Franz Chmel – 1944 to 2016 – The Archivist

Franz Chmel was regarded by some as the best classical chromatic harmonica player. He was born on 26th February 1944 in St.Pölten, Austria. Franz started playing harmonica at the age of six and when he was 12 years old he founded the successful Piccolo Harmonica Trio with his elder brothers.

Franz Chmel
Franz Chmel

Between 1957 and 1965 he took many top three prizes as a soloist and group performer in National, European and World Harmonica Championships. Then in 1965 he suddenly stopped playing harmonica and went back to his work as an engineer…

In 1987 he made a comeback and immediately found success in festivals and competitions. He was well known in his home country, Austria, and he played at the Austrian Presidential inaugural ceremony. He toured Morocco and performed in Armenia, Germany, Switzerland France and Japan. He was also invited to perform at the 5th Asia-Pacific Harmonica Festival in 2005 in Hong Kong.

Franz was a perfectionist and he practiced many hours a day to achieve what he knew to be possible. He worked hard on his technique and developed his distinctive tongue vibrato. His practice regime was breaking his harmonicas and so he set about developing his own design which would maintain their tuning and have longer lasting reeds. This resulted in the NC64. Only three were made. He played one and two more were sold. They were hand made and each one took over 200 hours to assemble and adjust for the performer. There is more on his website

His determination to become a master of technique and harmonica design led to him becoming involved with Michael Timler and HarpOnLine, where such things were discussed. Michael put on a concert in Ulm where Franz played with Howard Levy. Howard was impressed enough to invite Franz to join him and Joe Filisko for a very eclectic concert in Chicago, Harmonica Convergence, in 2006.

Franz’s musical success led to meetings with James Moody and some other composers who wrote music for him. Franz recorded five albums of Classical Music and his last recordings were with his latest harmonica, the NC64.

You can hear Franz play on his YouTube videos, many which he uploaded just before his death on August 18, 2016, aged 72. These videos show his phenomenal technique as well as many of the best known transcriptions of classical music for harmonica.

This was taken from the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World magazine.

Stan Harper – 1921 to 2016 – a Tribute by Antonio Piana

Stanley Harper, born Stanley Theodore Wisser, better known as Stan, was born in Brooklyn, New York, September 21, 1921, just as the chromatic harmonica was being born. Stan Harper and Antonio Piana

As a lover of music, Stan was attracted to the fine, new instrument which was no longer restricted a mere seven diatonic notes, but could play anything. It was not enough for Stan to play by ear, as many others did. He took full control of this little instrument, studying it fully. He learned musical notation, timing, harmony, composition and counterpoint. He studied for hours, daily, fascinated with the evolving potential of this new-found musical gem.

Stan’s first professional engagement came at the early age of 14. His technique advanced quickly to include rapid chromatic runs. In a relatively short time, therefore, his work and arrangements became the benchmark for the ensembles which included harmonica in their repertoire. He also did some solo work, duets, trios, and quartets. His versatility was soon recognized in the United States by radio, television, record companies, and theatres.

In the 1930’s, Stan Harper played in harmonica groups in Brooklyn along with some of the best harmonica players in the world. As classical music was Stan’s first love, they performed Beethoven’s Fifth, Scheherazade, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, among other popular pieces. In those days the harmonica group was king and for that reason, few solo performers emerged with any public acclaim.

Over the years, Stan Harper performed with Eddie Shu (Shulman), Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Hal David, Werner Klemperer, Sam Wanamaker, and Leon Kirshner. In 1991, he presented a one-man show, demonstrating his skills using 5 to 6 different sized harmonicas, at the Smithsonian Institute of Arts, in Washington, D.C. The Hering Harmonica Company of Brazil worked with Stan to produce a 3.5 octave chromatic harmonica (14 holes) which surpassed the 3-octave instrument currently in use. This particular instrument has been greatly appreciated in both North and South America. The name Stan Harper is engraved on the instrument, an honor that only a few select harmonica musicians have achieved; namely, Larry Adler, Toots Thielmans, and Willi Burger!

During his career, Stan Harper lectured widely at Musical Association meetings and at specialized centres. He lived in Allenhurst, New Jersey, where he was a member of the Garden State Harmonica Club.

He was active to the end, at national conventions and enjoyed playing harmonica and writing arrangements. His participation at harmonica events was always a great pleasure for the organizing committees.

He died on 29 June 2016 in New Jersey.


When I met Stan Harper – by Antonio Piana

The first time I attended the annual SPAH festival was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2007. As usually at SPAH conventions, the atmosphere was very friendly, with harmonica players playing everywhere. There are no competitions but open stage sessions, concerts and a lot of workshops and masterclasses. Stan Harper walked up and down the hallways, slightly hunched, wearing his Hawaiian shirt, looking at exhibition stands. Many people greeted him with friendliness and deference. I had attended his workshop and then I went to meet him. I introduced myself as an Italian amateur harmonica player, who loved both classical and jazz music. Stan told me that his wife was an Italian opera singer and we began to speak of music, harmonica technique and his musical career.

Since then, we have met at SPAH festivals every year and our friendship continued to build. He did not have Internet at home, so I kept in touch by telephone. One year, I met Stan in the SPAH shop where harmonica players sell their CDs and I noticed that he only had some old tape cassettes – among them was his recording of Novelettes, or Light Music. I said But your records will not be preserved for the future. What a pity, because there are no records of this type. You should transfer them to CD format, and save these musical masterpieces for posterity. He had the original master tape and all the rights so we agreed that we should get the tracks transferred to CD. We (EUCLED) now sell the CD, Stan Harper Plays The Novelettes.

Stan Harper – 1921 to 2016 – The Archivist

I met Stan at the first Garden State Harmonica Festival run in New Jersey by Phil and Val Redler (2009). I was very impressed by the playing of this sprightly 88 year old. His music was full of life and emotion. He seemed to be one of the last of the Golden Age soloists. He was active into his 90s.about his contacts with StanStan Harper

My knowledge of Stan came mainly from Kim Field’s book Harmonicas Harps and Heavy Breathers. It should be compulsory reading for all harmonica players. Here are some links to on-line resources. He deserved more.

There is a Wikipedia page about Stan
It is quite detailed and has a full discography.

Here is a tribute from the Denver Mile High Harmonica club.

Here is a nice piece written by Antonio Piana about his contacts with Stan.

Eucled (Italy) are a couple in Italy who released Stan’s a CD Stan Harper Plays Novelettes and another Stan Harper Plays Fritz Kreisler..

You can get a chance to hear how well Stan played by listening to his videos on YouTube.

Tributes and Obituaries

I recently asked my friend Rob Paparozzi about the death of Stan Harper. He posted the question on Facebook and it was apparent that there was little or nothing online. I had just edited some tributes to Franz Chmel and Toots Thielemans for the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World and we both thought it would be better if there was an online resource to gather together links to any articles, tributes and the descriptions of the lives of the great chromatic harmonica players who have died in recent years. Their life stories show how the harmonica developed from a new novelty at the beginning of the 20th Century into an instrument fully respected by Classical, Popular and Jazz Musicians.

Anyone who is interested in harmonica history and the players who helped to create it will get more satisfaction from a good book rather than relying only on Internet resources. I created a post about harmonica books harmonica books but if you only read one book, it should be Harmonica, Harps and Heavy Breathers by Kim Field. It is not perfect but it is a work of scholarship and deserves recognition for the research which went into it.

I will add more posts to include links to tributes to Stan Harper and other harmonica players.