On a recent Tuesday afternoon I was sitting with Walter Kuehr in the back room of Main Squeeze Accordions on Essex Street, asking questions about the accordion business. He said he mostly does repairs these days, and he conducts the Main Squeeze Orchestra, a fourteen-piece all-female accordion band he founded in 2002. Photos of famous accordion players line the wall: Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk Show; John Linnell from They Might Be Giants; Texas conjunto star Flaco Jimenez; “Weird Al” Yankovic. They’ve all played in Main Squeeze, often in exchange for instrument repairs. On a shelf piled high with books and accordion music there’s an advance copy of Squeeze This: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America, a study of the piano accordion by ethnomusicologist Marion Jacobson. She was once a student of Kuehr’s, and they keep in touch.
“Something drew me in,” Jacobson said later, recalling her first visit to Main Squeeze, in 2001. “I had been thinking for some time that the accordion would be my next instrument. How could I not have this thing that makes even the simplest melodies sound so danceable, so rich?” Though Jacobson got her ruby-red Delicia Carmen elsewhere (she traded for it with her piano, which is now the house instrument at the Brooklyn music venue Barbes), she returned to Main Squeeze to learn how to play.