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Charles Magnante was what you'd call an accordionist's accordionist. Three-time President of the American Accordion Association, Magnante helped raise the accordion from its image as a hokey folk instrument to recognition as a serious instrument capable of a wide range of styles. If it missed that mark in the popular eye and landed just this side of "Lady of Spain" hokeyness, the fault is certainly not Magnante's.
Although he got his start squeezing out (or, as the accordion's sex symbol, Dick Contino, puts it, humping out) "O Sole Mio" in Italian restaurants, Magnante steadily moved away from this stereotypical setting. For much of the 1940s, he was, with Tony Mottola on guitar and George Wright on organ, a fixture of CBS radio, providing the network with its own version of the early Three Suns. Like Mottola, he remained a member of the CBS musical staff for many years while working a steady series of studio sessions on the side. He also worked with musical publishers on instructional books and arrangements of popular and classical tunes for the accordion. More than a few Magnante arrangements are still considered standards for the instrument.
Magnante was certainly one of Enoch Light's favorite accordionists, for he was the only one Light featured as a performer on two of his three labels. Magnante recorded two albums on Grand Award and three on Command. Magnante stayed to conventional material on all of these, preferring to showcase his skills as an interpreter rather than his proficiency on the instrument. But, then, it's no small feat to tackle an airy little bossa nova number like "One Note Samba" on the accordion and not bludgeon it over into "Lady of Spain"-land. The gonifs at MCA, as conductor William Steinberg called them, did Magnante a disservice, then, in titling the double-LP reissue of his Command recordings Accordion Bellicosity. Magnante made art, not war, with his accordion.
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