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Accordion maestro & author Lorenzo Lucchesi ’19 provides both words and music

Lorenzo Lucchesi plays his accordion at North Beach restaurants and other venues. He also is the author of several books, including The Battle for North Beach, which tells the story of various groups that visit or call that area home.

Lorenzo Lucchesi ’19 is a polymath. A gifted musician, he is also a linguist and the author of three books with a fourth due out soon. In short, he is an anachronism and a paradox. He could have been happy living 40 years ago, and he is delighted to be alive right now.

Students and parents at SI know this 16-year-old as a virtuoso, as he performs in the SI orchestra playing bassoon parts on his accordion during the shows and strolling up down the aisles at intermission to entertain audiences.

He first decided to learn the accordion after seeing it on The Lawrence Welk Show, and he started playing in North Beach restaurants thanks to his father, Franco Lucchesi ’79, his cousin and godfather Graziano Lucchesi (owner of Caffe Puccini), and Francesco Nozolino, the owner of Ristorante Franchino. 

“The first time I played at a restaurant, I earned $250 in tips even though I only knew two songs by heart: O’ Sole Mio and Carnival of Venice,” said Lucchesi. “I played those songs over and over. I was 10 and ecstatic.”

Lucchesi said he put on weight early on “as the restaurants fed me lots of gnocchi. Francesco also liked it when I played, as he would hide his glass of Peroni behind my accordion case and fill it over and over for himself.”

He ventured beyond Italian venues, playing polkas in German and Polish restaurants. “I got kicked out of one German restaurant because of one jealous waitress who didn’t like all the tips coming my way. She convinced the owner that I had been begging for tips.”

Still, Lucchesi persisted and built up a following and positive reviews that appear on Yelp and Gigsalad.com. He honed his tableside patter to cater to his audience and began learning languages other than Spanish and Italian, which he grew up speaking. “I could sing Never on Sunday in Greek, and I began studying Hindi, as many of my clients are Indian and are used to hearing accordion music in Bollywood films.”

As he performs with the Sunset Youth Orchestra and for its Russian-born conductor, he has also learned some Russian. “I can play Red Army choir songs thanks to her,” said Lucchesi, who is also taking voice lessons to be able to sing opera.

He can play piano and the harmonica, but the accordion remains his favorite instrument. “It’s the only one that allows you to perform and still look at the faces of the people. A pianist looks at the keys and at the music and lacks that opportunity for engagement.”

The accordion also becomes a way to connect with audiences “as about half of those for whom I play have old accordions stuffed in closets. Those instruments may have been passed down through the generations, and accordion songs stir memories. Some will start sobbing when I play certain songs. One man celebrating his 75th birthday broke down when I played a polka number, as it reminded him of his family from the Midwest.”

He has played for local politicians and celebrities, including Scott Weiner, Aaron Peskin, Helen Marchese Owen and Tony Serra, and he even snagged a signed autograph from members of the Blue Angels. “I was walking around North Beach when I tripped and fell. The guys who picked me up were wearing military uniforms, and they gave me a photo of themselves.”

Hanging around places like Caffe Trieste led Lucchesi to start a new venture as a published author. “I’ve met poets who still identity with the Beat Generation. They buy a cup of coffee and sit all day taking up tables, preventing families from coming in and spending money. My book The Battle for North Beach explores this conflict.”

After the self-published book sold 300 copies, Lucchesi wrote American Advent in which he explored why some lifelong Democrats voted for Donald Trump. His third book came after meeting Bradley Haynes and his wife in North Beach. “He saw me with my accordion and asked, ‘Where’s the party?’ We spoke for a while, and I listened to his story about growing up as a child of African American parents in Detroit. We eventually co-wrote a book about his life. The title, Diarrhea of a Black Man, was his idea and came from a time when he told his wife that he wanted to keep a diary. She told him that he should keep a diarrhea instead and give audiences all the shit, the full story of his life,” said Lucchesi. 

He is working on his fourth book now, one about the Italians of Staten Island. “It’s the most Italian place in the U.S., but the only borough of New York I haven’t visited.” For his research, Lucchesi is cold-calling residents with Italian surnames and convincing them to tell their stories for his book. “There are many Italian grandmothers who sit next to their phones waiting for someone to call them.”

The favorite thing about being Italian, he added “is that we are hard-working people who take pride in our neighborhoods. We are known for our exquisite food and for our strong religious traditions. Being loved by an Italian family has affected me and inspired me to stay close to home, even in college.”

Ideally, Lucchesi hopes to study linguistics at Stanford and ready himself for a possible career in government. “What I’ve learned throughout my life is that everything is within my reach.”

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Monday April 2
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