Jim Hughes was 94 when Rob and I decided to make an unplanned visit to his home in Birmingham. Rob knew about Jim’s years of session work including ‘Last of the Summer Wine‘ and many radio broadcasts, but they had never met.
Jim is possibly the best teacher of the chromatic harmonica and two of his students were World Champions.
Rob uses Jim’s highly regarded course books when teaching his own pupils.
Jim’s teaching materials, CDs, and a huge list of written scores for harmonica by James Moody and other composers are available through email – email@example.com
Jim was a great advocate of learning to sight read music and did so all his working life – a great asset for recording sessions. Unfortunately he is now totally blind but he practices many hours a day and has become very good at playing by ear. This has also led to him now to concentrating on his love of jazz standards.
Rob and Jim got on very well and they had a mutual respect for each other. After some discussion, they started to play together as can bee seen in the 20 mins video below. This was not a performance. It was all spontaneous and as is easy to see, a very enjoyable time for both of them.
Douglas Tate, Jim Hughes, Philip Achille, Frank Semus, and Ola Braein perform music for the chromatic harmonica at a concert organised by Ena Reilly in Frensham Church in 2004, accompanied by Chris Collis (piano) and the Quartet Pro Musica.
Music includes three works for Harmonica and String Quartet – ‘Divertimento’, ‘A Yorkshire Tale’ and ‘Somerset Garland’ – plus solo pieces by Fauré , James Moody, David and Tommy Reilly, Tchaikovski, and Norwegian traditional music.
The original concert included performances by singers Hannah Poulsom and Jim Heath, but this video only includes the harmonica performances. The start times for the individual artists and pieces of music are given below.
Douglas Tate and Chris Collis (piano) 0:01:00 – Berceuse (Fauré ) 0:04:30 – Three Irish Dances (arr James Moody)
Philip Achille and Chris Collis (piano) 0:07:20 – Little Suite, 3rd and 4th movements (James Moody)
James Hughes and Philip Achille with String Quartet 0:14:40 -1771 (James Moody)
James Hughes and String Quartet 0:18:00 – Divertimento for harmonica and string quartet (Gordon Jacob) – 4 movements 0:29:00 – A Yorkshire Tale – Ronnie Hazelhurst
Frank Semus and Chris Collis (piano) 0:37:40 – Canzonetta from 2nd Movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto 0:43:59 – Age of Innocence – David Reilly
Ola Braein and Chris Collis (piano) 0:47:33 – Wedding march 0:49:21 – Visetone (Norwegian traditional) 0:52:00 – Lord, look upon our joy (Norwegian traditional) 0:53:28 – Vårsøg (wind of spring) – Henning Sommerro 0:56:40 – Spanish folk song (traditional)
James Hughes with String Quartet 0:59:00 – Somerset Garland (Paul Lewis) 1:13:05 – Bavarian Woodpecker (Tommy Reilly)
My uploaded harmonica video archives can be found in several places.
YouTube – My first attempts at video production were to capture the annual National Harmonica League (NHL, now HarmonicaUK) concerts in the Folk House in Bristol, starting in 2001 until they were moved after 2018. I also began to digitise some earlier NHL concerts from VHS tapes and early camcorder tapes mainly from recordings by Victor Brooks. Around 230 videos can be viewed on my YouTube site.
Here is the video introduction for this channel.
Vimeo – I prefer the videos to be viewed without ads, and I like the control that a paid Vimeo account allows. The downloading and embedding of the videos can be specified and if a video needs updating or editing it can be uploaded over the original without affecting the original link/url.
My more recent harmonica videos have been uploaded to Vimeo where they can be linked to my websites like this blog. There are over 75. You can view them here
The videos are organised into Showcases where similar videos are grouped together.
