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Jazz Remembered

Art Van Damme

Art Van Damme b.jpg

Alan Bond wrote to us saying: "One name that seems never to have cropped up in Sandy Brown Jazz is that of Art Van Damme. I hadn't heard a lot of his stuff until Humph played a couple of tracks on his 'Best of Jazz' radio show a few years back and it wasn't until recently that I have been able to get hold of any of his music, and then I found dozens of tracks on Amazon so I now have a mighty collection which is good listening for the car. A mate of mine describes his work as 'a bit Light Programme' but I find it very pleasant and relaxing and he swings like mad. Load of clips on YouTube too. In addition there are at least another four accordion players who got well into the be-bop idiom and boy, what a feast. Sadly Art and several of the others are no longer with us."

Art Van Damme was an American jazz accordion player. He was born in Michigan in 1920 and had already started to play the accordion from the age of nine. His family moved to Chicago in 1934 at which point Art began to study classical music. In 1941, Art joined Ben Bernie's band, adapting Benny Goodman's music to the accordion.

Here is Art and his Quintet playing After You've Gone in 1949.


From 1945 to 1960 Art played on ‘The Dinah Shore Show’, ‘Tonight’, ‘The Dave Garroway Show’ on NBC as well as other radio and TV shows with Dave Garroway.

The website tells us that he "recorded 130 episodes of the 15-minute ‘The Art Van Damme Show’ for NBC Radio, and from the 1940s onwards also enjoyed a successful and extended recording career. Van Damme toured Europe and was also popular with jazz listeners in Japan, and regularly won the US ‘Downbeat’ magazine reader's poll for his instrument. He also toured in Russia and New Zealand. In 2005, Art Van Damme, Myron Floren and Dick Contino – three all-American accordion legends – were all honoured at the Las Vegas Accordion Convention, and the following year Art was the chief guest at the ‘Accordions International 2006’ festival, held at Caister, UK.'

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The Art Van Damme Quintet

The webskie also points out that Art Van Damme, in his prime years, was constantly playing  gigs, "developing and honing his skills and repertoire, pioneering the use of the accordion as a jazz lead instrument.' That he influenced most of the western world’s jazz accordionists, and that one musicologist said that Art was: “The hippest cat ever to swing an accordion, Art Van Damme dared go where no man had gone before: jazz accordion”.

YouTube has an early video of Art Van Damme's Quintet playing Perdido with drummer Max Mariash in 1952. The person uploading it says: "The following two clips (there is another on YouTube) show my teacher, Max Mariash, playing with the Art Van Damme Quintet. These were given to me by Scott Mariash, Max's son. I was unaware of their existence, but I'm tickled pink that Scott shared them with me. The sessions are from 1952 and I believe they were shot at the NBC studios. By present day standards, the audio and visual quality are of poor quality, but you still get a very real picture of the group and Max's playing. Max was a marvelous brush player and a swinging musician. In addition to this group, Max was on call for supporting jazz players who were touring through town. Also, these little movies will be a revelation for those who think the accordion is just good for polka bands."

We also have a short video from 1995 with Art Van Damme looking back over the time with his Quintet and his subsequent career. He says: ".... I wanted to prove that the instrument could be classified in the jazz field ....."

Art put away his accordion and retired in 1995, but he did take it out again in 1997.  " ..... to honour his good friend jazz accordionist Tony Dannon at the recent Dannon testimonial, accordion legend Art Van Damme donned the accordion he put away nearly two years ago on his 75th birthday when he announced his retirement. He played for an appreciative crowd which enjoyed the inimitable Van Damme style and gave the master a standing ovation. The following evening Van Damme boarded a plane to Italy where he played at the Castelfidardo Festival  and received an award for his spectacular contribution to accordion popularity." Art Van Damme passed through the Departure Lounge on 15th February 2010. You can read more about him here on the website.

Finally, here is a 37 minute video of the Art Van Damme Trion in playing a concert in Finland in 1979 with Art Van Damme: (accordion); Heikki Annala (bass) and  llpo Kallio (drums):

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