My friend and writer Carlos Guerra wrote this piece on the passing of his friend, the legendary accordionist and musician Esteban “Steve” Jordan.
Esteban Jordan by Carlos Guerra
Oddly enough, it was my classically trained violinist father who turned me on to Esteban Jordán when I was a teen.
Dad wasn’t much of a fan of any popular music, especially conjunto, but he had a special appreciation for great musicianship, and early in his career, Esteban was already showing off his incredibley acrobatic skills as a player.
Pay attention to this player, Dad said, because he is a true musician.
Steve got little notice, initially, until he recorded “Squeezebox Man,” which combined Steve’s unique conjunto stylings with rock — turning it into a frerenetically infectuous 45 rpm classic. From then on, Esteban would live a tumultuous professional — and personal– life full of wildly varying ups and downs.
Of course, like many masters, he wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with. He was often an autocrat on stage, could be a tyrant with his sidemen, and could be irritating with his friends. And as he aged, he became increasingly paranoid of business associates and promoters, more than a few of whom took advantage of his gifts for their own gain.
One apocryphal tale has Steve showing up with his band to a hotel in a large midwestern city, telling the desk clerk he wanted the two best rooms in the house. After booking them, he took the second-best room and dispatched his band to share the other. When they complained about being so crowded, Steve supposedly responded, “What are you complaing about? You got the best room in the house!”
But at various times, Esteban also showed his social consciousness, playing free concerts for civil rights groups and organizing incredible ensembles of crack Chicano musicians all too ready to play with him.
It was at these, in the early 1970s, that I got to know him better.
Still, he was distrustful of politics and politicians, advising me once in the 1970s, “Salte de la política, bro’, la política es pa’ las putas (get out of politics, bro’, politics is for whores).
Born into a migrant farm-worker family, a midwife mistakingly dropping a caustic substance into his infant eyes left him virtually blind for life. Dragged from field to field by his family, he couldn’t work, so he would stay at the labor camps, where he began to listen to the music of a fellow-traveler, Valerio Longoria, who became a mentor. But he also listened to radio, which in many places, was English-only, as country-and-western developed, and programming became infused with rock and blues.
He once told me he had never weighed more than 100 pounds, but you would never know it from the way he handled himself on stage, animatedly personifying what he was playing. He also had a penchant for outrageously colorful stage dress and always wore his patch, once rebuking me for publishing a picture of him in sunglasses.
Over the years, he played in the classic conjunto ensemble of accordion, bajo sexto, bass and drums, but at various times blended in electric guitars (which he played well), keyboards, all manner of horn and rythmn sections, mariachis and who knows what else. Esteban relished experimentation and innovation, and in many recordings, he played all the instruments.
At his prime, Jordan’s fingers were lightning quick, and his bellows work infectuous. And he also had great talent in writing lyrics, often depicting the everyday lives of working-class Chicanos with a poetic flourish that was often exceptional, masterfully weaving plausible plots with colorful street Spanish, stories of romantic conquests and of bitter disappointments, and even a few chronicles of major Chicano cultural events.
And hearing him for the first time at one of the Conjunto Festivals, the president of Hoener Accordions, a German, proclaimed him to be, “Perhaps the greatest diatonic-accordion player of all times.” He also arranged for Steve to travel to Germany and had a special three-row accordion built to his specifications as a special gift.
He leaves a rich discography, much of which is yet to be released, with numerous recording companies.
Esteban Jordán, en paz descanses, bro’
Review of Jordan’s most recent recording, Carta Espiritual.
Austin360 Article on the passing of Esteban.
An NPR report.