Jerry O'Brien's Accordion Instructor

Accordion Instructor for the Irish-Style Accordion

Jerry O'Brien's Accordion Instructor for the 10-Key and 19-Key Irish-Style Accordion: Containing a Selection of Irish Jigs, Reels, Hornpipes, Polkas, Highland Flings and Waltzes / Arranged for Accordion, Violin, Flute, Bagpipes and Banjo by Jerry O'Brien. Roxbury, Massachusetts: E. O'Byrne DeWitt's Sons, 1949

Accordion player Jerry O’Brien, a native of Kinsale, Co Cork, came to Boston in 1921, and as accordionist with the recording group O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels was a leading exponent and teacher of Irish music in the city. In 1928 he also made one solo 78 rpm recording for the Columbia company of New York before the Great Depression of 1929 brought most Irish-American recording to a halt. In a period of rising prosperity after the Second World War he began recording solo again, this time for the Irish-American Copley label of Boston, and also in duet with a young local star pupil Joe Derrane. The Copley label had been set up in 1948 by Justus O’Byrne DeWitt, son of an Ellen O’Byrne DeWitt who had been involved in the recording industry in New York since 1916. O’Brien also designed for the company the O’Byrne DeWitt Irish Professional Accordion.

The success of O’Brien and Derrane’s Copley recordings gave rise to two Boston book publications by E. O'Byrne DeWitt's Sons, both compiled by Jerry O’Brien and with a repertory heavily influenced by gramophone records. The first was his accordion tutor and tune book of 1949 from which the tunes are reproduced on the left, and for which James Morrison’s 1931 tutor for the Globe accordion (see here), an instrument which O’Brien had played, was doubtless an exemplar. O’Brien’s second publication was an Irish tune book of 1952 from which the tunes are reproduced here.

This tutor is primarily for the two-row accordion in D and C sharp, i.e., one of the two ‘press-and-draw’ systems used by accordion players in the Irish tradition. The system taught here (sometimes known among players as the ‘outside-in’ system) is now virtually obsolete, but it is still played by a very loyal minority of players of the Irish accordion. Prominent current players include Joe Derrane of Boston, whose music is featured in the book. The music and the musical ethos embodied in the tutor is, however, still very much alive in the Irish tradition today, thanks largely to its successful revival by the group De Danann in the 1980s.

These tunes were set from a copy of Jerry O’Brien’s tutor kindly donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive in 1989 by accordion player Frank Murphy of Syracuse, New York.

NC, TH & JS, 23 May 2013

Tunes in this collection