My harmonica video archives on YouTube and Vimeo

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

Martin Brinsford – Traditional Tremolo Harmonica Player

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.

Return to my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.

Terry Potter – Traditional Tremolo Harmonica Player

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.

These are included in my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.

It is work in progress.

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.

You can see glimpses of Terry in the first part of a video documentary about ‘The Albion Band.

Here is a link to the 1974 John Peel session with the Etchingham Steam Band.

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‘.

Track 1, A, Walpole Cottage

Track 2, A, Cumberland Reel/Rosin the Bow

Track 3, B, Acre of Land

Track 4, A, Cross of Arboe

Track 5, A, Michael Turner’s Trip to Cheltenham

Track 6, C, Three Morris Tunes

Track 7, B, April Morning

Track 8, A, Austrian Pottery

Track 9, A, Portsmouth/New Rigged Ship

Track 10, B, Dark Eyed Dinah

Track 11, A, Three Sea Captains

Track 12, A, Salmon Tails/Maggie in the Woods

Track 13, C, Shelter

Track 14, A, Bonnets so Blue

Track 15, D, Orange in Bloom

Track 16, B, Soldiers Glory/Brothers in York

Track 17, A, The Guilded Cage

Track 18, A, The Fyket and Bainbridge Girls

Log Cabin/Lisa Jane

Big Corral/Kemo Kimo (Sing Song Kitty)

Kitty McGee/Paddy Cary

Return to my blog page on British traditional harmonica players.

Gianluca Littera – Chromatic Harmonica Teacher and Performer

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.

He has also written two books which are the backbone of the lectures and workshops used by his harmonica students and those who are interested in the instrument – 70 exercises for Chromatic Harmonica from basic to Intermediate / advanced level and Theoretical and Practical Treatise for Chromatic Harmonica.

He has also recorded many CDs.

Here is a video about his recent CD – A Breath Between the Strings (Music by Gordon Jacob, James Moody and Tony Kinsey)

Here is his Facebook page

You can read more about the degree course and how to apply on my blog page about it.

Chromatic Harmonica Degree Course – Gianluca Littera

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 Littera

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.

You can read more about Gianluca Littera here.

What follows is in his own words.

Gianandrea Pasquinelli

The Creation of the Harmonica Degree Course.

The Free Course

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.

This residential course includes the different subjects and knowledge that the student must acquire. The harmonica is the topic. For the practical / technical part we mainly use my book 70 exercises for Chromatic Harmonica from basic to Intermediate / advanced level while for the workshops /lectures we use as a reference another text of mine Theoretical and Practical Treatise for Chromatic Harmonica.

In addition to the harmonica, some other topics are studied: solfeggio, the history of music, harmonic analysis, chamber music, choral singing, and knowledge of relevant legislation etc…

These skills combine to train, not only a harmonica player, but, more importantly, a musician with all the necessary tools to enter the professional world, and, if he wishes, to teach others.

The chromatic harmonica is one of the instruments which leads to a music degree.

Here are links to music to be studied and lectures for the three-year course (Triennium) for harmonica.

The current status of the course

There are 3 stages.

  • 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.

The Future

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.

For more information you can contact me, Gianluca Littera

Harmonica Education – Courses for Chromatic and Diatonic Players

Finally, it is possible to study for a music degree. This is thanks to Gianluca Littera who has designed a syllabus for chromatic harmonica at a Music Conservatory in Rome, Italy – see end for more details.

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.

The most comprehensive approach I have seen is a degree course for chromatic harmonica players running at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia in Rome, established and directed by Gianluca Littera. You can learn more about Gianluca, the syllabus and how this was developed by reading my blog page about it.

Harmonica Hotel

One of the pleasures of being Chairman of the NHL (now HarmonicaUK) for a long time was that I was able to meet and become friends with the international harmonica players who travelled to our annual festivals via London. We live about 30 mins from Heathrow airport so we were able to provide the artists with accommodation for a couple of days to relax and get rid of jet-lag before driving them down to the festival in Bristol. They stayed in our spare bedroom, vacant since our children flew the nest and set up their own homes.

I took all this for granted until this humorous Facebook post by Rob Paparozzi brought it all back.

Many of the other artists who had stayed with us joined in with their comments. How I wish we had kept a visitors’ book, but this was all so informal and unplanned.

