Randy Stein - English Concertina
4 min readOct 21, 2021

When I was about 5 or 6 years old my grandfather bought me a pair of red suspenders which I loved to wear. To this day I primarily wear braces or suspenders, owning a dozen or more but maybe only two belts. I was disappointed when wearing braces became the rage and I was suddenly “in fashion”. Something I always eschewed.

In my preteen years I liked wearing turtleneck shirts because they were not only warm but made me feel cool like the early 1960s TV Detectives sans the handgun and leggy blondes. I would wear them under a long sleeve shirt with corduroy jeans held up by my suspenders. When the weather became warmer I would wear a mock turtleneck dickie for comfort and to still look cool. By my teen years I was back to tees and over washed jeans. Still wore suspenders though.

When I was performing as an acrobatic clown in the Big Apple Circus, my costume was custom made. It was colorful and silly but tailored so as not to impede my ability to do the required handsprings and flips when performing. I wore red suspenders with the pants. An homage to my grandfather.

from the book Big Apple Circus. photo by Peter Angelo Simon

When I started playing my EC in cafes and restaurants I wanted to take on a more dignified persona and often wore suit pants and matching buttoned vest with a thin colorful tie that was all the rage in the 70s. My former circus and musical partner, Joey Bello, had a wonderfully dramatic dark maroon balloon sleeved shirt he lent me to wear to a gig that I ended up with when he returned to Chicago. That shirt became my go to for almost every gig I played. Its look gave me versatility by merely accessorizing with a leather vest and cap or a scarf and beret to fit the particular musical venue. I would hand wash it every Sunday evening. It lasted me several years before finally fraying into oblivion.

Before Boris Matueswitch passed away he had me practicing violin etudes as well as several classical violin pieces: Brahms, Vivaldi, Bach, a few by Kreisler, and Melodies by Gluck and Massenet. His brother Sergei continued my studies and added many more violin pieces. I was spending hours a day practicing and learning. My weekly sessions at the small Broadway music studio with Sergei became a focal point for me. One week, Sergei had me purchase the music for Bach and Vivaldi Double Violin Concertos. In addition to the already steady diet of current pieces, I was now practicing even more complicated Baroque duet music. Lessons were spent playing my etudes, solo pieces, and now duets. They were focused and he became at times a taskmaster requiring perfection in meter and dynamics.

Every year Sergei performed in recital at Lincoln Center in NYC at Alice Tully Hall. In addition to playing the EC, Sergei was an accomplished classical accordionist and a marvel to watch and listen when he played. One year he asked me to join his program performing the Bach Double Violin Concerto in D minor. Written for two violins and piano accompaniment we would perform on two ECs. Of course, I agreed and was thrilled.

I would need to buy a tuxedo.

I went to a couple of department stores to look for a tux. I plotzed at the cost. The salesman at Altman’s Department Store suggested I check out stores on Orchard or Canal Street where discount stores and Big Lot off brands were available. So, I spent the weekend in and out of various clothing and specialty discount clothing stores in lower Manhattan. Even then pricing seemed beyond what I wanted or could afford to pay. After all, I never spent more than a hundred dollars or less on a suit on sale or ten dollars on a pair of pants. On Orchard Street I finally fell into a place where the sign above the door said Men’s Fine Clothing Discount. Three Hasidic men with the threads of their tallit katan dangling below their beltlines sat inside. I walked in telling them I was looking for a cheap tuxedo.

“How cheap” the eldest of the three men asked.

I had learned how to answer by now: “Cheapest you have without looking cheap.”

He asked if it was for a wedding, and I explained I was playing a recital at Lincoln Center and needed to look the part.

“A costume then” he said. And he showed me a cheap shiny polyester black tuxedo, still at a cost of close to $125.

I was at a loss. I turned and left. I just started walking back uptown. I was walking up Broadway when I found myself in front of one of my favorites used clothing stores, Cheap Jacks. I purchased some really cool shirts and gently worn jeans from there. I even bought a full length men’s cashmere winter coat by British designer for $11. Wore it for years.

Cheap Jacks on Lower Broadway

I walked around until I came upon a rack of tuxedos. I tried several on until I found one that wasn’t too worn and close to my size. I also found a cummerbund and a couple of ties. Price: $36 everything included. I spent another $25 at the local tailor near me and $4 on dry cleaning. I bought a new white dress shirt on Canal Street at a discount store. A few weeks later I walked onstage at Lincoln Center.

I played better than I looked. And I think I looked pretty good.



Randy Stein - English Concertina

Randy Stein is a classically trained musician and recording artist who plays and performs internationally on the English Concertina. Website: