The makings of Giovanni: Edmonton’s accordion legend

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Tom Murray John and Jackie Giovanni Scivoletto, owners of Giovanni Music, recently closed the doors of the music shop and art gallery they have run in Edmonton for 53 years. John and Jackie Giovanni Scivoletto, owners of Giovanni Music, recently closed the doors of the music shop and art gallery they have run in Edmonton for 53 years. Photo by Ed Kaiser /20092945A

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He’s long since taken his place as a musical icon in Edmonton, but John Scivoletto still feels bad about what he did to his parents as a kid.

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“Oh, it was terrible,” complains the 82-year-old accordionist and businessman, better known to the Edmontonians as John Giovanni, with a touch of humor. “I used to practice scales and chords and other things around the house. It must have been terrible for them. “

Giovanni, who recently closed the music store that bears his stage name in three different locations after 53 years, is having a bit of fun. After all, it was his father who encouraged his youngest son to play the instrument at home in Modica, Sicily, and during the family’s four-year stay in Belgium. When they came to Edmonton around 1955, Giovanni was already a musical scholar and won silver and gold medals in various European schools.

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John and Jackie Giovanni Scivoletto, owners of Giovanni Music, recently closed the doors of the music shop and art gallery they have run in Edmonton for 53 years. John and Jackie Giovanni Scivoletto, owners of Giovanni Music, recently closed the doors of the music shop and art gallery they have run in Edmonton for 53 years. Photo by Ed Kaiser /20092945A

The accordion was always on his mind, even when helping with the family finances. He took English lessons in evening school while serving in the Misericordia dishwashing service; After the hospital’s chief baker quit, he asked to take the job and would arrive at 5 a.m. every morning to learn how to make pastries. In between he practiced on his Squeezebox and found time to both teach and do a few radio and television appearances, enough to get seasoned and older musicians noticed across town.

“I got pretty popular,” says Giovanni. “On Saturday afternoons there was a show with a gentleman named Louis Biamonte who had a big band, four horns, and Glenn Miller arrangements. He was known as an Italian cowboy and asked me to play as a soloist. After that I was able to get dozens of shows, including one with Tommy Banks. I slept very little, I was so busy. “

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His skills with the accordion were such that he received several inquiries outside of his normal musical zone.

“When I was 17 or 18, I was asked by a Ukrainian band that needed an accordionist to play a gig,” he says. “I said yes, I would like to, so we drove a car to the gig out of town. It was so cold and snowy and no one came. Nobody! I got home at 1am and my father was so upset that he told the band to never come back. “

It was a popular attraction in the city in the 1960s, with one journalist of the day describing its sound as “mood music with a Mediterranean flair”, while another described its unique chordal approach as that of an “accordi organ”. Adaptable to any environment, Giovanni and his band took over the Brass Lantern at the Coachman Inn, where they were used every two weeks by a different musical guest from the city as their own backing band. He stormed up with his own trio and signed long contracts to play six nights a week in places like the Hearth and Hound Room of the Hotel MacDonald and the penthouse in the Sheraton caravan.

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“On Fridays and Saturdays, you couldn’t get into the penthouse without a reservation, it was so popular,” he recalls. “In 1967 it was pure dance music there. We got a great sound out of this trio, and I was good at getting organ sounds out of the accordion. I could basically play anything. “

A trademark

In 1968 he and his wife Jacqueline opened their first Giovanni Music Store on Stony Plain Road, offering both musical instruments and lessons in one place.

“We bought and renovated an old building that was used by a church for services on Sunday,” recalls Giovanni. “At that point, I was out and about for more than 12 hours a day. Before that, I had to teach in different places all over the city, it was tough. “

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Fortunately for Giovanni, he was in a good place to practice his trade as both a salesman and a teacher. While San Francisco was feeling the hangover of the Summer of Love and London was still in the midst of the psychedelic rock movement, Edmonton had a craving for the accordion.

“I’ve worked with so many students,” says Giovanni, igniting the topic. “Back then, many wanted to learn the accordion.”

In 1972, business was so good that they demolished and rebuilt the old building and rented the additional space to other companies. When Phase 1 of the West Edmonton Mall opened in the mid-1980s, they took a leap of faith and moved in to ultimately secure the deal with Yamaha that allowed them to run their business with the largest number of pianos in Edmonton. It was now the 1990s; Accordions were out, guitars, DJs, and keyboards in, and Giovanni had largely shifted from making music to overseeing his shop.

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Yes, THAT Pavarotti

Except for a small gig with a singer named Pavarotti.

“Oh, that was fantastic,” said Giovanni about the 1995 show at Rexall Place, where he added a few accordion flourishes to the opera legend’s only appearance in Edmonton. “I was a little nervous playing an intro in front of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Pavarotti. I was more used to playing a whole show, not just the beginning and the end. But it was great. ”

Giovanni and his family made one final leap in 2011 when they exited West Edmonton Mall and constructed their own building in its final location on Mayfield Road. However, he saw retirement looming on the horizon, and when rival music store Long & McQuade reached out to Giovanni five years ago, he decided to take their offer for the building. On March 31, he said goodbye to the company he had built for five decades.

The question arises: now that Giovanni has all this free time, will Giovanni go back to his beginnings and lead an accordion revival in Edmonton?

“I actually thought about it,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I’m not going to play shows, but I can at least practice for my own enjoyment. Maybe I’ll play a tune or two for the grandchildren. “

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