As in many spheres, women take second place when human achievement is recorded and made public, and blues harp playing is no different.
We can list John Lee Williamson, DeFord Bailey, Rice Miller,Walter Horton, Junior Wells,Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Sugar Blue,Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield , James Cotton,George Smith , Carey Bell and many others…but can we remember the female players?
So lets champion some of the great women , both past and present while looking to the future.
Lets start with today, with some great playing by Rachelle Plas,from France (Mellow Down Easy -Little Walter):
Now lets also go back in time and enjoy the playing and show-womanship of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton:
Norman Davis has created the DEFINITIVE website on female harmonica players. It’s entitled, not surprisingly, “Hermonicas”
Here’s a few notes from this excellent site:
One of the first women to become popular playing the harmonica was Mary Travers who sang and also played violin, accordion, spoons and jaw harp. She became widely popular in French-speaking Canada as Madame Bolduc in the late 20s and 30s and made her first records in 1929. She was most likely the first woman to record on the harmonica.
One of the first women known to play blues harmonica was Minnie Wallace. She was a singer and the mother of blues singer Lucille Hegamin. She played in the Memphis Jug Band, but the harmonica on her few recordings was played by someone else. Very little is written about her in the blues history books.
In 1950, John Brim recorded “Strange Man” featuring his wife Grace on vocals and harmonica. Grace Brim would become known as the “Queen of the Harmonica” and she made several recordings in the ’50s with and without her husband.
I’ve recently had my attention directed to several excellent YT videos by women players headlined “Mulheres Gaitistas”–“Women Harmonica Players.” Here’s a webpage you should check out: http://www.myspace.com/mulheresgaitistas
Little Jenny – out go the lights
In 1952, singer/guitarist Norman “Guitar Slim” Green recorded two songs with a woman identified only as “Turner” on harmonica. That same year Big Mama Thornton recorded “Hound Dog” for Peacock Records in Texas. She did not play harmonica on the recording. The B-side was “They Call Me Big Mama.” The record climbed to number one on the Billboard R&B charts, where it stayed for seven weeks and sold almost two million copies. Big Mama collected only about $500 for her big hit.
I hope this short review has whetted your appetite to search out more female harmonica players. More to come….
John Berger led us into the worlds of seeing, particularly in art. David Hockney, through his practical exploration of ways of seeing takes us into new realms and perspectives on art.
Let us start with John Berger, from his own utterances:
“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”
“Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world.”
“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight. “
“The invention of the camera changed the way men saw. The visible came to mean something different to them. This was immediately reflected in painting.”
These and other quotes are from his book “Ways of seeing”.
All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. In this – as in other ways – they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers. (John Berger)Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject in the way that a photograph does.
“What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.”
and from his ground – breaking, Bafta award-winning series:
However, Hockney takes us further back, before the advent of photography, back to when artists used whatever technology was available , such as convex mirrors and prisms to get the ‘correct’ perspective on paper. Hockney’s love/hate relationship with technology, first to enhance his perspectives on seeing and then to jettison the technology so as to return to painting ensures his reverence for painting and reminding us about the limitations of such technology, particularly in photography.
He has used convex lenses, standard photography, polaroids (joiners), fax machines, iphones and ipads all to extend his own ways of seeing so as to represent these new ways in his painting.
Lets consider his polaroid ‘joiners’ :
One of Hockney’s concerns is that photography shows a moment in time whereas painting can show more than one moment in time.
He challenged his point by putting together a collage of polaroid images (in itself an instant image) and to show the passing of time (see the Bill Brandt’s different hand positions)
Noya and Bill Brandt with self-portrait, Pembroke Studios, London, 8th May 1982
As a deeply thoughtful painter, he used photography to explore more perspectives, which seemed to culminate in his huge collage ‘ a bigger Grand Canyon ”
“A Bigger Grand Canyon” 1998 oil on 60 canvases, David Hockney
Henry Allen from the Washington Post describes the paintings:
He creates this space with hardness and softness of edge. He combs one color over another. He lightens and darkens, juxtaposing flat and glossy; using every tool in the oil-painting shop manual, it seems. It’s been a while since a famous artist painted a landscape using this much technique. Landscape painters of the 19th century used the manual, too — Thomas Moran, Frederic Church — but they used it to enlighten us with the sublimity of wild nature. Hockney provides no mist-shrouded peaks with eagles. There’s no sublimity here, unless it’s in the space between all these buttes and edges. If the sublimity is in the space itself, of course, that means it lies in the parts of the painting where there isn’t anything at all. How unsettling.
