The hippest cat ever to swing an accordion, Art Van Damme dared go where no man had gone before: jazz accordion. He started taking accordion lessons at the age of nine, and moved on to classical studies after his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1934. After leaving school. he played in a trio in local clubs under big band leader Ben Bernie hired him in 1941. He soon returned to Chicago, though, and continued to work the club circuit there throughout World War Two.
Van Damme was inspired by swing recordings, particularly Benny Goodman's, and in the late 1930s, he began experimenting, adapting Goodman solos to the accordion. Throughout his career, he would often be compared to Goodman, since the two were both classically trained, technical masters of their instruments, and versatile and creative jazz soloists. He formed a quintet with several of his studio colleagues, and recorded his first album, for the small label, Music Craft, in 1944.