Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The harmonica don't get no respect....

The harmonica is a tricky little instrument. It is often regarded as nothing more than a child's toy, something you blow in and out of and make noise. Many musicians also regard it as an inferior instrument, limited in its range and possibilities. Obviously, ever since Little Walter released "Juke" in the early '50s this has been proven false. The only limitations the harmonica has are how much effort the player is willing to invest to master it. Listen to Howard Levy, Carlos Del Junco or Jason Ricci and you'll be amazed at what can be done with this tiny , 10-hole "toy".
The simplicity of the harmonica is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, with almost no learning or experience one can make some fun , satisfying sounds with it. On the other hand, this causes many people to stop right there and be content with this basic level - and the result is a world populated with mediocre  harp players, causing serious musicians to be suspicious of harp players...
When the great Blues artist Lucky Peterson was on his first visit to Israel, my band was going to back him up on his shows in Israel, and I was thrilled to finally meet one of my favorite artists. When he arrived at our first rehearsal , I introduced myself. Lucky asked what I play in the band and I said "Harmonica". Lucky gave me a skeptical sideways look and said "I don't usually play with harmonica players". I said nothing, since I knew exactly what he was thinking: "bad enough I have to play with a local band I'm not familiar with, now I need to deal with a harmonica too???". We started the rehearsal and after a few songs Lucky smiled and said "there are a lot of bad harp players out there, but I see you know what you're doing, so we're cool..."

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