Two names missing from this virtual visitors’ book are Greg Szlapcynski (now Greg Zlap), and Rick Epping.


Facebook – Rob Paparozzi – 2018

A mere 242 years after the American Revolution and my poor Heart has been captured under ‘British Rule’ I was forced to stay in the lovely home of Roger & Jo Trobridge and take walks in the stoic and quaint town of Maidenhead then made to eat large hearty and delicious home cooked meals. Forced to sleep in a bed previously shared by other Harmonica slouches like Adam Gussow, Joe Filisko, Antonio Serrano, Will Galison, Peter Madcat Ruth and some tall guy named Howard Levy! Then I had to succumb to and peruse a treasure trove of rare vintage videos, books, LPs amazing Harmonica and eclectic Music Memorabilia in their lovely home compiled by Roger who is one of the FINEST music/art archivists in the world. Even forced to sit down at Jo’s lovely Kawai Grand and play old Randy Newman songs.

Then, shuffled off to the historic town in the Southwest of Britain, Bristol and made to perform with consummate pros and then hang around with the nicest warmest blokes and ladies in the country, while staying at a 5 star hotel.

Finally, having to endure 1st class upgrades and hot roasted nuts while in flight to and from the USA. How much torture can a man endure? Help! I’ve been captured (and I loved it). But I think the Queen has found out about all this mess and has had quite enough of this ‘Paparozzi dude’, so today I will be shipped back to the States.

Kidding aside. Thank You Roger Trobridge, Jo, the National Harmonica League, Ben Hewlett, David Hambley, Dave Taylor, Phil Leiwy, Shirish, oops almost forgot Walter John Davies and all the others I forgot to mention and of course it’s lovely membership and my friend Peter Hewitt for making me feel so at home in the UK and inviting me to share music and SMILES with you all this past week.

until next time … – Rob Paparozzi – (The Italian-American Prisoner of Love)

Joe Filisko – Slouch I am!

• Robbie Kondor – Well deserved treatment, even as traitors go.

• Tony Perry – The Jersey Boy!

• Mary Ellen O’Neil Davis – Well if anyone can endure such torture you can do it. Glad they got sick of you & sent you back

• Walter John Davies – We can reveal that the NHL is actually funded by the British Secret Service as part of a covert charm offensive against you ungrateful colonials. Didn’t think it strange that we had a trusty American political prisoner working on the reception desk? We’ll get you all back serving the monarch yet.

Rob Paparozzi – it all comes back! Thanks Walter!

• Richard Hunter – Clearly a case for the International Criminal Court. Thank God you were able to survive, escape, and squeeze in a big performance!

• John Posada – You poor guy…I don’t know how you can even stand it.

• Max Morden – That’s awesome…

• Greg Heumann – Sorry for your troubles, Rob. I’m sure things will look up soon. 

Rob Paparozzi – Woe is me.

• Nicholas Coppola – I am having them load the plane with cash to pay the ransom….. Don’t worry we will have you out of there soon……lol it sure is beautiful when a plan comes together

William Galison – to you and Roger & Jo. I found their village and the walks around it, one of the most pleasant moments of my my life. Sorry about the bed I slept in. I hope it had time to air out!

Peter Madcat Ruth – I was “forced” to stay there too…

Rob Paparozzi – Ahhh I knew I’d forget another Major Dude!,-)

Howard Levy – England swings like a pendulum do…

Adam Gussow – I didn’t realize that we’d all shared that same bed, but I’m happy to know that I’m in that sort of elite company! I love Roger and Jo.

Roger Trobridge – You are making it sound like a house of ill repute – we take in everyone. Antonio Serrano Dalmas also stayed with us. I wish I had taped you all playing in the music room…….

• Houndog Mc Gateley – The playing in the bar at the hotel till the wee small hours on Sunday night was always a treat for me, some great guys and memories. Can’t say I missed it this year, my wife would kill me, we spent the time in a London for our 50th Anniversary!!!

Rob Paparozzi – We missed you Houndog but Family comes 1st and that is a major celebration my friend! Big Congrats and Many more

◦ Houndog Mc Gateley – Rob Paparozzi thanks Rob, next time eh

Antonio Serrano Dalmas – I remember transcribing Larry´s Gavotte in that room!!

