All About Me
Me and My Accordion...
I always loved the folk music of the world's peoples. My dear late father Duke Butera, a fine trumpeter with a velvet sound who performed with such notable orchestras in years past as Ray Noble, Jimmy Dorsey and the NBC orchestra, suggested to me when I was nine years of age that I should consider playing the accordion. He knew that I had an affinity for folk music, as I used to tune in the ethnic radio stations at that young age, listening regularly to the Greek, Spanish and Yiddish radio programs that broadcasted on the AM radio daily. So, I started lessons and until I got the hang of coordinating two hands so as to play something that made musical sense on the instrument, I have to admit it was a frustrating time in my life. My Mother was the disciplinarian, as I had to practice two hours a day without exception. At one point I almost quit but stayed at it...as my dad reminded me that when he worked at weddings on Saturday nights the accordion player made a little more money than everyone else, from strolling and playing the cocktail hour. I knew if I kept it up I wouldn't have to get a day job when I entered high school, but could work playing music on weekends. So I practiced diligently, maybe so as to not hear my mother threatening me to hold back my allowance for the weekend! But I am thankful to the both of them, for without Mom's discipline and Dad's patience and musical knowledge and the sharing of his experiences I would not be where I am today. So I started playing at gigs at sixteen, and it sure beat loading trucks or flinging pizzas, though I did that kind of work here and there when I had to. There is no shame in any kind of work, but to a teenager playing music seemed a fun way to bring in some extra cash.
The sound and expression of a musical tradition reveals the inner soul and understanding of various cultures. Having made my bones in my teen years performing alongside the great musicians of the genre in the now gone Greek and Middle Eastern clubs found along Manhattan's 8th avenue, such as the Port Said, Egyptian Gardens and the Cafe Britannia among others, the exploration of the music and dance of the Mediterranean taught me to tune my ears and set my sights on acknowledging all cultures by respecting their traditions. Entertaining communities from the Near East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe, Italy and Latin America, watching them respond with joy to my music at their weddings, parties and picnics was a most exhilarating experience, from which I learned to respect my audience as it is they who, along with the entertainers, are the creators and enablers of the happiness and memories of a good time. Accompanying the legendary singers, musicians and dancers of various genres: the great Epirot/Greek clarinetists Pericles and Petros Halkias, the Turkish kanunist Emin Gunduz, Iraqi violinist Hakki Obadia, bandleaders Eddie The Sheik Kochak, Elias Sarkar, Freddie Elias, Avram Pengas and the Noga Group and a host of vocalists and dance performers from the Balkan and Near Eastern traditions as well as such entertainers as Puerto Rican legend Yomo Toro has given me experience and a sense of professional muscianship. I am grateful to all those who have patiently allowed me the privilege of their company and time, and who hired me as a musician to accompany them on numerous occasions.
In the world of Klezmer music I've been a member of Eve Sicular's Metropolitan Klezmer Band since it's inception in the mid 90's, and with that ensemble have had the honor to have worked with the now late legendary clarinetist Howie Leese. Clarinet is an important instrument in eastern European music, being a major instrument used in popular music from Poland to Turkey. In that genre and capacity I have shared the stage with Sid Beckerman, Andy Statman and David Krakauer. I've sat in with the Klezmatics and with Annette Ezekiel's Golem. At weddings and Bar Mitzvahs people dance to the music their grandparents and great grandparents knew and loved. Again, the interplay between musician and audience is always a remarkable and memorable event. The Klezmer community has been most welcoming and warm, and it is with pride and equal warmth that I perform for and with them.
After exploring the music of the Middle East and Eastern Europe since I was a teenager, I have moved on to discover the great American musical traditions, their roots and influences. I always played the blues and American popular music when at any affair it is almost always called for. Accordion is a featured instrument among the Cajuns of Louisiana, as it is among the Francophone African Americans of that state in the form of what is known as Zydeco music. The blending of European folk music and the traditions of West Africa and Latin America make for a spicy blend. Along with blues and rockabilly, I am happy to report that I am currently playing music for dancing and partying crowds who share their joy with me and my fellow musicians as we churn out melody and rhythm for their pleasure. C'est la vie...life is indeed good.
Storytelling: "Let Me Tell Ye A Tale"
One of my interests has always been mythology and folklore. The ethnic communities I have been involved with over the years have generously shared not only their music but their stories as well, many of them ancient tales passed down over generations and centuries. I have come to realize that there once was a time when the sharing of knowledge and the preservation of cultural morals and values was expressed through the medium of the bard, a teller of tales and reciter of epics explaining through prose and poetry the deeds of both great heroes and simple common folk faced with trying situations or circumstances. According to Joseph Campbell, myths and tales are the key to unlocking a dimension within all of us, a place where creativity, hopes and dreams originate. Accompanying myself on a collection I gathered over the years of long necked lutes such as the Turkish saz, Albanian cifteli and Uzbek dotar and in concert with other talented musicians and dancers, I love to exploit the spoken word, transporting audiences to another place and time to hear how the ancients sought to resolve issues that are directly related and many times identical to those we face in our own current lives. As Mr. Campbell advised..."follow your bliss".
Giving Back to My Community: Music for the Elderly
During the day you are likely to find me entertaining the elderly in a nursing home or visiting in a hospital. My trio called The East Side Trio was created especially for that purpose, and we work or have worked for Hospital Audiences Incorporated (HAI) Self Help Community Services, and the Trinity Church 'Music to Go' series, bringing live music to those who may not have the ability to go out and hear it on their own. My accordion is teamed up with acoustic bassist Dave Hofstra and the lovely and talented vocalist Deborah Karpel, performing with that vintage instrumentation and line up the popular songs of years gone by. Working with patients with the onset of dementia at the Park Slope Memory Center in Brooklyn has been a truly rewarding experience for me, learning that music along with discussion can help people to remember and slow down the process of the sad reality of Alzheimer's disease. Music, dance and the arts are truly wonderful human forms of expression and communication, and do cause miracles to happen.