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Space Age Music Maker

Dominic Cortese

  • Born 16 October 1921, New York City
  • Died 9 August 2001, Quogue, New York

A versatile player, Dominic Cortese was probably the most-recorded, if the least-recognized, accordionist of the Space Age Pop era. After serving in World War II, Cortese returned to New York City, joined Musicians' Union Local 802, and quickly established himself as a "first-call" player, the first player on his instrument to get the call when a music contractor was assembling performers for a recording session. For the next 55 years, spent countless hours in recording studios, playing everything polka to movie soundtracks, from novelty music with Spike Jones and Raymond Scott to folk rock with Bob Dylan, pop rock with Billy Joel, and glitz rock on Elvis' "Viva Las Vega."

Of his many thousands of recording credits, only a few, from the early 1960s, on Bob Shad's Time label, were under his own name. Those albums, like most of Time's, featured the cream of the crop of NYC session players, including such talents as Phil Kraus, Al Caiola, Dick Hyman, and Phil Bodner. The music is a mix of traditional Italian melodies arranged for combo, usually played with a light and swinging beat, and then-current continental hits like Nino Rota's theme for Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."

A list of any more than a sampling of the artists Cortese accompanied would look like a database dump. Suffice it to say that if it was recorded in NYC between 1950 and 2001 and has an accordion on it, chances are about one in three you're listening to Dom Cortese. Toward the end of his career, Cortese could afford to be picky about his gigs, and preferred to play in small jazz combos with the likes of John Pizzarelli or Uri Caine. He also performed live on occasion. He was scheduled, in fact, to appear with Doc Severinsen, a former NYC session mate, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra when he died. And he even undertook a bit of acting, appearing (usually as the guy playing the accordion) in a number of movies set in New York, including "Moonstruck" and "The Cradle Will Rock."


  • Accordion, Time S-2029
  • Accordion Italy, Time S-2048
  • Accordion Continental, Time S-2077
  • Accordion Party
  • Selections on Accordion Capers, Time S-2192

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