Playing the Thing – One group of the Vimeo videos is part of a project to reverse engineer a harmonica film from 1972 – ‘Playing the Thing‘ – directed by Chris Morphet. These are now embedded on a dedicated web site for this project which is recreating the original interviews which were edited to create the original film – Larry Adler, Sonny Terry, James Cotton, Cham-Ber Huang, Duster Bennet, Bill Dicey, Andy Paskas, Hohner’s Factory, Dutch Harmonica Championship … You can watch the original film here
This video contains all the chromatic harmonica music played during the Memorial Service held on April 21st, 2006, in Olney Parish Church. Douglas Tate was a charismatic UK harmonica player, engineer and teacher. He had played in World Championships, broadcast on the BBC, and written books on the maintenance and playing of the chromatic harmonica. He became President of SPAH in 2000 but his term was sadly ended by cancer.
Douglas had been involved with the National Harmonica League (now HarmonicaUK) for most of his adult life and the musicians who took part in the Memorial Service were friends from the organisation. Gerry Ezard, Colin Mort, and Harry Pitch were long time friends and Philip Achille, Eddie Ong and Jamie Dolan were youngsters that Douglas had encouraged.
01:20 mins – Douglas Tate – Sonata for Harmonica (Peter Jenkyns)
06:00 mins – Jamie Dolan – Mulberry Cottage
09:00 mins – Harry Pitch – Last of the Summer Wine
13:00 mins – Philip Achille – Ashokan Farewell
17:50 mins – Jang Ming – No Place Like Home
19:00 mins – Ensemble – Bach Double Violin Concerto
27:40 mins – Jamie – Dark Island
30:00 mins – Douglas Tate – Trio Sonata in F major (Jean-Baptiste Loeillet)
You can learn much more about Douglas Tate and his life from my articles in the Harmonica World magazine issue shown in the video above. It can be viewed here.
I first heard about Martin Brinsford when Eddie Upton came to the NHL festival in Bristol in 2008, and we discussed the place of the tremolo harmonica in English Folk dance music. This is covered in full on my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.
Martin was busy at the time with Brass Monkey but eventually he agreed to play at the H2017 and H2018 festivals in Bristol. This is based on his workshops and subsequent communications.
This is work in progress.
Martin was born in 1947 and was given a Hohner Chromatic harmonica when he was 10 years old. He still owns it although he has played tremolo harmonica for the last 50 years. He took up the drums in 1962.
In 1972 he bought a copy of ‘Morris On‘, a folk rock interpretation of Morris dance tunes featuring John Kirkpartrick and members of Fairport Convention, and fell in love with the music. That year, after moving to Cheltenham, he joined the newly formed and subsequently legendary Old Spot Morris dancers where he met Rod Stradling, an influential melodeon player and evangelist for the traditional music of England. Rod gave Martin at least 6 hours of cassette tape recordings of traditional musicians which he listened to religiously whilst working as a carpenter on building sites, much to the bemusement of the rest of the workforce!
Rod also introduced Martin to the Romany Traveller tradition of simultaneous mouth organ and tambourine playing.
The Old Swan Band, England’s premier country dance band, was formed in 1974 with Rod, Martin and other local musicians, playing tremolo and and percussion. It is still playing and they had a 40th anniversary concert tour in 2014.
Martin’s first recording was in 1976 on squeeze box virtuoso John Kirkpartrick’s album Plain Capers and in 1977 the Old Swan Band released the first of many LPs and CDs
Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick set up Brass Monkey in 1981 and invited Martin Brinsford to join. They toured and recorded extensively but intermittently for over 30 years. Martin is pretty confident he was in the only band to play at the Albert Hall and his local pub, The Prince Albert, in Stroud. Here is a video featuring Martin playing ‘Happy Hours‘ with them.
Martin played with several other bands like The Tangent Band, and Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas as well as taking part in many recording sessions on harmonica, saxophone and percussion.
He has also recorded with the English country dance band ‘The Mellstock Band‘, ‘The Steve Ashley Band‘, ‘Phoenix‘, and ‘Grand Union‘, on on harmonica, saxophone and percussion. He even played on ‘Grandson of Morris On‘ a third generation follow up to the record which inspired him all those years before.
