The Music Transcends

The Music Transcends

January 24, 2014  |  Cajun Zydeco, Local Interest

Tuesday is Cajun/Zydeco night at Ashkenaz in Berkeley, and on this December evening the band is Andrew Carriere and the Cajun AllStars.* As usual, the dancers hit the floor with the first note, and the night continues like a party. On stage, the musicians are clearly enjoying themselves. One song dissolves into another; the lead is passed back and forth; the joy is palpable and contagious. This is a good time.

I had the chance to sit down with fiddler Annie Staninec to talk about her journey with Cajun music. It’s a great story.

Annie began playing the violin when she was five years old. She attended high school at the prestigious San Francisco School of the Arts, where she performed in the band and played classical music. But her first, deepest love was American Roots Music, particularly bluegrass. That’s what she heard and played at home. Her father, from Czechoslovakia, and her mother, from Japan, met at an old-timey jam session in Osaka. Annie and her dad went to jams once or twice a week when she was growing up, and she played tunes with him almost every night. “It’s just what we did together.”

Annie pursued bluegrass on her own. She loves the community aspect of traditional music that gets passed down as part of a culture. “If you are around it and you’re interested in learning, it’s accessible to everyone.” There is a lack of pretense. It’s welcoming and fun.

A musician’s world can be a small one. Annie knew Mitch Polzak through the bluegrass community. He also played Cajun music with Andrew Carriere, and thought the two should meet. Andrew is originally from southwest Louisiana, where his father “Bébé” (fiddle) and uncle Dolon (accordion) played Creole music at house parties in the evening after working all day. Andrew settled in the Bay Area in 1971, and took up the accordion himself.

The two eventually met to play a casual gig, along with Mitch. Annie had never played Cajun music, but she had an idea of what the fiddle should sound like stylistically. Though Annie reads music, she prefers to learn by ear. There is feeling and rhythm and style that comes through much better when she hears a tune. She listened, and played this new music. “Andrew said, ‘You sound like a Cajun fiddler!'” He gave her some CDs, including one of his father playing the fiddle.

She studied. A self-described music nerd, Annie delved into this new genre, learning the tunes and matching the phrasing. She nailed it. “Andrew got so excited. He said, ‘You sound just like my father!’ I was pretty much in the band from that point forward.” She loves playing with this band. “Everybody in the AllStars is really good. I feel fortunate to be a part of that group. They are cool. Good people. Really good musicians. They have all been playing professionally for many many years.” There is close to fifty years difference in Andrew and Annie’s ages, and it doesn’t matter.

Annie describes just what I have been noticing about this musical community. “Everyone’s story is so interesting. We all come from different backgrounds, but it all melts away. Music, and this community, transcends age, background, race. If you personally don’t care about that stuff, it doesn’t matter at all. I’ve made all these friends through music who I would never have met in daily life. Music has brought us together, and I’ve made really close friends. I love that!”

I do too.

*The Cajun AllStars: Andrew Carriere (accordion and vocals), Mitch Polzak (guitar and vocals), Billy Wilson (steel guitar and vocals), Annie Staninec (fiddle), Steve Strauss (5 string bass and vocals), David “Killer” Hymowitz (drums), Jim Scott (rubboard)

The Cajun AllStars will return to Ashkenaz on February 18th. You can see Annie Staninec’s upcoming schedule here.

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1 Comment

  1. Wonderful story and lovely images Dorothy.

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