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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