Cohorts, Companions and Competitors

A cohort is a group of subjects who share a defining characteristic – in this case, performing and playing music. Tony had an association with many musicians over the years and most likely competed for jobs in bands or orchestras with other accordion players. The small-scale 400 page book below is a membership list of the The Chicago Federation of Musicians, a goldmine of information published in 1942. Tony and his cousin by the same name were long-standing members up until their untimely deaths in 1963 and 1964. The book describes union members, instruments played, names of arrangers, bands and orchestras. The accordion section has over 600 accordionist members alone!

Chicago Federation of Musicians Membership List, June 1st, 1942. Union Local No. 10. Book courtesy of author.

CFM Members, Anthony Camarata Jr (Tony) and his cousin, Anthony Camarata, both accordionists on page 236. Book courtesy of author.

Art Van Damme, Andy Arcari, Robert Davine, Jimmy Blade, Bobby Tinterow, Horace Heidt, Don Orlando, Bob Smith, Art Cavalieri were some of the men he either knew personally, worked with or were inspired by. Many other musicians are noted on an earlier post.

Art Van Damme

Art Van Damme, theatrical photo by Maurice Seymour, Chicago, courtesy of the author.

Several years ago, I wrote to jazz accordionist Art Van Damme (1920-2010) to see if he knew Tony since the photo was dedicated to him. Here is his response to me:

Art Van Damme Letter

Letter from Art Van Damme to author, January 10, 1997.

Tony had a long history with Jimmy Blade, pianist, arranger and band leader. In addition to their professional relationship, they were also friends. Jimmy and wife, Jean were witnesses for Tony and Lucille’s wedding in 1941. The marriage took place at the Courthouse in Colorado Springs instead of their home town, Chicago. Jimmy’s orchestra had a four-week engagement at the swank Broadmoor Hotel resort that year and again in 1942. I was fortunate to meet his daughters in Illinois a few years back to who furnished me with a wealth of stories, news clippings, and photos, some that are posted here.

Tony played with Jimmy Blade

Jimmy Blade (1907-1974), Pianist, Arranger, Band Leader. Press photo by Maurice Seymour, Chicago, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade, pianist and band leader

Jimmy Blade relaxing while reading sheet music, “Happy in Love” composed by Same E. Fain, Published by Leo Feist Inc. 1941. Photo courtesy of P.Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade reading “Happy in Love” sheet music and as an arranger, probably making some notes for an upcoming gig. Jimmy’s career included recording and live radio in Chicago, and later had his own show with NBC.

Jimmy Blade’s Musical Synopsis – National Broadcasting Company. Courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Sheet Music featuring Jimmy Blade and his Orchestra. Courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade had a long run at the Camellia House from 1951 to 1967, playing with various musicians over the years; Nicholas Busta – clarinet, flute, tenor saxophone, Richard Caldwell – accordion, Ray Lube – bass, Earl Schwaller – violin, who was also a sideman with Wayne King, to name a few. After Jimmy retired, Bill Snyder took the helm until 1970.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade news clip, courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

Jimmy Blade featured in Orchestra World magazine. Article courtesy of P. Blade Cella.

In Tony’s archives, a vintage press photo of Robert Davine, accordionist and professor of music at the University of Denver, was found. According to many Robert Davine was a true virtuoso of the concert accordion.”  I believe he was an inspiration to Tony on some level, even if they never met, or he wouldn’t have had this photograph.

Robert Davine, Accordionist (1924-2001). Theatrical photo by Excelsior, courtesy of the author.

Another vintage photo from Tony’s collection was of accordionist, Angelo “Andy” Acari, originally from San Biagio, Italy. He made a name for himself in America as soloist in theaters, nightclubs, concerts, radio and television broadcasts including NBC.

Photo from Tony M. Camarata's archive

Andy Arcari (1907-1994) Theatrical photo by Excelsior, courtesy of the author.