Photography can unsettle, but the beauty of the paintings and how they are put together ensures that we have to keep looking and exploring as if we were there , looking in different directions at once.
Henry Allen describes how Hockney explored through polaroid and again move to his love of painting to ‘improve’ on his earlier artistic and cognitive explorations:
In 1982, Hockney stood in front of this same view with a camera, about an hour after dawn. Over the next 30 minutes, he took 60 color photographs, moving his camera along one shot at a time, trying to match the edges of each picture by memory, six rows of photographs that each captured one-sixtieth of the view.
Over the years, he kept reassembling them in collages, until, last year for a show in Cologne, he blew them up large enough to make an 18-foot picture. It didn’t work.
“The moment I saw it, I realized you didn’t feel it across the room,” he says. Only oil color would have the impact he wanted.
He set out to paint 60 canvases that would blend the photographs together, crank up the color, and retain the collage oddity that made the picture possible: 60-point perspective, one point for each panel.
Which is to say: Instead of looking toward one vanishing point, you’re looking at 60, staring at a picture that goes off in 60 slightly different directions at once.
and finally a description on how this evolved:
Across the hall are drawings that lay out the painting in parts and whole; also, two of the photo-collages. After you see the painting, the collages have all the vibrancy of a sun-faded magazine cover. In their jagged immediacy and busyness, though, they recall the thrill of the first Hockney photo-collages you saw years ago, a thrill that was partly the hope that progress in the arts wasn’t entirely dead, that one thing could still lead to another.
Then you look back across the hall at this tour de force fireworks finale, optical illusion, catechism of 20th-century isms and 24-foot parade float commemorating the history of oil painting and and you realize that the collages did lead to something: a painting that takes us all the way back to the Big Bang beginning.
Perhaps Hockney should have the last word:
Photography can’t lead us to a new way of seeing. It may have other possibilities, but only painting can extend the way of seeing.
Of course Jazz should be played and listened to every day -but it is good to raise the profile of the broad sweep of Jazz during International Jazz Day on 30th April….
PARIS (AP) — Herbie Hancock and scores of other big names in sound, rhythm and improvisation gathered in Paris on Friday to celebrate a new annual event: International Jazz Day.
Hancock, a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, is the force behind the creation of a world day of jazz on April 30 starting Monday.
The yearly event aims to encourage people around the world to break down barriers between them using music.
“International Jazz Day is the great metaphor for international harmony,” Hancock told The Associated Press in an interview, before kicking off jazz day at UNESCO where it gets an early start.
Things were getting groovy behind the sober, concrete walls of the headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
About 400 students from Paris music conservatories and schools were taking master classes from Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater or Ibrahim Maalouf. Workshops, films, lectures and performances by musicians from around the world preceded an evening concert with an array of artists, including South Africa’s Hugh Masekela and French-born Manu Katche. And to show that jazz crosses musical borders as well as national ones, opera star Barbara Hendricks was taking part.
Hancock planned to cross the Atlantic to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, for a sunrise concert with jazz luminaries on Monday, then head to the United Nations in New York for a sunset jazz fest for diplomats that will be streamed live. Many countries, from Azerbaijan to India, plan activities of their own to celebrate jazz on Monday.
Jazz by its very nature is a bridge across cultures, says the 72-year-old Hancock, whose roots are in classical music. Jazz musicians feed off each other, exchanging, improvising, inspiring and creating together — and forbidding nothing.
“Jazz is very open and very willing to be inclusive instead of exclusive,” Hancock said. “We all want to live in a jazz world where we all work together, improvise together, are not afraid of taking chances and expressing ourselves.”
Jazz’s roots among African-American slaves have long spoken to others with no voice but music, Hancock said.
“When a human being is oppressed, the natural tendency is to feel anger,” he said. “Jazz is a response to oppression that is not bullets and blood. Jazz is the expression of harmony … and at the same time of hope and freedom.”
Having blogged about International Jazz Day, Johnny Childs from New York reminded me that there was some movement on the support for an International Blues Music Day.
Being a blues music fan myself I am happy to support the effort.
You may be interested to know more about the development of the idea about an International Blues Music Day from this interview with Johnny Childs
On August 17, 2011 an online petition was launched on Facebook advocating for an International Blues Music Day. Within a few months the group reached thousands of members from around the world, comprising of blues fans, supporters, musicians, promoters and the general public. A formula is now being worked out to choose a date to declare and start celebrating an International Blues Music Day.
The Petition was the brainchild of blues musician Johnny Childs from NYC. A recognized and respected blues artist known for his unique and recognizable guitar style and colorful showmanship.
