Squeezing it out

Patrick Harison bridges the gap between misguided sentiment and the accordion.

Patrick Harison jamming on his 40 pound accordion — essentially a bellows powered harmonica.

Patrick Harison

Patrick Harison jamming on his 40 pound accordion — essentially a bellows powered harmonica.

by Spencer Doar

What: Patrick Harison           

When: 6 p.m., Thursday

Where: Icehouse, 2528 S. Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free

Ages: All


From the flickering fire of a gypsy encampment to a raucous New Orleans band hall, Patrick Harison can create the requisite aura with his weapon of choice: the chromatic accordion.

Currently based out of Minneapolis, the intrepid Harison plays solo as well as with Patty and The Buttons, Jack Klatt and The Cat Swingers and Eisner’s Klezmorim to name a few — groups that range from jazzy swing tunes to traditional Eastern European klezmer music.

His father was an accordionist who guided Harison to the instrument, whose intricacies he studies with a childlike enthusiasm.

“My dad got into [the accordion] from a door-to-door salesman,” Harison said. “They’d go around giving accordion aptitude tests, and believe it or not, every person who the salesman saw possessed the aptitude.”

With that musical inheritance at age 13, Harison started squeezing and never looked back.

In 2006, a 19-year-old Harison was awarded the McKnight Fellowship for performing musicians, allowing him to travel and hone his trade in New York and New Orleans.

“You can’t beat $25,000 out of thin air for doing nothing,” Harison said.

In a way, Harison is reinventing the wheel. He is introducing an instrument to newer generations of audiences still stuck with the idea that the accordion is a curmudgeonly, squeaking box, one best served at some corny Lawrence Welk production, huffing and puffing to blue-haired bitties struggling to keep the polka going.

“The accordion is a working-class instrument meant to fill up a band hall,” Harison said. “There is not pretentiousness surrounding the repertoire — it is best served playing for happy, dancing people.”

What role the accordion takes in making people dance widely varies. One of its unique abilities is its wide range of emulation — its versatility is informed by the other instrumentation.

“I was in New Orleans after [Hurricane] Katrina,” Harison said. “All of the pianos were messed up, and there weren’t any piano tuners, so I got really familiar playing piano parts on the accordion for New Orleans jazz bands.”

While this means the Top 40 may not make it on Harison’s set list, it’s a wholly Americanized sentiment.

“I play Third World Top 40,” Harison said. “In other places, accordionists are the ones you want to be.”

If there’s one thing Harison suffers from, it’s an eagerness to explore a theme, sometimes exhausting a shallow well, while doggedly charging toward some chromatic nirvana.