Classical prowess notwithstanding, Malmberg is no stuffed shirt. Tango, show tunes, polka, jazz--he tackles all with vigor. But, as he explains, rock is another story. "Somebody will call me every now and then and say, 'Do you play rock 'n' roll?' I say, 'You got the wrong guy.'"
I keep waiting for him to get up and fish whatever piece of music he plans to play out of one of the filing cabinets on the other side of the screen. Instead, he just says, "Whaddya wanna hear?" Not wanting to seem a dawdler, I blurt out, "As Time Goes By." He dives into the tune, complete with fancy intro and outro, without missing a note. Next come some of his transcriptions of Austrian composer Fritz Kreisler's violin pieces, followed by back-to-back Duke Ellington and George Gershwin medleys. Finally, he tears blithely through the first few minutes of Bach's Toccata and Fugue and stops, remarking, "I'd need the music for the rest."
When I comment on his dexterity, the accordionist holds out a hand. "I have arthritis," he comments. "See, those fingers are kinda knobby, but they still work pretty well."
They also work often. Malmberg plays regularly with the Golden Strings, who tour during the warmer months and frequently play in the metro. Larry Malmberg, Accordionist, the CD he released a few years ago, is nearly sold out. He's working on some Astor Piazzolla transcriptions. And the perpetual jobber always keeps an ear cocked toward the phone.
"It's a tough business," he says, "but I'm one of the fortunate ones. I have never been out of work in my whole life. I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. I've done something that I love doing, and I'm still going strong. Even at my age, I'll put my tails on this afternoon, and I'll be the happiest guy in the world."