An unusual part of Martin’s style is his gypsy style harmonica and tambourine playing. He discussed this in a workshop at the NHL H2017 festival. He also demonstrated his interest in performing a wide range of world music.
Currently he is playing with The Pigeon Swing who specialise in vintage Québécois dance music, and who are planning to record later this year.
Martin and Katie Howson played together for a few years, but now it is on an occasional basis.
Martin’s most recent CD, ‘Next Slide Please‘ has lots of mainly Irish/American tunes and was recorded with Keith Ryan and Gareth Kiddier.
I learned about Terry Potter from Eddie Upton in 2008. Eddie ran Folk South West when he came to the National Harmonica League festival. He was able to give me the names of some harmonica players who were active in the English folk music scene.
Terry Potter is a tremolo player who has been active since the 1960s with the modern traditional musicians like Ashley Hutchings (‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘, ‘Kicking Up The Sawdust‘) as well as playing with the Etchingham Steam Band, Potters Wheel and his family group, Cousins and Sons.
Along with Richard Taylor, I interviewed Terry Potter in his home in Sussex in 2009. I am using this and subsequent written communication to write this blog.
Terry was born in 1935 and is a traditional folk musician. He first became involved after his extended National Service in Germany, when he attended a local folk club in 1957, in the Free Christian Hall, in Horsham, West Sussex, where he still lives. It was run by his parents and he joined in all the dancing. He wanted to play this sort of music and remembered he had some old mouth organs at home. His father had played mouth organ and Terry had played a few pop songs – but not in public! Both his father, Charlie, and mother, Marjorie sang folk songs and were recorded by local collectors in the 1950s. Their original songbook was presented to the Horsham Museum.
He was allowed to join in at the next dance and soon learned to play a number of tunes, like ”Joe the Carrier Lad‘, from three ladies, The Benacre Band, who came to the club. They invited him to play with their band. He played his first concert that year which lead to to his first band, ‘The Derrydowners Folk Band’ with Geoff Hedger (piano), Derrick Smith (accordion), George Whetton (banjo), Lionel Bounton and Tony Wales (drums). It played for Barn Dances throughout Sussex for over 25 years
Terry formed a folk club in Horsham in 1958 with Tony Wales called called Horsham Songswappers, and the Horsham Folk Club continues to this day. Folk musicians were a close knit group and Terry joined up with Paul Morris (guitar/banjo) and Mike Howley (accordion) and played with them at ‘The Troubadour‘ at the time of the London folk boom, and with ‘Benacre Band‘ at the Albert Hall, in London, in 1958. There was also ‘The ‘Pandemonium String Band‘ with Pete Marsden (fiddle, guitar and vocal) in 1958 and ‘Country Cousins‘ began in 1962. Terry collected folk albums and played in the Ceilidh, jazz and blues clubs in Dublin and made visits to Germany.
In 1970, Terry was in Martyn Wyndham-Read’s band, ‘No Man’s Band‘ and they were heard busking in Leicester Square, London. They were playing Ned Kelly songs outside the premier of the film ‘Ned Kelly‘, staring Mick Jagger, and they ended up playing them on the BBC2 late night TV show.
Terry met Ashley Hutchins in 1972 when he was recording an album of traditional tunes with well known folk musicians, ‘The Compleat Dancing Master‘.
Terry played on the three tracks below: First, ‘Haste to the Wedding‘ – 2:10 mins, ‘The Triumph‘ – 4:25, ‘Off She Goes‘.
Here are a couple of tracks from Shirley Collin’s 1974 album, ‘Adieu To Old England‘. First, ‘The Chiners‘ and then ‘Portsmouth‘.