The Excelsior brochure was also in Tony’s archive; he may have been considering this brand of accordion, the same one that Andy played. It was common to have more than one instrument in a musician’s possession. I am lucky to have one of my father’s Reno brand accordions, not as attractive as the earlier ornate instruments that got lost or sold over the years. They were quite decorative and at one point it was fashionable to have your name on your instrument. There’s a family story that the reason the name Cammarata was altered by removing one “m” was that it was too long to fit on the one of the smaller accordions, however, most family members kept the original surname with both letters.

Accordion Excelsiola Brochure of Tony C 1955

Accordion Excelsiola 1955 Brochure from Tony’s archives, courtesy of author.

Competitors, Cohorts or Companions?

Advertisement, “Excelsior Album of Stars for 1950”

Tony Camarata Don Orando Lyle's Monte Carlo news clip crop 1947 Jan. 2.doc

Tony Camarata  as strolling troubadour at same club as Don Orlando and his Trio  in 1947.

Don Orlando, accordionist and band leader, also performed live on radio for WBBM in Chicago as well as recorded music for various record label, many that can be found online.

Tony played with Don Orlando

Don Orlando, Accordionist

Don Orlando & his Symphony Five 78 Record featuring vocals by Sam Bari, baritone.

Don Orlando and His Symphony Five. Features Sam Bari and Danny Parker. Courtesy of The Billboard Magazine, Jan. 24, 1948.

Art Cavalieri, bass player was also part of the trio “Men of Rhythm” with Tony Camarata and Sam Bari. These guys changed band names or went solo depending on available opportunities at the time. Art’s advertisement says it all, “Duo,Trio, Quartet to augment any size desirable.”

Art Cavalieri. Promotional advertisement, courtesy of T. Cavalieri.

The Velvetones, unknown violinist, Al Rhomba, accordion, Art Cavalieri on bass. Photo courtesy of T. Cavalieri.

Jobs may have been plenty in the 40s and 50s, however, the market was saturated with musicians and entertainers all vying for the same jobs and many at the same professional level. Probably a lot depended who you knew, and where you hung out — a big plus if you had a good agent. By the time rock and roll appeared in the 50s, the accordion wasn’t relevant anymore so Tony’s job prospects pretty much dried up by the early 60s. About the same time, he returned to Chicago due to ill health. In 1963, just days before his 48th birthday, he passed away.



Where’s Papa?

Tony Camarata at the Accordion

Tony Camarata. 1950s. Reno  accordion from Houston, now in possession of Camarata family.

There is a myth that creative people tend to have an addictive personality.Tony didn’t just experiment with drugs and alcohol but had a true addiction to drinking and also suffered from diabetes left uncontrolled which affected his physical and mental health. I imagine that losing both parents when he was 21 had an impact on his adulthood as well. Couple this with a musician’s traveling lifestyle, plus an ego-driven personality, you have a recipe for disaster. After 10 years of marriage and 3 young daughters his wife finally got fed up and filed for divorce in 1951.

Camarata Family Photo 1950

Tony Camarata home with wife, Lucille and daughters, Antoinette & Paulette. Lucille is pregnant with Florette. Chicago 1950

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Letter from Tony Camarata to his 3 daughters, Paulette, Antoinette, Florette from the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, TX. Letter courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

The University of Chicago has a scrapbook by Jimmy Granato in their jazz archives that I found during my research. It matches the one I had from my family archives that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1950. The Dixielanders band members pictured from below from left: Ernie Kolstad (trombone), Al Reed (cornet), Jim Granato (clarinet), Joe Pep (drums),Tony Camarata (accordion). Normally, Paul Benzedian was the pianist with this band, but since he couldn’t bring the piano to the train station, they probably hired Tony to fill in.


The Dixielanders greet movie star Rebel Randall at LaSalle St. station, Chicago. Newsclip from Chicago Herald Feb. 17, 1950. Courtesy of University of Chicago – Jazz Archives

After Tony’s divorce in 1951, he headed south to Galveston, sin city on the Gulf Coast and traveled the circuit playing with various bands. He was hired as a teacher of accordion at Phillip Nevelow’s Music Store and Recording Studio in Galveston and also attempted his hand at writing music and possibly recording.