• John Valent – Enjoy the magic!

• Richard Smith – Nice tribute Rob Paparozzi. I think it`s true that Roger is the only member of the NHL who has never played a harmonica….. LOL

Toots Thielemans at 100

Toots died in 2016 but he would have been 100 if he had lived until 2022. This year there was a series of events including concerts in Brussels and around the world to celebrate his life and music. You can see more on the event website – 100 years of Toots Thielemans .

I love his music and enjoyed his enthusiastic personality which came across in his interviews.

Here is a great edit from the many conversations he recorded over his long career as whistler, guitarist and one of the best harmonica players. The compilation was put together by a Belgian DJ, Nico Kanakaris, who goes by the name of BlueNotes (Facebook).

Here are some memories of Toots and his life broadcast in German by ‘Das Feature – Deutschlandfunk’ with contributions from harmonica players – Steven de Bruyn, Hendrik Meurkens, Yvonnick Prene, Gregoire Maret … – and many top jazz musicians. Download the music from their webspage –
Der Weg der Mundharmonika – Toots Thielemans und der Atem der Melancholie

Here, Julian Joseph and Julian Jackson talk about Toots Thielemans in the Jazz Legends series broadcast by the BBC in the early 2000s. Julian Jackson is one of the top UK Jazz harmonica players and a session musician. He was been inspired by and had visited Toots. They play a number of recordings by Toots.

A conversation with Tommy Morgan by Phil Hopkins.

Phil Hopkins wrote this for me in 2010 when I was Editor of Harmonica World. He is a chromatic harmonica player when he is not the percussionist for London stage orchestras.

Here he is with Tommy Morgan in California in 2010.

The name of Tommy Morgan, Hollywood’s favourite harmonica player, is assured of a prominent place in any history of the instrument’s development. Morgan’s extraordinary career, during which he has racked up more than 7000 recording sessions for entertainment industry bluebloods such as The Beach Boys, The Carpenters, John Barry, Randy Newman, John Williams, Barbara Streisand and James Taylor, to name but a few, is still going strong – and recently passed a significant milestone. For September 2010 witnessed the 60th anniversary of Morgan’s session career, commencing with a recording for the Andrews Sisters in 1950 and recently seeing him booked in the studio for sessions for projects such as the film “Toy Story 3” and a new Barry Manilow album. And he still keeps busy with live classical engagements with the world-renowned LA Philharmonic.

I personally experienced the Tommy Morgan sound as a part of the soundtrack to my formative years as a youngster growing up in the 70s, even though at that stage I didn’t know the name of the man who was behind it. The mournful intro to “Rainy Days And Mondays”, the funk/C&W fusion of the Rockford Files theme, the spooky middle section of “Good Vibrations” (borrowed from my elder brother’s record collection) – all were manifestations of the master harmonicist at work in different disguises. But it was only when I heard John Barry’s orchestral album “The Beyondness Of Things” in 1998, with Morgan prominently credited for some gorgeous solos, that I connected the name of Tommy Morgan to the harmonica work which I had enjoyed for many years hitherto (via information on Morgan’s website). And for me as a harmonica student, Tommy’s sound on “Beyondness” soon became a reference work, a template of how the harmonica at its best could sound. Forget about whether it was chromatic or diatonic (actually mostly chromatic, with a little diatonic on “Dance With Reality”), this was an amazing harmonica sound, rich, full, controlled and completely attuned to the lush orchestrations which surrounded it.

What did it take, I wondered as the years passed, to develop a sound and a career to this level? Then in October 2010 I found myself passing through Tommy Morgan’s home city of Los Angeles and was lucky enough to find the man himself in town, graciously agreeing to spend a morning explaining to me and Harmonica World readers how it all came together.

“People call me a legend,” he says, settling into a chair in my hotel room – before modestly adding, “which means I’m old.” But I am soon to learn that this particular “legend” was erected on a bedrock of sheer old-fashioned graft. “When I was 26 I realised that I didn’t like my sound,” he explains. Although everyone else seemed satisfied with it – Morgan had already been a soloist with the US Airforce Band and had worked studio sessions along with guesting on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show – he wanted to attain the sound he heard in his mind’s ear. “I had weaknesses. I hadn’t gone through the pedagogy that other instrumentalists go through to play in orchestras. So I started on the Rubank flute book. It’s still around. I spent several hours a day for 6 years, while also working dates. I started with the first page and didn’t skip any exercises, I played them all. I now have a stack of sight-reading two feet high. Then when I got to a level where I thought I was getting better, I would spend a week in A Major. Then a week in B Flat.”

