January 2013 Archives

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How have you opened a new door on the harmonica?

Maybe I opened a new door...we'll see what happens next. It happened also by the simple fact that I was invited to be part of certain musical experiences, musical journeys that were requiring a new kind of playing. It forced me, almost, to go in that direction. Not really forced me, but it really invited me, I would say is a better word. Exactly like Steve Coleman. Because that was early on. I was like 22, 23. So he called me to do some stuff. His music, you gotta play a different way than Toots or Stevie.

I was trying to find something. I was listening to his music, to all his records, listening to the phrasing. I was really studying the different concepts he was using at the time. ..'cause he's evolving all the time. It inspired me to work really, really hard and try to find a language that could work with his music on the harmonica.

And it's the same thing with every person whom I've played with. Like Cassandra Wilson - a totally different language. She was also part of the M-base movement. You get more of that folk music/jazz. And I just wanted to find a really pure way of playing that could really work, at the same time being completely free 'cause that's what really moves me in music, is to have freedom.

And the same thing when I play with Pat [Metheny]. I had to find the language that was really perfect for his music. Same thing with Herbie [Hancock]. Same thing with Charlie Hunter - being part of the horn section was new. I had to really think about it and really try to understand my role and go with it. Also in terms of the playing, I was trying to work on different things. So it's always been like that, basically.

By Rob Fletcher

Rob Fletcher is a chromatic harmonica player based in Erving, MA. He plays chromatic, chord and diatonic in the harmonica trio The Harmaniacs. He also performs throughout New England in a variety of settings on guitar and voice (www.toasttown.com). Rob founded a corporate team building and training company called Quixote Consulting that specializes in music-based team building. He often writes about the power of music to help people lead stronger, happier lives in his blog At Your Best.

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The Harmonica?

When you hear the word harmonica, what's the next word that comes to mind? For many, it's the word toy. And, in fact, that was the official designation by the Musician's Union throughout most of the last century. Nearly everyone I talk with has one at home somewhere. Harmonica may also be thought of as something relegated to blues music or played on a rack while strumming folk guitar.

The story of this mysterious instrument is more interesting than that. Swiss-born harmonica player Grégoire Maret plays the chromatic harmonica, an instrument that is a mere six inches long that plays every note on the chromatic scale for three octaves. It's the only instrument that can be played by breathing out and in. It has the range of a flute and has a side button that allows the player to access one of two harmonicas inside - one in C and one in C#. Its proximity to the player's face allows no visual reference points for the player, making it an extremely difficult instrument to master. And almost impossible for an audience to see how all that music is being made - it's a magical act.

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