Tony Camarata Trio

Trio with Tony Camarata on accordion, unknown bass player and guitarist. Venue unknown.


Minor Quartette, Penguin Supper Club, Alexandria, LA – 1951
Philip L. Royale, Birmingham, AL – 1951
Organtime Trio, William & Frank Reneau, Waco, TX – 1952
Turf Athletic Club (Balinese Room), Galveston, TX – 1953 – The Turf was headquarters   of the Maceo syndicate and the Fertitta family
Tony Martin Music Agency (jobbing band), Houston, TX – 1953-4-5-7
James V. Mongiardo, South Houston, TX – 1953
Raymond Russo Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1953
Albert Pliner Entertainment Service, Houston, TX – 1953
Bobby Tinterow Enterprises, Shamrock Hotel, Houston, TX – 1953-4-5-7
Glen Boyd Orchestra, Bellaire, TX – 1953
Larry Lambert Orchestra – Houston, TX – 1953, 1957
Maxims, Houston, TX – 1953
Earl Dantin Orchestra, Old Dutch Inn – 1954
Cheds Lounge Kenner, LA – 1954
The Esquire Orchestra, Earl Dantin – New Orleans, LA – 1954
Officers Club, Earl Dantin, Pensacola, FL – 1955
Jack Tar Charcoal Lounge in Galveston, TX – 1955
Lees Lounge, Houston, TX – 1955
Albino Torres Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1955, 57
Bob Smith Orchestra, Houston, TX 1955
Nevelow Music Box, Galveston, TX – 1956
Balinese Room – Victor & Anthony Fertitta  Galveston, TX – 1955, 56
Richard Bovio Orchestra, Jack Tar Hotel – Charcoal Galley, Galveston, TX 1956
Henry Frank Hlavaty, Houston, TX 1956, 57
Jesse L. Webb Musical Services, Houston, TX – 1956
Dorothy Dragoo Davis, Houston, TX – 1956
Larry Lambert Orchestra, Houston, TX – 1957
Il Sorrento, Inc. Dallas, TX – 1960

Many thanks to Bert Hepler, Bandleader of Merrymakers for the nice chat we had about the Texas music scene in the 1950s.


The Balinese Room was, like many other clubs in Galveston at the time, a place to gamble illegally, but the “B-Room” was able to fend off numerous stings by Texas Rangers. Because the Rangers had to walk the long pier, their arrival was tipped off well in advance, giving players plenty of time to hide their chips and workers plenty of time to drop cloths over the tables. But, in 1957, an undercover operation finally shut down the Balinese Room, changing the Galveston scene forever. In 2001, Scott Arnold purchased the property, reopening a piece of history, but seven years later, Hurricane Ike obliterated the nightclub. (item courtesy of Michael Callahan, Houston Chronicle)

Balinese Room Galveston 385x306

Tony C Penguin Club Alexandria, LA Nov 1951 detail

The Minor Quartette with Tony Camarata, Wizard of the Accordion. Penguin Club, Alexandria, LA. 1951. Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony played here

Tony Camarata, strolling musician at Maxim’s Restaurant, Houston, 1953. Newsclip courtesy of L. Camarata Valentich.

Town Crier by Bill Roberts

Ex-Balinese entertainer, Tony Camarata playing nightly at Lee’s Lounge, Houston, TX. 1955 Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony played here at the Jack Tar Hotel

Tony Camarata is joining the Jack Tar’s Charcoal Galley, Galveston, TX. 1956 Newsclip courtesy of P. Camarata Phillips.

Tony Camarata played here

Ched’s Lounge – Kenner, Louisiana


Tony Camarata with Tony Zale. Photo courtesy of Jim Massoth

Gulf Coast 1950’s era continues next post……….

