Joe Biviano, Abe Goldman, and Gene Von Hallberg became the first people in history to play the accordion in Carnegie Hall. It was a major step for an instrument that, up until then, had always been considered second-class, even steerage. Even in the 21st century, there are many listeners who would consider the so-called "squeezebox" not a serious instrument, imagining the first-class passengers enjoying a classical recital by a premier concert pianist at a baby grand while the riffraff down in the hold sits on a pile of hay and listens to an accordion player. Biviano was considered a walking history of the accordion and one of the players whose daily activities created a new future for the instrument. Throughout his career, he seemed to deal with the lowbrow aspects of the accordion as well as reaching for the brass hoop in the cultural arena. Biviano recorded tunes entitled "Pizza Party" and "More Beer" and was a session musician throughout the '40s and '50s, on call for all manner of music, bad and good, that was being recorded in this period. Consider the following fleeting and eventually unimportant development in the music business. On March 15, 1948, record producer, label manager, songwriter, and all-around music business hustler Joe Davis sent a Western Union to seven major A&R men, including Bob Thiele and Mitch Miller: "Just took over all rights to a song entitled "Queen of the Poconos," a great song that has already sold 40,000 records on a label called Shawnee in Pennsylvania," the message read. "Suggest you record same immediately. Will gladly send you lead sheet upon request." Davis followed his own advice, even though the recipients trashed the telegram. "Queen of the Poconos," admittedly not as exciting a title as "D'ya Think I'm Sexy" or "U Got It Bad," was recorded by Davis featuring accordionist Biviano, whose relationship with Davis had begun a few years earlier with the much more interesting Alpineers, an early version of eclectic world music bands such as Texas' Brave Combo. Supposedly a polka outfit created when Davis bought the rights to some Frankie Trumbauer sides and became hyper about polka, the Alpineers seems to have been a toboggan ride for several brilliant studio musicians. The talented Andy Sannella, a multi-instrumentalist who possibly has played on more records than any individual in music history, played the expected polka-flavored clarinet solos, but also brought in the steel guitar, a move that might have been too much for Biviano, who fled the band after the first recording session. In the early '60s, Davis started up the Celebrity label, a budget album line selling LPs for a buck a pop. In this format, a temporary goldmine was opened up for accordion fans as remixes of just about all the material Biviano had cut for Davis saw the light of day as ultra-cheap vinyl slabs, including wonderful duets with Tony Mecca. Guitarist Tony Mottolla, later to become one of the leading maestros of easy listening music, began his career in the late '40s with his own small jazz groups, in which Biviano played alongside the fine pianist Johnny Guarnieri and excellent guitarist Carl Kress. All of Biviano's later activities, cultured or trivial, were all built on a bedrock of major achievements in the '30s and climaxed in the accordion's conquest of Carnegie Hall. In 1938, Biviano was a founder of the American Accordionists' Association (AAA), perhaps an alternative AAA to call if one's car breaks down and sitting around listening to accordions seems more appealing than getting back on the road. Others involved in starting this organization included Pietro Deiro and Charlie Magnante, and this latter individual became extremely important in Biviano's life. Magnante was one of the greatest accordion virtuosos in history and was considered to have totally revolutionized the concept of how the player's left hand should work when providing bass lines. Biviano married Magnante's sister; the two men also played together as members of the Magnante Quartet with Abe Goldman and Gene Von Hallberg. Although this group was originally formed as a special guest feature on the Lucky Strike Hit Parade show, it quickly evolved into a serious ensemble of artists hell-bent on augmenting the musical possibilities and providing unlimited scoring opportunities for the accordion. The cigarette company continued to sponsor these activities, perhaps because nobody was paying attention. Biviano seriously began composing in order to help create a repertoire for the group and while some accordion scholars consider his "21 Etudes" his masterwork, others might readily prefer "The Rooster," especially since one critic commented that the piece "sounded to me like clucking chickens scratching the ground for worms."