Strike up the Band! Young polka players revive accordion

8 min read
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Katherine Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

Kevin Solecki, a Grammy-nominated accordionist who owns Carnegie Accordion, sells his own brand of the instrument and plays some of the most renowned brands. Solecki also offers private lessons.

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Katherine Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

Michigan native Kevin Solecki moved to the Pittsburgh region to follow his dream of being an accordionist. Now, the Grammy nominee sells his own accordion brand, offers private lessons and travels the world doing what he loves: making music.

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Katherine Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

The accordion was in the 1960s and ‘70s upstaged by guitar, but is enjoying a resurgence, thanks in part to local and national musicians. Advances in technology allow folks to play digital accordions that emulate a variety of instrument sounds, but many still prefer the traditional hand piano, shown here.

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Katherine Mansfield/Observer-Reporter

The accordion is part of many cultures, but best known in Southwestern Pennsylvania as the sound of Polish polkas.

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Courtesy of Garrett Tatano

The Garrett Tatano Band, led by Tatano, center, is one of the youngest, nationally acclaimed accordion-playing groups and often referred to as the “future of polka.”

Everything old is new again, and the accordion – that fantastical hand-piano that merrily belts melodies and harmonies all at once – is making a comeback, led by artists globally and musicians locally.

“Accordions are popping up more now, in different types of music,” said Grammy-nominated accordionist Kevin Solecki, who owns Carnegie Accordion Company in downtown Carnegie. “It’s not as popular as it was back in the day, back in the ’50s and ’60s, but it’s more popular than you might think.”

The usual suspects (Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys and Bruce Springsteen) featured the accordion in their music way back when. But younger artists have hopped aboard the accordion bandwagon: Dropkick Murphys, They Might Be Giants, Twenty One Pilots and even Shakira have incorporated the instrument in their work.

Accordions are striking up a chord with local musicians, too, including Solecki, a Michigan transplant who’s played alongside Harry Connick, Jr. and appeared on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” in January, and The Garrett Tatano Band, a polka group founded last year by the titular bandleader.

“The accordion is my outlet for everything, and it has been for many years,” said Tatano, a Canon-McMillan graduate who has played accordion since he was little. “My mom’s side of the family is Polish, my dad’s side of the family is Italian. Both of my grandfathers played accordion. From a very young age, I was exposed to polka music. I was very intrigued; I thought it was the coolest instrument.”

When piano lessons didn’t pan out, Tatano expressed interest in the accordion. His grandfathers got wind of the young boy’s musical aspiration.

“They got me an accordion, they found me a teacher. I started taking lessons, actually on my seventh birthday,” he said, noting he studied under Solecki. “If I’m stressed, I play the accordion. If I’m in a sour mood, I play the accordion. It’s a way for me to be able to express myself. It’s part of me now. I have a connection and a bond that I think is going to be with me the rest of my life.”

Now in his 20s, Tatano has already lived a musically charmed life. The Canonsburg native landed his first professional accordion gig during his sophomore year with the nationally acclaimed Jack Tady Band.

Tady, a National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award winner and the 1968 Western Pennsylvania Polka King, often invited Tatano onstage at area events to play with the band.

“Jack was asked to perform on the “Mollie B. Polka Party,” which is a polka TV show. Jack asked me to play on the TV show with him. That following summer, I continued to play every single gig with Jack,” Tatano said. “That was really the first time I was getting a significant amount of pay and attention.”

One summer Sunday, Tady handed Tatano an official band tee and invited the high school junior to replace lead accordionist Brian O’Boyle, who was moving to Cleveland.

“From that point until pretty much the end of 2021, I was Jack’s lead accordionist,” said Tatano.

In high school, Tatano’s friends and acquaintances joked the accordion was an old man’s instrument. But when the Big Mac band member invited buddies out to polka concerts, Tatano caught their toes tapping to the beat.

“I have noticed, especially with my band, when we invite people out … people are enjoying it. I’ve had people reach out to me that might have seen us in the last few months. (They ask) when are you going to be in the area again? These are not polka people,” Tatano laughed. “They came out to support us and now they’re enjoying the music.”