Johnny Childs is also the founding President of the The NYC Blues Society which he formed in 2010 as well as the subject of an award winning documentary film titled “The Junkman’s Son”.
Bman: Hi Johnny. Thanks for taking time out fro your busy schedule to talk with me. How did this idea of a petition for an “International Blues Music Day” come about?
Johnny: It’s a culmination of over twenty years of pursuing a career as a professional blues musician and some other recent events that made me act on it. I’ve been wondering for years why there was no IBMD and even back when the U.S. Congress declared 2003 “Year of The Blues” I felt they kind of missed the mark given the inherent expiration date. Then in a highly controversial move, The Grammy Awards scaled back their blues music category leaving us with little else in the way of a high profile awareness to promote the blues as a Genre. Of course we have the annual Blues Music Awards in Memphis which is very popular but still barley gets picked up by the mainstream media. After years as a musician promoting my own act I realized that ironically it might just be easier to think of ways to prop up the entire Blues Music Industry [since it basically sells itself] and start an effort for everyone and with everyone. And I started thinking about how the potential benefits and effects of this initiative can be significant if not limitless.
Then one day I was reading the paper and there was a blurb about International Lefty Day for left handed folks from around the world, and it kind of struck a chord with me. Aside from the obvious deserved recognition Blues Music as a music genre isn’t getting enough of, I could no longer live in a world that has an International Lefty day and a national Empinada Day etc… and not and International Blues Music Day.
Bman: You are putting a lot of time into this so I can tell you are taking it very seriously.
Johnny: Obviously this cause [to create an IBMD] is very personal to me. I started the Facebook petitiion and started inviting all my friends to the group and asking them to let their blues loving friends know about it. Before you knew it we had close to 7,000 folks join the group in support of an IBMD. I approached all the Blues Societies in the US and around the world, I approached The Blues Foundation and other respected institutions and asked them all to support this any way they could. We’re now also working with local and international government offices, educational institutions as well as event promoters and venues all over the world so that over the next few years we can fully integrate IBMD as an official international holiday and an event that can potentially bring continued recognition to Blues Music in a very large, multiplying and public way and to help it grow and continue to eveolve as we know it can and will in our lifetime and for generations to come”
Bman: It’s a great idea. I have been trying to do it through showing similarities across cultures in the music videos that I blog about in Bman’s Blues Report. We cover quality bands from every country that we can locate them in.
Johnny: As soon as our Facebook petition reaches 10,000 international members we will declare a date and begin preparations to celebrate the inaugural ‘International Blues Music Day’ with hundreds of planned events around the world . You can then find an event or concert near you and join us in an annual worldwide celebration of this incredible music genre and artform, and in making blues history around the globe. Our hope is to bring in new fans and help the current base of fans and artists continue on their personal journeys of blues discovery, enjoyment, participation, appreciation and support.
Bman: That’s great! I know I support it and I’ll hope that this interview helps to explain what we are trying to accomplish. I am also putting a badge at the top of the page so that readers can join in the efforts as they read this article.
I was mentioning to Mic that I was thinking of writing a post about great saxophone players. He immediately responded by saying -but what makes them great? I may not have thought enough about it but I started to try to sound knowledgeable. Well firstly, the instrument will make a difference to the sound, as well as the mouthpiece, type of reed and the player’s embouchure. Of course the technical mastery of the instrument including the ability to play in a range of keys both major and minor and various modes. The other players in a band will also make a difference -whether the percussionist drives the rhythm etc. However after all that is taken into consideration there are still other criteria, such as – innovation, improvisation and feeling as well as just pure unique ability and sometimes a touch of genius.
This post is just a taster of some of the great saxophone players…please comment if you have other suggested ‘greats’..
Coleman Hawkins (Prez)
Charlie 'Bird' Parker
A good start – viewing and listening to some greats is the following clip, Bird, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins
The Bird in good spirits
some more rare footage of Bird, this time with Dizzie
Coleman Hawkins -Indian Summer
Colemand Hawkins -Quintet South of France Blues
Coleman Hawkins – Stoned – live 1962
What better way to introduce John Coltrane with ‘So what’ with Miles Davis -1959
Miles and Trane
The Trane playing soprano sax…
defining a players style…. Tenor saxophonist, Coltrane is known for his huge dark tone with clear definition and body. He made the high registers look like child’s play and was known for his split-note multi-phonics. There is no denying his skill as demonstrated in the virtuoso performance of his difficult “Giant Steps”. Giant Steps is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition.
