Tuesday, March 6, 2012
RIP Frank Marocco
Frank Marocco's wide-ranging career embraced every genre of music, but his
passion was jazz - and to show that the accordion was a legitimate jazz
By Don Heckman, Special to the Los Angeles Times
March 6, 2012
Frank Marocco, a rare jazz accordionist, a first-call studio musician and one of
the most recorded accordion players in the world, has died. He was 81.
Marocco died Saturday at his home in the San Fernando Valley, after having been
hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for complications
following hip replacement surgery, according to his daughter Cynthia.
Marocco's wide-ranging career embraced every genre of music. His accordion can
be heard on hundreds of movie soundtracks, recordings, musical theater,
television series and specials, commercials, video games and theme park music.
The film, television and recording composers he's worked with include Henry
Mancini, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, Michel Legrand and dozens
But Marocco was always quick to describe jazz as his passion.
The accordion has almost never been viewed as a principal jazz instrument and
was often reviled by jazz musicians as something appropriate only for German
beer gardens and Argentine nightclubs. But Marocco spent a lifetime disputing
the limitations of that view, bringing jazz authenticity to the many groups he
began leading while still a teenager.
"Since I grew up listening to people like Zoot Sims and Charlie Parker, I play
accordion like a jazz horn player, with horn-like lines," Marocco told The Times
He also applied his rich compositional skills to the sounds, the timbres and the
harmonic textures he drew out of the accordion, banishing such dismissive labels
as "squeeze box" and "organ grinder."
As many critics and musicians observed, Marocco was a gifted musical artist who
simply happened to play an unusual instrument.
"Frank's playing," said guitarist Larry Koonse, who worked frequently with
Marocco, most recently on his latest CD, "was always so lyrical, warm and full
of the kind of harmonic richness that just invited you to step in and
participate in the beauty of the moment. There were no equals on his instrument.
And the warmth he exhibited in his playing was mirrored by the kindness he
exhibited as a human being."
Frank L. Marocco was born Jan. 2, 1931, in Joliet, Ill., the eldest of six
children, with a sister and four brothers. Growing up in the town of Waukegan,
he began to take accordion lessons at age 7. He later added piano, clarinet,
music theory and composition to his interests.
At 17 he was awarded a first-place prize in a Chicago music contest, winning a
guest appearance at Soldiers Field with the Chicago Pops Orchestra, performing
Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu on the accordion. For the next few years, he worked
with a trio in the Midwest, where he met his future wife, Anne, in South Bend,
In 1959, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Marocco formed another band,
concentrating on appearances in nightclubs and hotels in Las Vegas and Palm
By the mid-'60s, he had become well established as a studio player, valued for
his technique as well as his versatility. The range of his hundreds of film
score appearances reaches from such assignments as playing one of the two
accordion parts in Maurice Jarre's 1965 orchestral score for "Dr. Zhivago" to
the more recent "Pirates of the Caribbean" pictures, for which he played
accordion, bass accordion and musette.
His pop-oriented highlights included participation in the Beach Boys' "Pet
Sounds" album and Tracy Chapman's "Crossroads."
Marocco was also a busy composer, publishing study books for the accordion, as
well as collections of his own diverse songs and compositions. Gifted with a wry
sense of humor ,he often gave whimsical titles to his own works, among them
"Bossame Mucho," "Road to Marocco," "I Got Rh-Rh-Rhythm" and "Samba de Van
The Frank Marocco Accordion Event, directed by Marocco, was held annually in
Mesa, Ariz., bringing together accordionists from across the U.S. and Canada for
three days of accordion-related seminars, rehearsals and performance.
Marocco received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Accordionists'
Assn. in 2006. He was nominated eight years in a row for the Recording Academy's
Most Valuable Player Award, receiving the Award in 1985 and 1986. And he was
inducted into the Accordion Hall of Fame in Vicenza, Italy, in 2000.
Marocco is survived by his wife of 60 years, Anne; his daughters Cynthia,
Venetia and Lisa; and eight grandchildren.
Born: 1/2/1931, Joliet, Illinois, U.S.A.
Died: 3/3/2012, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
Frank Marocco's western - musician:
Wyatt Earp - 1994 (musician)