That’s Tatano’s goal: To introduce a younger generation to the lighthearted sounds of polka.

“When you are listening to polka music, it is impossible to not smile. Even if you don’t know the songs and you don’t know the lyrics, it’s happy music,” Tatano said. “We want to continue playing throughout our lifetime. We’re going to have to get some people in the younger age brackets interested.”

The Garrett Tatano Band is comprised of musicians who fall into that younger age bracket. In fact, the band – described by the Slovene National Benefit Society and other organizations and media outlets as “the future of polka music” – is one of the youngest around.

Members include Tatano and bass guitarist Logan Watson, who Tatano has known since 2011, when the pair met at the Button Box Bash in Strabane. Tatano has also known banjo, guitar and vocalist Anthony Paposky since high school, and met drummer Phil Yan at a festival in 2014. Tatano discovered his saxophone, clarinet and vocalist Vince Filippelli through mutual polka world acquaintances.

None of the band members are older than 25. All hail from Southwestern Pennsylvania and nearby-ish polka cities.

“We all have full-time jobs, except for Vince, because he’s still in high school. Everyone else is in their 20s. The first time we performed together as a full band (was at) Battle of the Polka Stars of Tomorrow. They had bands that were at least led by young musicians,” said Tatano. “My band was the only band led by and comprised of young musicians. We did end up winning, which kind of shoved us into the spotlight.”

Since that 2021 show, The Garrett Tatano Band has appeared at prominent national and local festivals, including the Canonsburg Oktoberfest Sept. 17. The band is looking forward to performing at the 58th Annual Polka Hall of Fame Thanksgiving Polka Party Weekend in Cleveland this November, and will appear at the Illinois Polkafest in Schaumburg next February.

In between national polka parties, The Garrett Tatano Band is booked for private events, and will continue practicing and experimenting together as a group.

“The first time we got up on that stage … you could kind of tell that when five young guys got up on stage, there were some looks being exchanged,” Tatano said.

A few minutes into the song, “people were up on their feet,” said the lead accordionist. “It was overwhelming. I teared up. It was literally my dream coming true in that moment. To get up on stage at this competition and just blow people away was just absolutely incredible. One of the most fabulous moments in my memory.”

Solecki understands the pure joy of performing, and is not surprised that Southwestern Pennsylvania is where polka music is trending younger.

“Pittsburgh is a very ethnic city, the melting pot of so many different nationalities, and the accordion is representative of so many different nationalities, whether it be Slovenian, Polish, Irish, Italian, French, German,” Solecki said. “It’s definitely a popular ethnic instrument and, going hand-in-hand with all the ethnicities here in Pittsburgh, you know, it makes sense that the accordion is pretty popular around here.”

The accordion’s popularity peaked in the 1950s, when Dick Contino was as big a name as Elvis Presley (it’s rumored Elvis, five years Contino’s junior, “borrowed” the accordionist’s The Pelvis).

While Elvis, The Beatles and Eric Clapton, to name a few, made the guitar center stage in the 1960s and ’70s, accordionists and their music faded from the limelight.

“We went through this period where people would make a mockery of this instrument,” Solecki said.

But now, thanks in part to internationally and locally famous artists proudly playing accordions and advances in technology, the instrument is taking center stage once again.

“Now that you can customize them, that’s getting people back into, interested in the accordion. The different designs and the colors that you can get, whether it’s something bright (or) a classic look – I think that really resonates with the younger crowd,” said Solecki, who sells his own brand of accordions, Solloni Accordions, online and at Carnegie Accordion. “The fact, too, that there are digital accordions out there. There’s no reeds in them; there’s built-in speakers. Everything’s self-contained. The electric accordion, it’s just lightweight, top-of-the-line technology … kind of crosses both borders between young and old. It’s really neat.”

Recently, a gentleman dropped into Carnegie Accordions to shop around.

“He’s doing something special here,” said the visitor, who in his younger years himself played accordion in Canonsburg and surrounding areas.

The accordion’s resurgence certainly is something special, something to dance about.

For Solecki’s tour dates, visit

To follow The Garrett Tatano Band, go to


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