Frank Marocco dies at 81; jazz accordionist
Frank Marocco, a rare jazz accordionist, a first-call studio musician and one of the most recorded accordion players in the world, has died. He was 81.
Marocco died Saturday at his home in the San Fernando Valley, after having been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for complications following hip replacement surgery, according to his daughter Cynthia.
Marocco’s wide-ranging career embraced every genre of music. His accordion can be heard on hundreds of movie soundtracks, recordings, musical theater, television series and specials, commercials, video games and theme park music. The film, television and recording composers he’s worked with include Henry Mancini, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein, Michel Legrand and dozens of others.
But Marocco was always quick to describe jazz as his passion.
The accordion has almost never been viewed as a principal jazz instrument and was often reviled by jazz musicians as something appropriate only for German beer gardens and Argentine nightclubs. But Marocco spent a lifetime disputing the limitations of that view, bringing jazz authenticity to the many groups he began leading while still a teenager.
“Since I grew up listening to people like Zoot Sims and Charlie Parker, I play accordion like a jazz horn player, with horn-like lines,” Marocco told The Times in 2000.
He also applied his rich compositional skills to the sounds, the timbres and the harmonic textures he drew out of the accordion, banishing such dismissive labels as “squeeze box” and “organ grinder.”
As many critics and musicians observed, Marocco was a gifted musical artist who simply happened to play an unusual instrument.
“Frank’s playing,” said guitarist Larry Koonse, who worked frequently with Marocco, most recently on his latest CD, “was always so lyrical, warm and full of the kind of harmonic richness that just invited you to step in and participate in the beauty of the moment. There were no equals on his instrument. And the warmth he exhibited in his playing was mirrored by the kindness he exhibited as a human being.”
Frank L. Marocco was born Jan. 2, 1931, in Joliet, Ill., the eldest of six children, with a sister and four brothers. Growing up in the town of Waukegan, he began to take accordion lessons at age 7. He later added piano, clarinet, music theory and composition to his interests.
At 17 he was awarded a first-place prize in a Chicago music contest, winning a guest appearance at Soldiers Field with the Chicago Pops Orchestra, performing Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu on the accordion. For the next few years, he worked with a trio in the Midwest, where he met his future wife, Anne, in South Bend, Ind.
In 1959, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Marocco formed another band, concentrating on appearances in nightclubs and hotels in Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
By the mid-'60s, he had become well established as a studio player, valued for his technique as well as his versatility. The range of his hundreds of film score appearances reaches from such assignments as playing one of the two accordion parts in Maurice Jarre’s 1965 orchestral score for “Dr. Zhivago” to the more recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” pictures, for which he played accordion, bass accordion and musette.
His pop-oriented highlights included participation in the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album and Tracy Chapman’s “Crossroads.”
Marocco was also a busy composer, publishing study books for the accordion, as well as collections of his own diverse songs and compositions. Gifted with a wry sense of humor ,he often gave whimsical titles to his own works, among them “Bossame Mucho,” “Road to Marocco,” “I Got Rh-Rh-Rhythm” and “Samba de Van Nuys.”
The Frank Marocco Accordion Event, directed by Marocco, was held annually in Mesa, Ariz., bringing together accordionists from across the U.S. and Canada for three days of accordion-related seminars, rehearsals and performance.
Marocco received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Accordionists’ Assn. in 2006. He was nominated eight years in a row for the Recording Academy’s Most Valuable Player Award, receiving the Award in 1985 and 1986. And he was inducted into the Accordion Hall of Fame in Vicenza, Italy, in 2000.
Marocco is survived by his wife of 60 years, Anne; his daughters Cynthia, Venetia and Lisa; and eight grandchildren.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.