I mention that I dislike A Major. It’s a sharp key and tricky for chromatic players. “You’ve got to like A Major,” Morgan cautions. “I just finished an album with Gregg Nestor the classical guitarist where every piece bar one is in a sharp key. I play in D as comfortably as I do in any key. I’m as prepared as anyone who’s been through a European Conservatoire. I stuck with the flute and oboe tutors. Clarinets get a little too arpeggiated.” He chuckles. “If you want to be humbled, go get a clarinet book.”

But how to get that big, rich sound? “I practised long tones. Just like wind players do at music college. The note has to be in tune, and the tone mustn’t waver. It’s not easy.” He spots a harmonica in my room and asks me to play a scale. “That’s good but you don’t play every note in tune.” He asks to borrow the instrument and plays a single G, hole number 3, which starts imperceptibly, builds to a crescendo and dies away. The pitch is perfect, the sound fills the room. Then he demonstrates a Bb scale at breakneck speed to show that, at age 77, the technique is as strong as ever.

I find Morgan direct, but not intimidating. He likes to communicate clearly, and he is generous with information. “When I was sixteen or seventeen I studied with Jerry Adler, Larry’s brother. Jerry was a superb ballad player, he opened my eyes to what could be done. It wasn’t so much totally improvised jazz solo as an interpretation. It was more like, here’s the tune….and second time around he’d add and subtract things. And now when I give a lesson I sit close to the student, and we play. The best way to learn from someone is close-up. Without equalization or effects.”

Morgan adds that the hours spent listening to playbacks in the studio have been essential in building his sound.

“Hearing your sound back in the studio is the best way of developing it. I have heard myself more than any other harmonica player. You don’t hear yourself when you play alone. Most students I have play introspectively. They don’t project, they play with their heads down and slump a little bit. If I were teaching you today we’d go into a corner with hard surfaces where the sound bounces back in your ear. When there was a lot of studio work I’d hear myself daily…you’d hear a solo back and change a little bit here. This sounds good…but this is a little better.”

Another key to the Tommy Morgan sound is the area where the sound is actually produced, the contact zone between player and instrument. Morgan favours the square hole found on the classic Hohner 270 chromatic. “There’s more area than the round hole,” he confides. “And there is nothing on the inside of my mouth that covers the square. When I’m tongue-blocking, which I mostly use for chromatic, the right side of my tongue is flat. When I’m giving a lesson we both face the mirror with mouthpieces and you’ll see on mine that there is nothing covering the edge.”

Did he consciously set out to flatten the right edge of his tongue?

“I played for so long not liking the sound that I gradually improved the embouchure. As I uncovered a bit more hole it became a more open sound. I get the full air passage. I proved you can make a square mouth.” He raises an eyebrow ironically. “I have lived the harmonica, believe me. I didn’t take anything for granted, and I have tried a lot of things. But I didn’t set out to make a square mouth. I set out to make a good tone.”

This, I realise, is at the core of what Morgan is about. A relentless and restless desire to make better music. And at this point it comes as no surprise to hear that serving the music is the end result, not showcasing the harmonica. When I mention how much I enjoyed a little bend Tommy played on a solo on the James Taylor album “October Road”, he smiles. “That worked for James’ album. And I never forgot whose album it was. I played that way to enhance James’ album, not to make me stand out. You’re listening and then fitting in – how do you fit in to the overall picture? That’s the main question.”

And the ability to fit into a musical score, whether classical or pop, labelled Morgan as a team-player, embraced by the Hollywood session world.

“It’s all about blending. I did seven years of the Waltons, playing with probably the finest woodwind section in the world. Flute, oboe and clarinet all have different vibrato and I matched my sound to theirs. I took a lot of care over tuning. When you blow the harmonica hard it goes a little flat. I developed a very pure sound where I don’t cut off too many vibrations [cycles per second] but I also beat the problem by carrying chromatics tuned to 441, 442, 443 and 444 kHz. My diatonics are blues and equal-tempered [one is better for chords, the other for individual melodies].”