Giant Steps -John Coltrane
Now try the Trane playing with Stan Getz -such different styles (live in Dusseldorf)
This consummate musician had an amazing technique and could play anything on saxophone. As one musician said, it’s as though the saxophone was a direct extension of his heart. (quoted from the – saxophone.com)
Vintage film of Count Basie orchestra featuring Lester Young (1938)
Lester Young and Billie Holiday
So who else should we include in the ‘Greats’:
While running a folk and blues music club in London I booked John in 1971. He was mesmerizing with a great personality. His records are wonderful-but you really had to see him live. His personality and playing skills just demanded live performances. I have listed a sample, mainly from the 1970’s, but a few more recent as well. Enjoy.
Here he is playing the wonderful ‘May you never‘ in live 1973
“Every record I’ve made – bad, good, or indifferent – is totally autobiographical. I can look back when I hear a record and recall exactly what was going on. That’s how I write. That’s the only way I can write ! Some people keep diaries, I make records.”
Iain David McGeachy was born on the 11th September 1948, the son of two opera singers who divorced when he was five years old. John, as he would later call himself, moved to Glasgow and was brought up by his grandmother. John started to learn how to play the guitar at the age of fifteen being tutored by Hamish Imlach.
In 1973 with Danny Thompson – Make no mistake
His uniqueness comes from both his slurred singing style , the timbre of which has been said to ‘ resemble a tenor saxophone’ and his guitar style which when amplified though fuzzbox and echoplex provides a dreamy backdrop to his own distinctive lyrics.
In 1973 and again with Danny Thompson, his good friend – Couldn’t love you more
On Whistle Test 1975 – Discover the Lover
As Davy Graham was an important influence on John, it is understandable why he was described (in The Times) as “an electrifying guitarist and singer whose music blurred the boundaries between folk, jazz, rock and blues”.
In 1977 on whistle test with Danny Thompson again and Gaspar Lawal –“One World”
and it is worth comparing a later version with David Gilmour live at the Shaw theatre
Also in 1977 –Spencer the Rover
And in 1978 –I’d rather be the devil
1978 –Small Hours -live from Reading Unversity
One of my (many) favourites –Bless the Weather -live at Collegiate Theatre London (1978)
**1978 – One day without you
Quite a year 1978 -this is John showing off the echoplex again – Outside In
a great summary of his electrifying live performance magic – live from Dublin – again with Danny Thompson:
Still going strong in 2007 and with new collaborators –May you never with Danny Thompson and Kathy Mattea
John died at the age of 60 in January 2009.
For much of his career, Martyn enjoyed a lifestyle of typical rock’n’roll excess and later struggled with alcoholism. He once told Q Magazine: “If I could control myself more, I think the music would be much less interesting. I’d probably be a great deal richer but I’d have had far less fun and I’d be making really dull music.” In 2003 his right leg was partially amputated after a large cyst under his knee burst, leading him to spend his latter years in a wheelchair.
John Martyn was awarded an OBE in the 2009 New Year honours list.
Throughout his life he kept searching for new musical forms in which to express essential themes: love, loneliness, and what it means to be alive.
He is much missed.
When I was wondering who to book for the university blues club I was sent this record……enough said…I booked him.
Time’s gone by
Calendar leaves and snows fly
I might write a poem
If I could think of the words to try
What is there to remember
The winter was December
Just one more year left behind.
She never looked around to see me
She never looked around at all
All I saw was shadows on the wall
She never looked around to see me
She never looked around at all
All I heard was snow that had to fall.
She left in the morning
Quietly that was her way
And on returning
To find I had nothing to say
What is there to remember
The winter was December
Just one more year left behind.
She never looked around to see me
She never looked around at all
All I saw was shadows on the wall
She never looked around to see me
She never looked around at all
All I heard was snow that had to fall…
Known as “Van the Man” to his fans and sometimes ‘the Belfast Cowboy’ ,Morrison started his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he played a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone in a range of Irish showbands who covered the popular hits of the day before rising to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead singer of the gritty Northern Irish R&B band Them with whom he recorded the garage band classic, “Gloria”.
His solo career began under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Recordsbought out his contract and allowed him three sessions to record Astral Weeks in 1968. Even though this album would gradually garner high praise, it was initially poorly received; however, the next one, Moondance, established Morrison as a major artist, and throughout the 1970s he built on his reputation with a series of critically acclaimed albums and live performances. Morrison continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains. In 2008 he performedAstral Weeks live for the first time since 1968.
