Frank Marocco, 81, was “Ratatouille” accordionist

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Frank Marocco

Frank Marocco

Jazz accor­dion­ist Frank Marocco, one of the world’s most recorded accor­dion play­ers, died Sat­ur­day at his home in California’s San Fer­nando Val­ley. He was 81.

He had been hos­pi­tal­ized ear­lier at Cedars-Sinai Med­ical Cen­ter in Los Ange­les for com­pli­ca­tions fol­low­ing hip replace­ment surgery, his daugh­ter Cyn­thia said.

Marocco played accor­dion and musette in the 2007 Pixar Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios movie Rata­touille.

Who was squeez­ing the bel­lows as Remy and his bud­dies took over the kitchen at Gusteau’s? Sure enough, it was the hardest-working accor­dion­ist in Hol­ly­wood, Frank Marocco,” accor­dion­ist Chris Sac­cheri wrote on his Let’s Polka weblog that year.

Marocco played an accor­dion solo on “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” a song in Blue Sky Stu­dios’ Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs(2009).

His accor­dion was heard on hun­dreds of movie sound­tracks, record­ings, musi­cal the­ater, TV series and spe­cials, com­mer­cials, video games and theme park music. He worked with dozens of com­posers, includ­ing Henry Mancini, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Elmer Bern­stein and Michel Legrand.

Using the accor­dion to play jazz is a rar­ity, but Marocco embraced the prac­tice. “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,” he told the Los Ange­les Times in 2000.

Frank’s play­ing 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,” said gui­tarist Larry Koonse, who worked often with Marocco, includ­ing on his lat­est CD. “And the warmth he exhib­ited in his play­ing was mir­rored by the kind­ness he exhib­ited as a human being.”

Frank L. Marocco was born in Joliet, Illi­nois on Jan­u­ary 2, 1931 and grew up in the town of Waukegan, a sub­urb of Chicago. When he was seven years old, his par­ents enrolled him in a six-week trial pro­gram on the accordion.

His first instruc­tor, George Ste­fani, was a source of inspi­ra­tion to him. Marocco stud­ied with him for nine years. His train­ing was in the clas­sics, but his teacher encour­aged him to explore other areas: he played the piano and the clar­inet; he stud­ied music the­ory, har­mony and con­duct­ing; and he was a mem­ber of his high school band.

The next year, he stud­ied with the leg­endary Andy Rizzo, a mas­ter teacher who has influ­enced many of the accor­dion artists in the United States.

At 17, Marocco took first place in a national music con­test, per­form­ing his win­ning solo with the Chicago Pops Orches­tra for a huge crowd at Chicago’s Soldier’s Field.

This might have encour­aged him to see a full-time career in music. He formed a trio which went on tour in sev­eral Mid­west­ern states. Dur­ing his trav­els, he met his future wife, Anne, in South Bend, Indi­ana. Together they decided to head west to make their home in the Los Ange­les area.

Marocco orga­nized a new group which toured the hotel and club cir­cuit of Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs. But Hol­ly­wood was beck­on­ing. Being close to the movie and the TV stu­dios offered oppor­tu­ni­ties never avail­able in the Mid­west. He was launched on an unbe­liev­able career — the list of his cred­its is endless.

High­lights included trav­el­ing with Bob Hope vis­it­ing the ser­vice­men in many coun­tries, and being fea­tured on the Les Brown Band, includ­ing six Love Boat cruises. More recently, he was very busy with stu­dio work: movie sound­tracks, TV movies, TV series, records and adver­tis­ing jin­gles. Along the way, he man­aged to find time to com­pose and arrange both jazz and clas­si­cal music.

In 2006, Marocco received a Life­time Achieve­ment Award from the Amer­i­can Accor­dion­ists’ Asso­ci­a­tion. Nom­i­nated for eight con­sec­u­tive eight for the Record­ing Academy’s Most Valu­able Player Award, he received the award in 1985 and 1986. He was inducted into the Accor­dion Hall of Fame in Vicenza, Italy in 2000.

Frank Marocco is sur­vived by his wife of 60 years, Anne; daugh­ters Cyn­thia, Vene­tia and Lisa; and eight grandchildren.

Cyn­thia pur­sued a music career. She stud­ied the flute and, at 13, had the dis­tinc­tion of being the youngest player in the Amer­i­can Youth Sym­phony, a group of high school and col­lege musi­cians directed by Mehli Mehta.

Lisa, attracted to dance, became a pro­fes­sional pair skater and toured for sev­eral sea­sons with the Ice Capades. Vene­tia was a phys­i­cal ther­apy instruc­tor and is now a school teacher.

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