In case this all sounds very cosy, it should be remembered that Morgan did not walk into a ready-made studio career. “When I started, the job didn’t exist in Hollywood. George Fields had done some good things in the studios, but to be able to play full-time did not exist as a possibility. Then I did a session for Jerry Goldsmith. Goldsmith said, “You read pretty well. I’m going to write you like a third clarinet. Instead of having two harmonica solos, we’ll have you come in and play nine cues.” And when people found I could read pretty well, they started to use me. On one occasion, a composer asked Eddy Manson to play a melody up a third. It didn’t work out, but I was there and because of my training I was able to do it. And after that one thing led to another.”

Morgan sees preparation as a vital component in his success. “I played piano when I was young, plus some guitar. When I got out of the service I could see the nightclub and theatre industry was dying. My folks suggested I go back to school, so I did. I was studying for my masters degree in music, writing up my thesis, when I started getting called for sessions. And that’s when I thought, “This is what I want to do. Recording.” And I’ve used my experience as an orchestrator to interpret, or interpolate, a part. Interpolation is when I try to work out the effect a composer is trying to get, and then try to improve it. Sometimes I won’t even tell him what I’ve done. As an example, if I got asked to play a trill from D# to E [difficult on chromatic], I’ll do it on an E harmonica. Then the trill sounds much better….it kind of floats more. But I never tell anybody what I’m doing. Another player will work with the same composer and say it’s impossible. Then the composer will say “Well, Morgan did it.” I carry 45 pounds of harmonicas, all the chromatics and diatonics. So I can do stuff that nobody else can because nobody else has figured out how to do it.” Morgan shrugs and smiles nonchalantly, seemingly at ease with divulging these tricks of the trade.

But working for John Barry didn’t require a huge stack of harmonicas, just the ability to convert Barry’s melodicism onto tape as purely as possible. Tommy is unstinting in his praise for Barry. “John can say more with a unison string line than most people can with a full orchestra. John has a melodic sense that is incredible and he writes great harmonica. Take “Dances With Wolves”…people say to me, I know your sound from “Dances”. And do you know how many cues I played for “Dances”? One. It’s so poignant, and so correctly used. I played a 2 minute 15 second cue and people remember my sound. Two takes. Twenty minutes. That was it. “That’s gorgeous”, said John. “You can go home.””

I ask about the tricky F to F octave leap from hole 2 (draw) to hole 6 (draw) on the “Dances” theme. Morgan explains the use of portamento, the classical violinist’s technique of leaning up to an expressivo high note. “It’s not quite a bend, you just lean up to and into the note,” Tommy explains, singing the phrase by way of explanation. But he is quick to add that technique, while important, is just the means of achieving musical communication and not an end in itself. He says, “I get asked “Which way do you practise C major? Which holes do you play going up, and which coming down? And I reply that I practise it every way. I worked on several different slide/hole combinations for a passage in “Ritual Fire Dance” before deciding on the best one. Which was not the easiest one to play – but was the one which sounded best. And my answer to every technical question is “What does it sound like?”

I realise that Tommy has sung several musical examples during our conversation. I quiz him on this. “I’ve been a choir director for 25 years [amongst his other achievements – Morgan is also a qualified glider pilot, a black-belt Hapiko Karate expert and has an accountancy qualification]. I pattern my playing on vocals,” he confides. “My vibrato is similar to a vocalist – I establish the sound and then add vibrato afterwards. If you can’t sing what you’re trying to do – and it doesn’t matter how good or bad your voice is – then you can’t play it. And whatever style of music you are playing, I would recommend you go to the source for your inspiration. If you want to play blues harp, don’t just listen to the players – although there are some amazing ones, like Howard Levy and Jason Ricci. Listen to BB King. And I would suggest to a jazz clarinettist to listen to Toots. As a friend of mine once said, Toots would have been a giant on any instrument he chose to play. But while I have studied the way oboe, flute and clarinet players produce a sound, I pattern my own sound on the human voice.”

Perhaps it is that very vocal quality of Tommy Morgan’s sound which explains why it has communicated its message so unerringly to so many people for so many years.

