Called “The hippest cat ever to Swing an accordion”, Art Van Damme was born in the small town of Norway, Michigan in 1920. The 40’s and 50’s saw the classically trained Van Damme revolutionize the way the accordion was played, removing it from its stereotyped role as a polka playmate; in 1947 Van Damme made the cover of the prestigious jazz magazine Downbeat and was voted “Top Accordionist” 10 years in a row. He starred on such popular American TV programs as “Today”, “The Dinah Shore Show”, and “The Tonight Show”, and toured Europe some 40 times. With his decision to combine guitar and vibes with accordion, Van Dam’s groups developed a unique sound early-on. His recordings with MPS were some of his best, given the company’s predilection of allowing the musicians a free hand. As one reviewer put it, Van Damme played “…right-hand runs with a velocity and lightness of touch that defied the presumed limitations of the instrument, consistently emphasizing the lyric contours of a melodic phrase rather than the lightning technical flourishes that led up to it.”
The 1966 With Art Van Damme in San Francisco was the first of some 16 recordings Van Damme would make with Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer’s MPS. As had become his habit at this point in his career when he was on the road, the Chicago-centered Van Damme played with a local rhythm section. In this case, he picked the cream of the San Fran crop, musicians who had worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, Nat “King” Cole, and Benny Goodman. And with vibes player John Ray and guitarist Paul Miller joining Van Damme on the front line, Van Damme’s signature sound is intact. There’s a tasty mix of 12 standards and originals, with sizzling up-tempo versions of Old Black Magic and Runnin’ Wild. Van Damme runs virtuoso arpeggios on a beautiful interpretation of the ballad Here’s that Rainy Day, and he smokes a solo on the medium tempo early bop classic Robbin’s Nest. Two Van Damme originals grace the set, the minor key Ode to Cleavage with its mysterioso feel, and the jazzy Playing Around with the Blues. Van Damme plays with combination of virtuosity and economy, saying what he wants to say and not a note more.