Randy Stein - English Concertina
5 min readJul 28, 2021

The Pink Tea Cup was a soul food restaurant in the West Village. Their salmon croquettes were an amazing meal. Breakfast was an abundance for the cost and your coffee cup was never empty. There was no better place to eat in all of NYC.

That is where I met my friend Everette. I jumped off the subway on Bleeker Street after playing an early evening at Mama Leone’s Italian Restaurant and trekked over through a cold January rain to have a coffee and piece of sweet potato pie before heading home. There were just a few people interspersed around various tables. I came in with my case in hand and sat down and ordered. As I took a sip from the small blue plastic cup of water, I heard someone say, “What’s in the box man?”

I turned around to see a large Black gentleman dressed in a white cook’s smock smoking the later half of a hand rolled cigarette.

“It’s a concertina” I said and figured that was enough information. I was cold wet and tired, and the waitress had brought over my coffee and pie.

“You don’t say” he said. “You play that somewhere?”

I really did not want to talk so I just nodded and kept eating. Everette was persistent. He walked over and sat down across from me. “What kind of music you play on that thing? Can I see it?”

Now, I do not like taking my instrument out of my case in unfamiliar places and situations. But something about this man’s easy inquisitive demeanor made it seem okay. Next thing I know I had everyone in the place around me and clapping to me playing a tarantella. I even got an extra piece of pie.

During the next couple of months, I ran into Everette more often and soon he would come over and we would hang out either at my apartment or if the weather was accommodating, around the corner at Washington Square Park. Slowly a trusting easy friendship grew as we shared stories about our past and how we perceived the present and future. The fact that Everette was a 6’5” Black man from Alabama and me a short White Jewish kid didn’t seem to matter. We both shared similar personal experiences. We both left home early in life and lit out on our own. Me, I went to join the circus and play music. Everette ended up spending 3 of a 5-year sentence in the state penitentiary in Alabama for “inciting a riot” during peaceful demonstrations in 1966 over access to voting. He wasn’t bitter. “At least” he said, “the state provided me to learn a trade. It’s how became a short order cook.”

One morning, walking from my small Village studio apartment to get a coffee and NY Times, I ran into Everett. We talked a few minutes and then he said to meet him with my concertina after his work. He was going to a party uptown at a friend’s cousin’s place. He also promised great food, drink, playing music, and “plenty to smoke”. Everything in me said not to go.

As a teenager I often refused to follow the better instincts which advised me not to follow certain persons or unknown situations. In some cases, it proved to be a memorable adventure. In most, however, I ended up in trouble, injured, and once arrested but released once my parents arrived to pick me up and made me promise never to do anything so stupid again. I was unable to comply. By my 20s, previous experience and living on my own in NYC should have created in me a cautious maturity.

I met Everette after his work taking the subway uptown. We disembarked and then walked to an apartment on East 103rd Street. We entered into a long smoke-filled hallway. I could hear the noise of people and music playing. Everywhere you looked were people. And everyone seemed to know Everette. As I was trying to get my bearings, Everette moved me into the living room where in the corner were a man and woman, both very tall and sinewy, each playing guitar and a short round well-dressed man in a worn brown fedora, sitting on a stool playing a small red button Hohner diatonic accordion.


Everette gave me a nudge toward the trio and introduced me. I cannot remember anyone’s name from that evening but everything and everybody are etched in my memory. I listened to the three of them play as the accordion player sang. Until this moment I don’t think I ever heard this kind of raw rhythmic Cajun music up close and live before. I was mesmerized. After a few songs the young woman told me to open my case. I did and took out my EC, warming up with a quick arpeggios. Immediately they began to play and said to join in.

Not familiar with this style of music and never really having previously played the English Concertina as a rhythm instrument, I tried to follow along. But without any musical notation as guidance, I just seem to fumble through one tune and then another. Before beginning the next tune the accordion player turned to me and said for me to follow along with him. He began to slowly play a Cajun waltz. After a few bars I easily followed the familiar 1–2–3 waltz pattern. He sang in a raspy French Cajun accent and when the time came, I played a short solo. As the evening wore on, my fingers moved more and more easily along the buttons of my EC. The rhythmic patters of this stylized music and consistent chording were becoming familiar to me. With the advantage of a few drinks and an appreciative crowd, we played into the night.

The next morning, having spent the night uptown at the female guitarist’s apartment, I headed back to Greenwich Village to catch up on sleep and prepare to nurse what I knew would be a deserved hangover. Later in the day Everette and I went around the corner to Café Reggio for an espresso and we talked about the evening. He told me I was a hit with his friends, “even for a White guy”. He would invite me a few more times over the next few months, but I seemed to always have a conflict or lack the motivation to trek uptown. Eventually I decided to move back to Brooklyn. Everette took a job at an Upper Eastside restaurant. As things go, we drifted and eventually lost touch.

The experience of jamming at that party was liberating for me. After this I never shied away from an opportunity to play regardless the musical situation. Sometimes people are helpful, giving, and friendly. And when they are not, too bad. I am going to play anyway.



Randy Stein - English Concertina

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