Culver Accordian Diva Draws Upon Music Knowledge
Any person who plays an instrument as multi-faceted as an accordion needs to know something about music. But few accordion players—or players of any kind—know as much about music as Culver City’s Gigi “Gee” Rabe.
An accordionist since 1975, Rabe, who is affectionately referred to as “L.A.’s Accordion Diva” sports a glittering resume, from winning national honors and playing in international folk festivals to contributing music for the “Young and the Restless” and the Disney ride “Toy Story.”
So its fitting that she would be one of the featured accordionists at the first Orange County Accordion Festival, aka as The Big Squeeze,” which will be held Sunday, October 11 at the Orange County Market Place in Costa Mesa..
And though the accordion is her instrument of choice, Rabe’s knowledge of music is far more extensive. She holds an M.A. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA, where she is a teaching associate, and has researched, lectured on and written papers on subjects ranging from Americana and subcultural music to Balkan and Caribbean music.
She draws on all of it in her accordion playing. She is as comfortable playing jazz and Argentinean tango as she is Bulgarian accordion music, blues or zydeco.
At the Festival, Rabe will do a blues music workshop at 12:30 p.m. and then perform with one of her several groups, Haberdashery a genre-defying chamber jazz ensemble based out of Los Angeles from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30. The ensemble plays tango, classical, jazz, folk, gypsy and French music with the precision of a chamber ensemble combined with the improvisational freedom of a jazz combo
Rabe was first exposed to the accordion when a door-to-door salesman knocked on her family’s home offering free trial music lessons. She took to the instrument instantly and, after pledging to her parents that she’d stick with it, they bought Rabe her first accordion. “I asked for pink, but had to settle for red,” she said.
At her first meeting with a prospective teacher, Rabe was given a test to determine her aptitude.
“I was given a score of 99.9.9% - not a perfect score because I played all the songs too fast.”
Shortly after learning to play, Rabe began competing in the Accordion Federation of North America music festivals, where she won the virtuoso and virtuoso jazz categories in 1984 and 1985.
Rabe trained as a Western classical musician with the intention of becoming a concert accordionist but thanks to her private teacher, Lavvy Hale, she began looking into other genres such as jazz and folk. That blossomed into an interest in all things music which will eventually lead her to finishing PhD work at UCLA, at which point this diva will also be a doctor.
Along with Rabe and Haberdashery, more than 40 other accordionists and musicians, ranging in ages 8 to 91 will showcase a variety of music styles to demonstrate the squeeze box’s versatility and cross cultural appeal.
A complete schedule for “The Big Squeeze” is available at www.ocmarketplace.com.