Art Van Damme-Ecstasy.

Label: MPS Records.

During a long and distinguished career, American jazz accordionist Art Van Damme was called: “the hippest cat ever to Swing an accordion,” and revolutionised the way that the accordion was played. Suddenly, the accordion was  no longer regarded as an instrument that just played polka music. Now the accordion was regarded as a serious instrument that played jazz, and their was no finer practitioner than Art Van Damme. 

He enjoyed a long and illustrious career, and enjoyed a recording career that spanned four decades. One of Art Van Damme’s finest albums was Ecstasy, which has just been reissued by MPS Records. It’s a reminder of: “the hippest cat ever to Swing an accordion.”  

Art Van Damme was born in Norway, Michigan, on the ‘9th’ of April 1920, and started playing the accordion as a nine-year old. In 1934, Art Van Damme’s family moved to the Windy City of Chicago where he started to receive a classical training. However,  when he was twenty-one, Art Van Damme turned his back on his classical training.

In 1941, Art Van Damme joined Ben Bernie’s band and the accordionist played alongside the American jazz violinist, bandleader, and radio personality. Soon, Art Van Damme was adapting Benny Goodman’s music for the accordion. This was the start of Art Van Damme reinventing the way the way the accordion was played.

By 1945, Art Van Damme found himself working for NBC TV and performing on programmes like The Dinah Shore Show, Tonight and The Dave Garroway Show. He also played on various  radio and TV shows, often with Dave Garroway. There was also the small matter of 130 episodes fifteen minute episodes of The Art Van Damme Show for NBC Radio. During this period, Art Van Damme’s popularity soared and he was playing non stop. So much so, that Art Van Damme had no need for practise.

As the fifties dawned, Art Van Damme released his debut album Cocktail Capers on Capitol in 1950. Two years later, in 1952 More Cocktail Capers followed with Martini Time next in 1953. Over the next six years, Art Van Damme released eight more albums, taking his total to eleven between 1950 and 1959.

Accordion à la Mode followed two years in 1961 as the Columbia years continued. Art Van Damme Swings Sweetly followed in 1962, with Perfect Match following in 1963, which featured jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. However, the release of Septet: The New Sound Of Art Van Damme in 1964 marked the end of the Columbia years.

After releasing the Lover Man compilation on Pickwick in 1965, Art Van Damme signed for MPS Records in 1966. 

By then, Art Van Damme was a familiar face on the Europe, and eventually toured the continent forty times. The European audiences were won over by Art Van Damme’s inimitable sound which featured guitar, vibes and accordion. This sound proved popular when Art Van Damme signed to MPS Records. 

His MPS Records’ years began the release of With Art Van Damme In San Francisco in 1966. This was  the start of a period when Art Van Damme recorded some of the best music of his career. Part of the reason for this was he had carte blanche to do what he wanted.

Now he was signed to a  label that was willing to give him a free hand, Art Van Damme began work on three of his finest albums Ecstasy, The Gentle Art of Art, and Lullaby In Rhythm which were recorded during  1967 and 1968 with the MPS Records’ rhythm section of Swiss drummer Charly Antolini and German bassist Peter White. Bandleader Van Damme brought along his Chicago-based guitarist Freddy Rundquist and German vibes player Herbert Thusek. They ensured that the guitar, vibes and accordion sound was to the fore on the three albums.

On Ecstasy, Art Van Damme opened the album with the classic Satin Doll and followed this with Autumn In New York and later, Blue Light and Shadows, Love Walked In and It Could Happen To You where the group showcase their unique sound. Meanwhile, Art Van Damme gives a virtuoso fleet fingered performance as he plays with speed, accuracy and a light touch, sometimes emphasising the lyric and melody and other times adding flamboyant flourishes. This continues on Since I Fell For You, Easy Swing and Nancy which closes Ecstasy.

For Art Van Damme, Ecstasy was one of his finest albums not just of the MPS Records years, but his long and distinguished career. Ecstasy is a reminder of Art Van Damme “the hippest cat ever to swing an accordion,” at the peak of his considerable powers in 1967. 

Art Van Damme-Ecstasy.


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