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!
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.