Check out some live ‘celtic soul’ from the master…particularly enjoy some of the great musicians that he gathered together such as saxophonists Candy Dulfer and Pee Wee Ellis. Often called moody, but a live performance from Van the Man is still excellent value from someone who puts music first and ego second.
Candy Dulfer and Van Morrison (live) I’ve been working
and with John Lee Hooker -GLORIA (1989 Beacon Theatre)
perhaps not great harp playing but for acoustic beauty try John Lee and Van onBaby Please dont go..
Enjoy also this great piece of journalism, reporting on the re-birth of Astral Weeks – live at the Hollywood Bowl:
Van Morrison Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl
Release Date 2009 02 24
Label Listen to the Lion Records
Rating:When an artist decides to perform a classic album in concert, the possibilities for disaster are myriad. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks had never been performed as a cycle before these performances at the Hollywood Bowl. With only one full band rehearsal, Van responded by bringing this mythic material to life with a rock showman’s sense of audacity, a poet’s vulnerability, a jazzman’s sense of timing, and the mastery of a singer who knows where to find the hidden magic in his material. Morrison took the original track order and shuffled it to make it flow better live. He extended most tunes, turning some into mini-suites while tightening others. His well-seasoned lower register voice turned the wonder of a boy in 1968 into the spiritual receptivity and wisdom of a man who has weathered 40 more seasons of discontent and heartbreak. The title track opens the set with that familiar up and down acoustic bassline andJay Berliner’s nylon string guitar playing blues and jazz runs as Van keeps the first rhythm guitar chair down.(Berliner was lead guitarist on the original Astral Weeks sessions.) It’s a tiny bit faster, but the flow is impeccable as skeletal strings come pouring through in the gaps. There is a beautiful sense of space as Tony Fitzgibbon’s violin and viola solos come through in the middle and Richie Buckley’s flute hovers from the margins. Morrison lets his players shine; he rises to improve with them, feeling his lyrics anew. He adds more gospel flavor to the tune, which is rooted there anyway with &”I Believe I’ve Transcended.” And you believe him. The live mix clicks and crackles; it’s raw, full, and immediate, without overdubs. The track order changes after &”Beside You.” It lilts and wanders with beautiful vibe work and Berliner’s guitar. The first real surprise is &”Slim Slow Slider,” the closing cut on the original set and the third one here. The deep sorrow, helplessness, and dread in the tune is captured through melancholy memory, balanced by a sense of the previous, not weighted so much with trouble. But Morrison’s present tense protagonist is engulfed in pain and confesses the weight is more than he can bear in the effortless segue called &”I Start Breakin’ Down.” The drama is so arresting the listener can forget to breathe. The blues are heavy, the droning hypnotic Celtic ones that is, and they are never static. &”Sweet Thing,” and &”The Way Young Lovers Do,” are placed in succession here; they lock the listener in a breezy yet tight swinging groove. The strings caress Morrison’s lyric without sweetness; the guitars create a bridge to deliver a strutting &”Cypress Avenue,” which is appended seamlessly with the killer bluesy soul of &”You Come Walkin’ Down.” &”Ballerina,” slows it down again and Morrison delivers his best vocal performance of the evening, though &”Madame George,” which closes out the Astral Weeks material, is a close second; these cuts are simply an amazing one-two knockout. The band and the singer gel perfectly. There are two amazing encores: a dynamite, even shockingly spiritual autobiographical read of &”Listen to the Lion” from 1972’s Saint Dominic’s Preview with saxophones, guitars, and strings all pushing against his vocal that moans and wails and roars before breaking through. The night ends with a sultry, scatting improvisation from the middle of &”Summertime In England,” from 1980’s Common One. Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl is not Astral Weeks, but it’s brilliant and emotionally intense; it’s honest and spiritually revealing. Morrison not only inhabits these songs 40 years later, but he fully understands them; making for a extremely engaging and necessary document from an artist who still has plenty of fire in his belly. Thom Jurek, RoviAudio only -live at the Hollywood Bowl -Sweet Thing
Progressing in blues harp playing,demands much practice, if that is not stating the obvious. Yet it also demands ‘learning from masters’ who can provide insights into technique that still can only be played through much practice. I have mentioned many times our hero teacher –Adam Gussow. What he provides are insights into playing that can be approached from any level and allow anyone to progress at their own pace, yet gives ‘short cuts’ to understanding the techniques without years of working it out. He is a teacher who does not come with his ego of ‘star player’ he is just a genuine and generous teacher.
