Our Story

Musette Explosion is a trio from New York City featuring Will Holshouser (accordion), Matt Munisteri (guitar) and Marcus Rojas (tuba). In this very special band they bring the beautiful Parisian musette style to new places through virtuosic improvisation and original pieces, sonic surprises and adventurous playing, shot through with a sense of fun and an emotional depth.

Marcus, Matt and Will keep busy backing up some of the world’s foremost artists (Regina Carter, Paul Simon, Catherine Russell, Steven Bernstein, Henry Threadgill, Mark O’Connor, David Krakauer, and others). Over the last fifteen years, they’ve indulged in a labor of love: exploring the beautiful and challenging French musette repertoire. Their debut album was featured in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air in November 2014 and spent a week on Billboard's "Jazz Albums" chart. In 2015, they played at Monterey Jazz Festival, Chautauqua Institution's Logan Chamber Music Series, San Antonio's International Accordion Festival, and Djangofest Northwest, among other places.
Some background: Paris in the early 20th century was a cosmopolitan melting pot, like New Orleans or New York. A true “musette explosion,” musical and cultural, was taking place. Paris was “in the throes of explosive growth as poor migrants flocked in. Where people of all classes rubbed shoulders, places of amusement multiplied … Cafés, clubs, brothels, and dance halls were the crucibles in which were forged new musical forms" (according to Didier Roussin, musette historian and guitarist). The original bagpipes (“musettes”) of the French Auvergnats were replaced by the Italians’ accordions, but gave their name to the new style of music; Roma guitarists and violinists brought in Eastern European and Spanish influences; American GIs introduced jazz, the banjo, and drums. German and Polish waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas were also in the air. This trio, with its unique instrumentation, continues the “explosion” in our era through its new interpretations, sonic surprises, and original compositions.

from the liner notes ...

Matt Munisteri and I got hooked on French musette back in the 1990s. We loved the dark beauty and thrilling virtuosity of the old records by Gus Viseur, Jo Privat, the Ferret brothers, Tony Murena and the other great accordion and guitar masters. Their music was passionate and sweet, but played with a fierce edge – like jazz. The exquisite "swing waltzes" were French dance hall tunes written under the spell of American jazz, which was all the rage in France from the 1920s to the 1950s. So while the music was new to our ears, there was much in it that was familiar.
As we began playing some musettes, we found ourselves emphasizing the American (or African-American) side of the music's family history: rhythm, swing, and improvisation. Rather than reenacting the old records, we followed the music as it led us somewhere: the simple harmonies and perfectly structured forms of musette were fun to improvise on, and that became a path to finding our own interpretations. Our intent was not to reconstruct or deconstruct the repertoire, but to play it in our own way, with our own voices, while keeping the melodies, rhythms, and proportions that give the music its beautiful flow more or less intact.
We took a major step along this path when Marcus Rojas joined the band on tuba -- which is not part of the traditional musette ensemble. In his virtuosic hands, the tuba can play the role of bass, horn, bird call, or whale song, adding a whole range of possibilities. Matt's absolutely unique early jazz rhythm guitar expertise and blistering, adventurous solos kept the engines humming. Accordion is traditionally the lead instrument in musette and it was a thrill for me to play this role, learning these challenging melodies and improvising on them, while trying to emulate the old accordionists who were as expressive as any lead singer. We brought in ideas from our work as side musicians in jazz, pop, and classical music but kept our arrangements simple so there would be plenty of freedom to improvise. Musette became a gateway to an exciting way of playing as a trio. I wrote three new tunes to bring some more of our own sound to the mix, not swing waltzes per se, but pieces inspired by the luminous style and smoldering emotions of musette.
We owe a special word of thanks to our friend Scott Lehrer for convincing us to finally get this band into the studio and for engineering and advising brilliantly. It wouldn't have happened without his artistry and expertise. 
-- Will Holshouser

The Band

WILL HOLSHOUSER began playing accordion in the late 1980s when a friend gave him a musty old squeezebox as a surprise. He now performs all over the world as an accordionist, improviser and composer. Will has played for many years with violinist Regina Carter and appears on her last two albums. He has toured and recorded with clarinetist David Krakauer, pop visionaries Antony and the Johnsons, and improvisers Han Bennink & Michael Moore. As a freelance accordionist, he has appeared on a wide range of recordings and live concerts. He has played with Kiran Ahluwalia, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Uri Caine, Suzanne Vega, Andy Statman, NYC Ballet, NYC Opera, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the Raymond Scott Orchestrette, among many others. Will’s trio with trumpeter Ron Horton and bassist David Phillips has released three CDs of his music on the Portuguese label Clean Feed; he has also composed music for theater, films, and dance. He studied accordion for many years with Dr. William Schimmel in New York. 
Tuba player MARCUS ROJAS has played in a wide variety of musical contexts and is internationally recognized as one of the most accomplished and unique voices on his instrument. He has worked with artists ranging from David Byrne and Paul Simon to the Metropolitan Opera, downtown luminaries such as John Zorn and Marc Ribot, reggae stars Sly & Robbie, and jazz legends Lionel Hampton and Lester Bowie. Marcus was a central figure in composer Henry Threadgill's ensembles throughout the 1990s and collaborated with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and guitarist David Tronzo in the trio Spanish Fly. He has appeared on hundreds of recordings from the labels Black Saint, Tzadik, Sony, Shanachie, Thirsty Ear, and many more.
Growing up, guitarist/banjoist MATT MUNISTERI was the only kid on his block in Brooklyn who played bluegrass banjo; a freewheeling and virtuosic guitarist, he currently gets to work with a wide variety of artists at the top of their game across the jazz and American roots music spectrum. When not working on his own projects his primary sideman gigs for the last few years have been playing with violinist Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing; Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra; and with the singer Catherine Russell, for whom he also currently serves as Music Director. Matt’s debut CD “Love Story” wound up on several critics’ “Best Of” lists, and garnered the number two slot on Amazon’s Top Ten Jazz CDs of The Year (2003). Matt has been featured on France’s ARTE television, profiled in Downbeat magazine, honored with Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s Editor’s Choice award, and been the subject of several broadcasts on NPR. He has also recorded with Holly Cole, Madeline Peyroux, Liz Wright, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Geoff Muldaur, Sasha Dobson, and Kat Edmondson. Matt was a key player on Loudon Wainwright‘s 2010 Grammy-winning CD High Wide and Handsome – The Charlie Poole Project, to which he contributed arrangements, guitar, and 5-string banjo. He is credited on over 70 CDs, including new releases by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and guitarist Howard Alden. 
Photos above by Reuben Radding, Gary Geer, Seth Jacobsen.