By Mitch Broder
To be honest, I was mostly looking at the twin bejeweled mermaids, but Alex guided my attention to the instrument they festooned.
It was the E. Galizi Bro. White-and-Gold Pearled Piano Accordion, which is kept locked up in a case, which is kept locked up in a room. “This was made here in New York, in the 1920s,” Alex said. “I keep it here. I never touch it. But you gotta hear this.”
He lifted the squeezebox, sat down, and played “Under Paris Skies.” It was glorious, and French songs normally make me queasy. In his expressive Italian accent, Alex offered a cogent explanation for my redemption: “Make music on this was like make gold.”
It is part of his two-floor accordion complex, in which he buys, sells, repairs, and otherwise attends to a century or so’s worth of accordions. He loves to show off his museum, because he loves his museum, because moving his accordions there from his apartment kept his wife from killing him.
He showed me his little red Hohner model from 1945. “It’s funny, but no joke,” he said. “It’s a real accordion.” He showed me his big black Pasquale Ficosecco model from 1921. He has accordions from three Pasquale Ficoseccos, including the one who still works at the store.
He left me to take care of some customers and locked me into the room. I felt secure, knowing that I finally had enough time to learn how to play. I always wanted to play the accordion because I wanted to push all those buttons. But I now know that accordions are serious instruments, though I’m still not sure about that red one.
I admired the 1927 Excelsior, the 1910 Paolo Soprini, the 1906 Beaver Brand. I admired the rhinestones, the sparkles, the silver lace, the gold mesh, and, needless to say, the mermaids. I found all of the accordions in the museum fascinating — and yet not quite as fascinating as their king.
When he let me out, I learned that Alex was born in Italy and grew up in Argentina, where he mastered the accordion trade. “I came here with four hundred dollars in my pocket when I get off the plane,” he told me. “No English — just Italian and Spanish.”
But he went to NYU and had a career as a documentary filmmaker, while moonlighting as accordionist for a group called Alejandro y Los Internacionales. “We brought Latin jazz to America,” he said. “Then they came out with the boogaloo. Everybody went crazy with the boogaloo.”
|Can you find Pasquale Ficosecco?|
That store, Alex Music, made him rich and famous, he says, and led to an offer to be the president of the Gibson Guitar Corp. He considered that a high honor. He turned it down. He didn’t want to be a chief executive. He just wanted his accordions.
So twenty years ago he gave up the big store and opened his little store, one floor below his original repair shop. A few years later, he added the museum, to help preserve accordion history. You get in by making an appointment. There’s no guarantee you’ll get out.
Alex, of course, could retire. Instead, he buys accordions by the hundreds and sells them at $1,000 to $15,000 a pop. His place is a mecca for many of the great accordionists of the world. And that, he told me, is the reason that he doesn’t retire.
“Can I tell you something?” he said. “They don’t let me — the professionals. They need me, and I have to do it. They come from so far. From New Zealand, they come over here to fix accordion. They say, ‘Don’t die, Alex, ’cause if you die, we don’t play anymore.’”Take your squeeze to the Alex Accordion Museum, 165 West 48th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, New York City.