First check out if you are moving towards an advanced learner
You’ve mastered all the basics and quite a bit more than that. You’re able to bend holes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 draw; you may even realize that Little Walter bends the 5 draw down a ¼-tone on “Juke.” You can probably bend holes 8 and 9 blow on the low harps (G, A) and may even be able to bend the 10 blow. You know how to warble; how to chug; how to glissando. You know how to tongue-block and have no trouble using that technique in your improvisations. Improvising over 12-bar changes seems natural to you, and you do pretty well when confronted with other related blues, country, and gospel progressions—songs such as “Key to the Highway,” “I Got a Woman,” “This Little Light of Mine.” You’ve almost surely played at jam sessions; you may even be playing in a band. Still, you know your repertoire is lacking in some areas and you’re looking to broaden it. As a player, you have real strengths but you’ve also got weaknesses. When soloing, you tend always to rely on the same two or three power-moves or comfort zones. And you tend to play too much; you’re not very good at leaving space. You’ve got a pretty good sense of which notes work over which chords—playing cross-harp, at least—but you know your playing would strengthen if you had a little more harmonic knowledge. (When jazz guys talk about “thirteenth chords,” you can’t instantly name the intervals that make up that chord.) You’ve heard of overblowing, you may even be able to overblow a note or two, but you haven’t worked this technique into your playing. You’re much more comfortable playing 2nd position (cross harp) than you are playing 1st and 3rd position. Above all, you know there are some tonal, harmonic, and rhythmic subtleties that distinguish the playing of truly advanced players from what you’re doing. And you want what they’ve got.
“Shuffling It Up”: a first-position shuffle blues played mostly in the middle octave with tongue-blocked chords and a couple of upper-octave blow bends thrown in. This is an original composition that finds inspiration in the playing of Deford Bailey, Freeman Stowers, and other recording artists of the 1920s and 1930s. Not the same old first-position blues! INTERMEDIATE / ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE.
“Grooving Shuffle”: Every blues harmonica player needs a range of ways of “carrying” the 12-bar changes on the instrument. This song is specifically designed to produce a big sound in a solo context. It teaches you how to mingle single notes and chords in a call-and-response arrangement that takes you through the first 8 bars, then how to throw in some fancy footwork on the V/IV/I changes.
“Pack Fair and Square”: a two-chorus transcription/adaptation of Magic Dick’s fast & furious solo, from the J. Geils Band Live Full House album. This is a rock-blues groove, and lightning-fast. I’ve slowed it down to make it manageable. For INTERMEDIATE and ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE players.
“Got My Mojo Working”: The holy grail for many harp players. A song that you absolutely, positively need to know. This is a two-part lesson organized around a two-page tab sheet. First page is my adaptation of the “head” or intro that always kicks the song off; second page is a transcription of the first 12 bars of Kim Wilson’s solo on Jimmy Rodgers’s LUDELLA album–a kick-ass harp throwdown, decoded and reassembled. The head is within reach for INTERMEDIATE as well as ADVANCED INTERMEDIATE players; the solo is extremely challenging at full speed.
If you are wanting to learn blues harmonica (blues harp) the best place to start is with Adam Gussow.
Listen to one of his many and great lessons (you can see I am a fan!)
Having said this , learners learn in different ways, and so it is good to look up several teaching sites and try to learn what you can from each. Some provide some beginners lessons for free in the hope that you will join and pay anything from 4 USD per month upwards for membership. Some provide forums which can be very helpful,when choosing harps, learning specific techniques,knowing which key a particular blues tune is in or just exchanging ideas and realising you are part of a musical community. I will list a few of the popular sites with some of their particular features.
This is Dave Gage’s site , harmonicalessons.com A very comprehensive site – as well as lessons , he has forums, playing tips of the day . even information on making harp repairs, and a full list of playing techniques
Full membership costs $37.95 but there are other membership schemes. Examples of the info available on the site:
“Number and Arrow” system of notation– The “up” arrows indicate blow (exhale) notes and the “down” arrows are for the draw (inhale) notes- The little “b’s” under the bent arrows are flat signs. One “b” is a half step bend and two “b’s” are a whole step bend (as shown in the graphic below).All riffs are played in the 2nd position– For more information on 2nd position, visit the General Overview section.Use your own timing– Except for the triplet riffs, you can use your own timing with these riffs to make them fit into whatever song you are playing with. Listen to the sound file below the riffs to help get you started.
For Intermediate and Advanced players– you can add a 4 draw bend between the 4 blow and the 4 draw of the “Almost Blues Scale” riff. This will make it a complete one octave blues scale.
“Jam-To” Blues MIDI File– If you would like a quick, easy background song to begin jamming to, you can use the “Jam-To” MIDI File in “G” to try out the different riffs and ideas outlined here. Additional MIDI files are also available.
