Think about it. An unamplified accordion can still generate a lot of volume, and should have been sufficiently loud not to be drowned out by the other instruments in a band. It seems like it would have been a natural in many ways.
But accordions seem to have been cast out of the hip world very early on. I suppose there’s a good reason for it, but I’m intrigued when I imagine what some good early jazz and blues artists might have done with them had things been different. For one thing, to my ear at least, the accordion sounds more like an organ than a piano, so I wonder what some Hammond c-3 organlike riffs might have sounded like in an arrangement by Satchmo or Jelly Roll Morton!.
And same with blues…the accordion has all the black keys, so why didn’t anyone every do blues on them?
Well, Zydeco is an excellent example of where accordion has thrived as a blues instrument. Let me point you to CJ Chenier, who is an excellent musician, and will give you a flavor of what the accordion can really do.
Early jazz instruments were usually the ones that were cheap and readily available to urban blacks…cast-offs from military bands that could be picked up in pawnshops for a few bucks.
Rural blues were done vocally, on inexpensive guitars and other string instruments. Many blues musicians started on homemade instruments, too.
And a hundred years ago there were a lot more pianos around than there are today. Every tavern and roadhouse and church would have had a beat-up old upright that a talented someone could noodle around on during the off-hours.
You’re right about the volume…I’d say they WOULD have used accordions, if there had been a surplus of 'em in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta circa 1900.
I think the accordion would have been a little too loud for the other, more acoustic instruments. Basically, its part was already being taken by the similar but quieter harmonica.
Also, does anyone know whether the accordion can easily bend the blue notes? I know it is done on the harmonica by overblowing, but is the same thing possible on the accordion? (I know they both use reeds.) Or does the accordian have to resort to the same “crush note” technique used on the piano?
Technical nit to pick. The blue notes on a harmonica are not hit by “overblowing.” Overblowing is a technique in and of itself and a relatively-speaking recent innovation. Most of the famous blues harpists don’t use overblowing, just simple bending.
To explain the difference…When you “bend” a note on harmonica, the pitch always go down. Whether you are doing on draw or blow notes, the pitch bends down anywhere from a fraction to 3 semitones. An overblow is a funny little technique (most popularized and perfected by Howard Levy, formerly of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.) It’s normally performed on holes 4 5 and 6 of a diatonic harp. It’s a tricky technique and usually can’t be performed (well) on a straight-out-of-the-box harmonica. You have to adjust the gaps between the reeds and the plate. Anyhow, an overblow hits a note higher. It’s not smooth like a bend. The note just pops into place, although it is possible to bend the overblow a little. When you overblow, you actually cause the draw reed opposite to sound by somehow closing the gap in the blow reed. You can even get both the blow and draw to vibrate simultaneously producing a rather piercing sound.
The nice thing it that with overblows (in combination with the standard blow and draw bends) you can play a chromatic scale on a diatonic harp. Listen to Howard Levy for an example of this technique.
But anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled program. As for accordians, I’ve only played them a couple of times and never imagined there is a mechanism for bending notes. And listening to accordian playing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard bent notes.