From the 1970s, Terry played mouth organ occasionally with several progressive folk bands such as ‘The Albion Band‘, ‘Kicking up the Sawdust‘, ‘The Etchingham Steam Band‘, ‘Potters Wheel‘, and ‘No Man’s Band‘. These bands included great musicians Ashley Hutchins, Shirley Collins, Dave Mattocks, Simon Nicol, Martyn Wyndham-Read, John Kirkpatrick, Bob Cann, Grahame Taylor, Peter Bullock, Michael Gregory, John Tams, and John Rodd.
Here Terry is featured on ‘Speed the Plough‘ on the ‘Kicking up the Sawdust‘ LP.
Some of these bands became very popular and some of the musicians went full time and toured Europe. Terry had a job and could not continue so he stood down and continued to play locally. He had worked with Metal Box but later did a series of local jobs.
Terry had continued to play with his cousin, Ian Holder, and wife, Margaret, since 1963 with various musicians but the band finally settled into, literally, Cousins and Sons‘ when they were joined by their sons, James Potter and Gary Holder. In 1978, John Tyler included their gigs in Harmonica News. They played together for 50 years but no longer play regularly in public. Fortunately, Dave Arthur recorded the group in 1993 in Terry’s sitting room.
Terry does not read music so he has built up his large repertoire of music by learning by ear. He only plays a tremolo but this has all the diatonic notes and it lets him play in many styles of music besides folk, including popular and some jazz tunes for fun. The mouth organ’s musical range is similar to other instruments in the bands but he can play in the higher octaves to have a more distinctive voice. He also uses a small Hohner mic and amplifier when playing in the band. Like Sonny Terry he plays the mouth organ upside down (back to front) with the high notes on the left.
Terry has made lots of recordings but the financial rewards are slim. His checks of the Royalties website suggest he may have to wait a while before they reach the level where they start paying out. He plays music for the heart and still gets nervous when he performs.
Terry has a large collection of mouth organs but his favourite is a Golden Melody which he plays in the keys of C,G,A,D,E and F. Hohner liked to get value from their brand names and this is not the well loved blues harp, but a tremolo harp.
Terry has made a collection of tracks called “Terry’s Collection – 1974 to 2001” which illustrates the range of his musical performances with different groups.
A = ‘Country Cousins‘, B = ‘Potter’s Wheel‘, C = ‘No Man’s Band‘, and D = ‘Etchingham Steam Band‘.
Chris Barber died 2 March 2021. Here he introduces some of the US blues performers who toured with his band in UK and Europe in the 1950s. Chris brought over a stream of American artists who helped to inspire the British Blues boom in the 1960s, through Cyril Davies and then youngsters like Paul Jones, Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. This is from the Chris Barber’ archive CD album, “Lost & Found Volume 2”, on Blues Legacy.
Track list 1 – Intro Muddy Waters – Chris Barber 2 – Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters 3 – Intro Sonny Terry – Chris Barber 4 – Poor man Blues – Sonny Terry 5 – Intro Champion Jack Dupree – Chris Barber 6 – Merry Christmas Blues -Champion Jack Dupree
Gianluca Littera was born in Rome in 1962. He graduated in Viola in 1985 at the G. Rossini Conservatory of Music in Pesaro, and afterwards he performed with many famous orchestras and conductors.
Whilst playing the Viola, he heard Toots Thieleman playing the chromatic harmonica and became fascinated by its sound and potential.
In the following years he taught himself to play the instrument, as there was no agreed way or didactic path dedicated to it.
He went on to perform as a classical soloist as well as leading his own jazz ensembles.
Following extensive research, consulting libraries, archives and contacting publishing houses, Gianluca Littera became aware of the existence of a large repertoire of music written for harmonica. Due to the absence of any educational path for the training of players, much of it has never been performed except on rare occasions in concert by the few players who have dedicated themselves to it.
These works include composers such as: Villa Lobos, Darius Milhaud, Malcom Arnold, Arthur Benjamin, Graham Wettham, Michael Spivakovsky, Robert Farnon, Alan Hovhaness, Paul Patterson, Gordon Jacob, Vilem Tauski, Vaughan Williams, Henri Sauguet…
In 1996, Gianluca recorded the Villa Lobos Concert for Harmonica and Orchestra with the Gran Canaria Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Maestro Adrian Leaper.