12 Bar Blues MIDI File:
Here is a 12 bar blues MIDI file in the key of “G”,Slow_Blues_in_G.mid, that you can download and play/practice to with a standard key of “C” diatonic played in 2nd position. There is over 5 minutes of MIDI music that you can jam to (7 times through the 12 bar blues).
Once you click on the MIDI file it should download and begin to play. If it hasn’t started playing automatically, you can double-click on this file and it should open your operating system’s default MIDI player (Windows Media Player on a PC or QuickTime on a Mac).
Since the first four bars of the song is an intro, the first full 12 bar blues pattern begins on the 5th bar. You can start playing at anytime or wait until the fifth bar to begin the full 12 bar blues pattern.
To accurately come in on bar 5, hit the play button on your MIDI player, and then count 1 2 3 4, 2 2 3 4, 3 2 3 4, 4 2 3 4 (four beats or foot taps per bar), and you’re in. Another way to come in at the beginning of the first full 12 bar blues pattern, is to listen for the drums to do a short 2 beat pickup (or fill) just before all the instruments begin playing at bar 5.
And what about harmonicas. Hohner marine band harps have been favourites for decades but the move to plastic parts such as you will find on Lee Oskar harps, have become new stars with new harp players.
I can agree that Lee Oskars are really worth trying,not expensive, but good quality and a wide range of keys (try the Em!)
There are two basic trills used by blues harp players, the hole 4 and 5 draw trill and the hole 3 and 4 draw trill. The idea here is pretty simple. You just draw in on the harp and move the harp back and forth across your mouth either with your hands or by shaking your head. Mastering these trills is not easy however. Again, you have to be careful to sound each note individually or the effect will not be the desired one. Once you have mastered the basic trills you can try things like bending the trilled notes while you trill. You can also experiment with finding other trills on the harp on your own.
The trills look like this:
4-5 draw trill
4 5 4 5 4 5 4 5 4 5 4 5
D D D D D D D D D D D D
Click here to download an audio file of the “4-5 draw trill” above played on a “C” harmonica:
Check out the introductory lessons at harmonica club on this site there is plenty of info about all aspects of harmonica playing,including a range of techniques and a useful forum.
$4US per month-and for this you can download tabs/songs in the members area.
There is good introductory video at bluesharmonica
and at blues academy there are some free lessons to get you interested as well as sound files and tabbed songs/tunes and membership starts from $19.95
With the above links and the video starters below – just try some of the lessons first – as I have said, you really have to get the feeling of playing with the teacher – their teaching styles are very different, but you will learn something from all of them. Beware, there are some players with free lessons on youtube that will actually teach you bad habits -the ones below are the better ones to try first.
J.P.Allen has his own site with some good articles on playing the harp as well as listening to others:
Just one year ago -still controversy surrounds his life and death…
Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a talented and creative artist and one, through the media channels and marketing of the time, was able to communicate to a huge global audience.
As a black artist he was also subjected to the racial bias and prejudice of the time and in his early years had to fight his corner (such as the attitudes of MTV). However his journey was made easier by being able to walk the paths that had already been cut by black musicians during the previous 50 years. This is one more debt that he owed.
We need to put his story into historical perspective and understand how other black musicians had put their careers and even their lives in jeopardy while fighting for basic rights as musicians and as human beings.
Music and other creative arts have always been used for people to express themselves and with African-Americans in particular the use of these media have not only been used to express their plight and discrimination but also as a way of describing their own personal identity.
Starting with American enslavement, captured African slaves and their American descendants created work songs, spirituals, gospels, ragtime, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, and contemporary rap and hip-hop .
Even the different forms of jazz (Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Avant-garde, and Free Jazz) represent Black people’s struggle to determine a narrative about their existence in the world. Black music can be seen as a way of looking at the world, in the face of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. Jazz has always been creative, innovative, improvisational and often political.
Let’ start with Paul Robeson, a true giant in many fields and who ‘ paid with his career for his principles’. Paul Robeson was a truly creative man. He was a singer, an actor, a national football player and a lawyer. Robeson achieved worldwide fame and recognition during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the colonial powers of Western Europe and the Jim Crow climate of pre-civil rights America. Robeson was a forerunner in the Civil Rights movement, a leader in the labor movement and a crusader in the anti-lynching movement. Because of his anti-colonialist sentiments, Robeson was investigated by both the CIA and the FBI.