Anthony Camarata (b.1911-1964): Professional Musician

The Camarata family tells a charming story about Anthony (b.1911-1964) playing the accordion at the tender age of 4 and loving it so much he would actually take his instrument to bed with him. At 15, following the footsteps of his father Charles, he began his professional musical career. He also partnered with his father in the family business as accordion instructors while also continuing to perform. Their accordions, were fatto a mano, handmade in Italy, most likely in Castelfidardo, once known as the international capital of accordion builders, personalized with the family name, Cammarata.

Cammarata FatherandSon Biz Card (2)

Cammarata Family Business Card – Father & Son

Parallel to his younger cousin Anthony (Tony) (b.1915-1963) also a musician, he played at popular nightclubs, major hotels, dinner dance clubs and live radio broadcasts in Chicago and beyond. He and his family, as well as his siblings (Joseph, Frank, Kathryn), eventually relocated to sunny Santa Cruz, California where he continued to perform.

Theatrical Chicago photo below, “The Sailor Boys” features Anthony on accordion.


Theatrical Chicago photo, “The Sailor Boys” features Anthony on accordion.

Like many professional musicians, he was a union member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians from 1931-1964 that offered their members many benefits. He had hundreds of jobs around the country including engagements at the infamous Colosimos, The Strand Show Lounge, Tutzs Cocktail Bar, Knight Caravan, Hub Lounge, Charley’s Cocktail Lounge, The Fox Badger Theatre, Orlando 71 Club, Towne Club, Zanzes Rocky Falls, Terrace Club and Club Aloha to name a few. He played with the Carl Schreiber band, the Cal Cara Combo and other groups and orchestras.

One of his longest and more successful gigs (1937-1945) was playing with the Tripoli Trio at the swanky 606 Club in Chicago. Anthony played accordion with Giordano Pellonari (b.1892-1962) on guitar and vocals and Luis Orlando, bass.

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“This Week in Chicago” news magazine published May 9, 1942

Tripoli Trio 606 Club Anthony Camarata Cousin0001

Tripoli Trio – Giordano Pellonari, Anthony Camarata, Luis Orlando at the 606 Club. Photo courtesy of J. Camarata Jerde

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Luis Orlando, Giordano (George) Pellonari and Anthony Camarata entertain customers at the 606 Club. Photo courtesy of J. Camarata Jerde.

colisomos matchbook online images

1946 Gig in Chicago. Vintage Matchbook Cover

606 club match

1937-1945 Long-term Gig in Chicago. Vintage Matchbook Cover

Tripoli Trio with Giordano Pellonari, Luis Orlando, Anthony Camarata with vocal by Yvonne Barry, Gio's daughter. Photo courtesy of Allan Barry.

Tripoli Trio with Giordano Pellonari, Luis Orlando, Anthony Camarata with vocals by Yvonne Barry, Gio’s daughter. Photo courtesy of Allan Barry.

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1945 Gig in Chicago. Ad courtesy of Southtown Economist.

club Aloha ebay crop

1948 Gig in Santa Cruz, CA. Vintage Matchbook Cover

1940sMatchbookTutzsCocktail-Bar online

1946 Gig in Milwaukee, WI. Vintage Matchbook Cover

Live Radio Broadcast – Anthony on accordion – Charles on guitar, right. Photo courtesy of J. Camarata Jerde

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1946 Gig in the Strand Show Lounge at the Strand Hotel in Chicago.

Cal Car Combo - ealry 1960s

Call Cara Combo – Cal Calcara, rear center; Tony Camarata (left) accordion, Dick Miner, trumpet, Wes Nichols, drums. Photo courtesy of

Tripoli Trio

L. to R. Giordano Pellonari, Luis Orlando, Anthony Camarata #1
Chicago’s Nite Life Magazine. April 4, 1947. Courtesy of Allan Barry

The Tripoli Trio will spice the opening on Tuesday at the new Terrace Club, luxurious west side show lounge in Chicago. (cover page of Chicago’s Nite Life, published April 4, 1947).