Since then, his career has grown exponentially. Gianluca Littera has played as a soloist with numerous orchestras all over the world, inluding the Orchestra of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome, both in concert and in recording projects with Maestro M.W. Chung. He has performed many new works for harmonica including a work by Ennio Morricone.
In the Jazz field, he has worked with international artists such as Ute Lemper, Ivan Lins, and Eugenio Toussaint. He has toured internationally and appeared at the Shanghai Jazz Festival in China, Erl Festival (Austria), Edinburgh, Belfast etc…
In addition to his concert activity, Gianluca Littera is the author of various compositions that he has performed with numerous orchestras. In 2007 he released the CD “Sconcertango” with the chamber group “Ensemble Project”, with compositions and arrangements mainly by him.
Starting in 2014 he held harmonica courses for several years at the Conservatory of Rome Santa Cecilia and the Conservatory of Frosinone and Vibo Valentia.
In 2019 he submitted an application to the Ministry of Education – with the support of the director of the Conservatory of Rome, maestro Roberto Giuliani – for a three-year university degree for the study of the harmonica, an instrument that had been absent from the Conservatory. It was accepted and marks the official recognition of the harmonica, putting it on a par with other musical instruments. You can read more about the degree course here.
In addition to his specific teaching activities, he has taken part in academic conferences and meetings where he was able to illustrate the technical and expressive possibilities of the harmonica, the literature and history of the instrument.
The prestigious Japanese harmonica manufacturer, Suzuki, commissioned a series of 11 video tutorials in English by Gianluca on the correct approach to playing the instrument. These videos, made by Gianluca Littera, can be viewed on Suzuki’s YouTube Channel.
Most musical instruments can be studied, and performances can be graded from beginners through to degree level. Unfortunately, the harmonica is not one of them. I have reviewed some previous attempts in a separate blog.
Recently I became aware of a new university degree course for the chromatic harmonica which has been developed by Gianluca Littera at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome. This looks very impressive and much more comprehensive than anything else I have come across. I had the help of Gianandrea Pasquinelli as a translator to help my understanding of what Gianluca had done.
Gianluca was born in Rome in 1962 and gained his music degree in 1985 as a viola player. He worked and toured with many orchestras before embracing the chromatic harmonica after seeing Toots Thielemans on TV. His recording career started in 1996 and he has played with many symphony orchestras as well as forming his own jazz groups.
Gianluca organised free harmonica courses for six years before deciding to develop them further. He joined the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome as a lecturer in 2022 after successfully submitting the degree course for recognition by the Italian Ministry of Education.
I wanted to share what I had learned with other players, hoping that they would share the pleasure I experienced while playing the harmonica.
It was difficult to gain acceptance for the chromatic harmonica in a traditional Music College. Fortunately, I had a degree as a viola player and so I was accepted. This allowed me to introduce the harmonica, which was not even considered an instrument at that time.
I started with six years of free courses (2014-20) at Conservatories around Rome. These classes were a real success, attracting students and arousing a lot of curiosity and interest.
Students performed in concerts with musicians from other courses and also attended seminars on the physiology of breathing when playing wind instruments.
These activities were necessary to get full acceptance for the harmonica and the creation of the three-year Academic degree course (Triennio).
The Degree Course
The complete educational path lasts 8 years and leads to a degree (like a violin or a piano). A qualification recognized throughout Europe.
the three-year Preparatory course followed by
the three-year course (Triennium) and
the two-year course (Biennium).
The Italian Ministry of Education has approved the three-year Preparatory course followed by the three-year course (Triennium) which leads to a degree. The next step will be the approval of the two-year course (Biennium) which would lead to a second degree or Masters.