“All that Paul Robeson stood for had enormous impact on American and global history. The combination of his art, intellect and humanity was rarely paralleled. The cruelties visited upon him by the power of the State stands as a great blemish on the pages of American history. But despite the attempt to wipe him from memory, he has endured and continues to influence. It speaks to our most strategic interests that African American children be instructed about the truth of his existence. Indeed it would be in the best interest of all Americans to know what this great patriot offered this nation.” –Harry Belafonte, April 9, 2008, on the occasion of Paul Robeson’s ‘110th’ Birthday
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan Gough; April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was the daughter of Clarence Holiday. Her father abandoned the family early and refused to acknowledge his daughter until after her first success.Billie Holiday incorporated the song “Strange Fruit” into her set list in 1939. Adapted from a poem, by a New York high school teacher, “Strange Fruit” was inspired by the 1930 lynching of two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. It juxtaposes the horrid image of bodies hanging from trees with an description of the idyllic South. Holiday delivered the song night after night, often overwhelmed by emotion, causing it to become an anthem of early civil rights movements.
Lyrics to “Strange Fruit:”
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
On November 10, 1956, she performed before a packed audience at Carnegie Hall, a major accomplishment for any artist, especially a black artist of the segregated period of American history. She died in 1959 , with only$0.70 in the bank after she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings.
Many blues musicians suffered from racist attitudes and often sung about them as way of direct expression of their feelings as well as to raise awareness. This is from one of J.B.Lenoir’s songs:
I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me (2x)
You know they killed my sister and my brother,
And the whole world let them peoples go down there free.
From “Alabama Blues”
J. B. Lenoir (March 5, 1929 – April 29, 1967) was an African-American blues guitarist and singer/songwriter ,popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mayfield is remembered for his introduction of social consciousness into R&B and for pioneering the funk style. Many of his recordings with the Impressions became anthems of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and his most famous album, Super Fly, is regarded as an all-time great that influenced many and truly invented a new style of modern black music (#69 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums).
Many in the black community felt that Brown was speaking out to them more than some major leaders in the country, a sentiment that was strengthened with the release of his groundbreaking landmark single, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud“.
Brown continued performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations including Jesse Jackson‘s PUSH and The Black Panther Party‘s Breakfast program throughout the early-1970s. Brown also continued to release socially-conscious singles such as “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” (1969), “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (1971), “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” (1972), “King Heroin” (1974), “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” (1974) and “Reality” (1975).
Like Michael Jackson he had several personal problems that certainly did not make him a saint, but he did leave a legacy that deserves to be recognized.
Charles Mingus was known for being angry and outspoken on the bandstand. That’s why, in response to the 1957 Little Rock Nine incident in Arkansas, when Governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard to prevent black students from entering a newly desegregated public high school.
Mingus displayed his outrage at the event by composing a piece entitled “Fables of Faubus.” The lyrics, which he penned as well, offer some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Danny.
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won’t permit integrated schools.
Then he’s a fool! Oh Boo!
Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)
Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
“Fables of Faubus” originally appeared on Mingus Ah Um (1959), although Columbia Records found the lyrics so incendiary that they refused to allow them to be recorded. In 1960, however, Mingus recorded the song for Candid Records, lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
Odetta Holmes, (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”.
Roach also led his own groups, and made numerous musical statements relating to the civil rights movement of African-Americans. His famous composition”Freedom Now Suite” used a photo of black students at a whites-only lunch counter in the South on the album cover.
In African countries there have been many black musicians who have had to fight racism , prejudice and discrimination.
Since 1954, Masekela played music that closely reflected his life experience. The agony, conflict, and exploitation South Africa faced during 1950’s and 1960’s, inspired and influenced him to make music. He was an artist who in his music vividly portrayed the struggles and sorrows, as well as the joys and passions of his country. His music protested about apartheid, slavery, government; the hardships individuals were living. Masekela reached a large population of people that also felt oppressed due to the country’s situation.
Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 10 November 2008) was a South African singer and civil rights activist. The Grammy Award winning artist is often referred to as Mama Afrika.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October, 1938 – 2 August, 1997), or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of afrobeat music, human rightsactivist. HMV ranked him #46 on a list of the top-100 most influential musicians of the 20th century.
Not to forget the many other artists who had to make their way against the odds –
Duke Ellington 1943
In a 1944 New Yorker profile of Duke Ellington, Richard Boyer told of a white St. Louis policeman enthusiastically greeting Duke Ellington after a performance, saying: “If you’d been a white man, Duke, you’d have been a great musician.”
“Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations imposed by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of one’s individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America.” (Stanley Crouch)