Jody Kruskal is a New Yorker who loves his concertina; in fact he
lives and breathes it. He is a warm and engaging entertainer, his
material ranges from witty to gritty an all of ‘life, love and
death’ in between. Being from the other side of the pond does not
prevent you from sampling his unique style - he loves to perform
over here and makes an extended annual visit, covering many folk
What started you on this path and when?
My path started the day I was born, perhaps before. I’ve been
a singer since infancy. My mother often told this story about
my childhood days… if she was wondering where
little Jody had gotten himself to, she would just stop
and listen for the singing to locate me. She often had her
chamber music club over to practice. I would make a nice comfy
nest under the baby grand piano and drift off to sleep,
humming along to the strains of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. My
mother and I would play “guess the composer” at breakfast,
listening to WFMT, our local classical music radio
My early music education was through singing with the Chicago
Children’s Choir for twelve formative years as a kid. We
were perfectionists, performing spirituals and gospel,
hymns and carols, classical, opera and gems of
20th century modern choral music. I was a 2nd alto.
That’s the bass voice in a four part treble choir. Without
question, my youthful work with this excellent choir fostered
an early instinctive harmonic sense and an ability to hear
chord changes in my head, all through singing the bass
lines and root notes of a wide-ranging repertoire of
As the youngest of three brothers, I also soaked up the music
my siblings loved… Broadway classics, Gilbert and
Sullivan, pop, rock, folk and the morris dance tunes my
brother Tom played on the Anglo concertina. As a young
composer and music student in college, on a whim... I gave
Tom’s concertina a go and was instantly smitten by the power of
the bellows driven expressions that tumbled out and the
responsive dynamics of his cute little squeezebox. It played
loud, it played soft and everything in-between, all driven by
the merest impulse and gesture. I was hooked, and had to
have one of those squeezy things for my very own. My first tune
was Shepard’s Hey.
do you hail from?
I grew up in Chicago but I’ve lived in Brooklyn, NY for 30
yourself in 5 words.
Compose, Perform, Produce, Teach, Learn
are you on the journey?
At 60, I’ve had a rather unconventional and creative music
carrier. It has not been a single straight path but
rather multiple ways that sometimes converge or
cross-pollinate or double back on themselves.
My first professional music gig out of college was to write
and perform original songs and tunes for a puppet troupe, the
Mettawee River Company. That led to my work with numerous
theatre and dance productions as a composer, player and
musical director. I began inventing, building and playing
strange and unusual musical instruments for some of
these shows and formed my own “Public Works” orchestra of
invented new instruments. That led to decades of work
performing for children, teaching workshops on instrument
building, acoustics and composing at grade schools and family
camps as a visiting teaching artist.
While I was developing that teaching and performing carrier I
began writing and performing concert works for an Indonesian
gamelan called Son Of Lion and also a players and
instrument builders collective called Music For Homemade
Instruments. Many gigs and CD recordings later, I’m
still working with these same people.
The whole time this was happening, I never gave up my interest
and fascination with traditional music and the
Anglo concertina. I began playing tunes with friends,
then joined a Morris side, a sword team and a contra dance
band. The world of traditional dance music revealed itself to
me, tune by tune and now, I’ve played for thousands of dance
events in a variety of genres and styles.
What is your greatest achievement, thus
For decades, I had been searching for the right songs to sing
for an adult audience… old songs that I thought worthy
of reminder, repetition and revival.
This was a problem because I’m very picky. As a composer, I
suppose I could have written my own songs, but the ones
that really speak to me as a solo performer on the
concertina are American old time, rags, country blues and
songs from the early days of recorded music, novelty and
camp songs, tin pan alley, hokum and music hall, songs with
choruses… vintage songs that tell timeless old stories with
vivid characters, spicy language and compelling images,
songs that tickle my funny bone and delight my ear.
My big achievement in the past ten years is the discovery,
development, performance and recording of a repertoire of
rare old concertina songs that please myself and my
do you do it?
In 2006, I started to tour the UK, performing these songs in
folk clubs and festivals and I’ve returned every year since.
The English model of a singers club where the guest performer
leads the audience in group singing… this is rare in the US.
So I keep coming over to the UK where folks seem to enjoy
what I enjoy, a good sing and a fine old song that tells a
story and has a chorus.
are your influences and idols?
The Skillet Lickers and Bruce Molsky, Harry Partch and John
Cage, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, The Watersons and Coppers,
Billings, Beethoven, Frank Zappa and
the Playford Collections… to name a semi-random