I created the study plan, entrance exams, course work exams and graduation exams etc., based on those developed for other musical instruments, both in terms of duration and level of difficulty.
The three-year Preparatory course can be accessed without an entrance exam.
To access the three-year course (Triennium) it is necessary to pass an entrance exam and to know solfeggio (read music).
To access the two-year course (Biennium), when it opens, it will be necessary to have completed a three-year degree course and an entrance exam with the harmonica.
These courses started in February 2022 and currently there are 12 students, distributed between the Preparatory and Triennium courses. Some come from outside Italy (France and Switzerland).
In October 2022, the students enrolled in the Preparatory path will prepare to take the entrance exam for the three-year course and the other students will make the transition from the 1st to the 2nd year of the three-year course.
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching was discovering that it enriches not only the pupil but also the teacher. Furthermore, many of the pupils who were already playing when they entered the course had no idea what it meant to study in a conservatory. The opportunities offered to them have meant that their musical boundaries were enormously enriched, something that gives me, as a teacher, lots of satisfaction to see a student grow and develop.
In the future I foresee harmonica classes like mine in other Conservatories. I want to get the harmonica the recognition that has always been missing! Since 1992, when the accordion entered the Conservatory, no other instrument has since been recognized as such. I am happy to have succeeded first of all to give the harmonica the dignity it deserves, and also, to pass on at least some of what this instrument has given me which has enriched me musically and personally.
Finally, the harmonica now has an officially recognized course of workshops, lessons and lectures. In Italy we wrote a piece of the history of this instrument, and it was the piece that was missing. Perhaps we have not yet fully understood the scope of what we have achieved at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory.
I believe that other Institutes will take this result as an example and will do the same. At the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, we have opened and indicated the way. Everyone can access an educational path that provides the opportunity to register or take an exam according to their own level. Then advance from the Preparatory for those starting or the Triennium for those who already play and then the Biennium.
This has been wanted for a long time and here is a summary of what I think has been tried in the past.
When Hohner established its first London headquarters in 1930, the new Managing Director, Dr Otto Meyer, realised that clubs and tuition were necessary to grow the two main sides of the business, accordion and harmonica. In 1935 he set up what became known the British College of Accordionists which produced the first draft of the BCA syllabus, now recognised as the standard of accordion achievement. Although it was discussed, no formal educational course was set up for the harmonica despite the recruitment of Captain James Reilly as Musical Director, the publishing of many tuition books and the establishment of a music school in Trossingen, Germany.
To award degrees three things are needed – an agreed syllabus, qualified teachers, and independent, respected examining body. In the UK, discussions with music colleges were unsuccessful. There is still no grade system for harmonica like those for piano, guitar etc… This may be a reason why the harmonica is often thought of as an inferior instrument or toy by other musicians.
Several exceptional students have been granted degrees by top Music Schools, after completing their normal study courses, but harmonica teachers have had to be co-opted to provide the teaching and evaluation required. Philip Achille graduated from the Royal College of Music in London, and Filip Jers graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm. Some harmonica players have been able to participate in courses which focus on the music being studied, such as jazz, rather than the instrument.
There have been other attempts to establish a formal education process on a more permanent basis. In 2005 the National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts launched the world’s first examination system for the study of chromatic harmonica with Yasuo Watani and Douglas Tate as examiners. This included distance, online assessment for the lower levels and in person examination for the higher levels. Unfortunately, this was stopped after a few years.
In recent years the development of the Internet has resulted in many uncontrolled teaching sites springing up, especially for diatonic harmonicas. This has been useful for beginners and for improving performance, but few have established any formal examination standards. Dave Barrett is probably the most established with his Levels of Achievement system. Rock School Ltd (RSL) have shown an interest in extending their teaching activities to instruments like the harmonica.
I am aware of two recent attempts to set up a university course for chromatic harmonica players. In 2022, Dr. George Miklas announced a brand-new course at the University of Lynchburg, USA, where college students can now study the harmonica for an applied music credit.