I ask Morgan to help me summarise his contribution (and by extension the harmonica’s) to the Hollywood industry in the 500-plus movies his playing has graced. “I was an extra dimension for composers,” he explains. “Another colour in the sound palette. I lived at the right time and I had the opportunity. But I worked for it.”

Morgan feels that his playing is best represented away from the commercial world, on his discs Classics Lite 1 and 2. “The weird thing is, you spend 20 minutes on something like the theme from “The Rockford Files” and you are judged on it for the rest of your life. But I think the Classics Lite albums represent the full range of my playing.”

You can see and order Tommy’s solo CDs here

There are more examples of Tommy Morgan’s playing on my Tribute Page 

Here is Phil Hopkins home page

Steve Jennings – Feb 1954 to Nov 2019 – a tribute

With contributions from Steve’s wife Josie, and his friends – Tom Hunter, Steve Jones, Rowena Millar, Johnny Mars, ‘Pip’ Rowland, and Paul Gillings.

Harmonica World

Stephen John Jennings or ‘Steve’ as he was universally known was one of the small group of volunteers who are responsible for the survival and success of the National Harmonica League (NHL) as we know it.

He joined the NHL in 1986, a few years after it separated from Hohner in 1981. Steve first started writing blues harp reviews for Harmonica World early in 1987 and by December that year he was editing the magazine, which he did until 1995. He was back on the committee as treasurer from 1998 to 2003 before stepping down to qualify as a Reader in his local Anglican church.

He attended NHL festivals in Bristol, with his wife Josie, as long as his deteriorating health would allow. He would talk long into the night, sitting on a stool in the hotel lounge.

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Steve was born in London and attended Whitgift School in Croydon where he developed the sense of civic responsibility which he maintained all his life. In his early 20s, he enrolled at Rose Bruford College in London and gained a BA in Theatre Arts.

Steve, Josie and David
Steve, Josie and David

Steve was a musical child and played organ in church but blues harp became his chosen instrument in his twenties. London had lots of harp driven bands at that time and Steve was a regular at pub gigs by Shakey Vic, Johnny Mars and Lee Brilleaux of Dr. Feelgood. He was a fast learner and gained valuable experience playing with them and other harp players like Steve Baker, Paul Rowan and Alan Glen.

By now Steve was married with a son and working as a systems analyst. He had joined the NHL and wanted to share his enthusiasm and knowledge. Becoming editor in 1987 gave him a great opportunity to do this and he transformed the magazine. Living in London gave him great access to visiting players and he interviewed many of them.

In autumn1991 he took a new job with Travis Perkins near Northampton and moved with his family to Rothersthorpe. Harmonica players were always welcome there. He remained as editor until 1995.

Steve learned chromatic and performed in a duo with his wife, Josie, who played a vineta (small chord). Over the years he regularly acted as a competition judge and organiser.

Following the retirement of Hohner’s harmonica technician, Willi Dannecker, Steve taught himself to maintain and repair harmonicas and carried out work for many top players, including Les Henry (Cedric) from The Three Monarchs. Steve also made and sold custom harmonica cases.

Sharp Dressed Man

In the early1990s Steve helped to teach blues to the Harp Start Children’s program in Great Yarmouth and developed the Blue Saturday events with Norman Ives and David Priestley, which enabled many players to improve their knowledge and performance of blues music. The workshops usually ended with a jam session with Steve’s blues band, Straight Eight, with guitarist Eric Sweetland (Tom Hunter) or Double or Quits with Dave Arrowsmith on guitar. When he performed, Steve was always smartly and snappily dressed and, unusually for a musician, punctual to a tee.

In addition to the Blue Saturday event, Steve produced a series of Blues Harp Breakdown cassette tapes under the name “Sonny Jay” each of which was dedicated to teaching a well-known instrumental like “Easy” by Walter Horton. He also produced some cassettes of backing and play-along tracks.

In 1991 he wrote a book with his friend Ken Howell for advanced players of the chromatic and blues harp called The Practical Harmonica Player. Its objective was to increase fluency in all keys.

He wrote a couple of books of Blues and R&B music arranged for harmonica which were published by Wise Publications (Music Sales) as well as a tuition book for beginners. The demands for a TAB version of the sheet music in books led Steve and Pat Missin to develop and publish SuperTAB. It is an attempt to bring some order to the way TAB is being constantly being reinvented by everyone. You can find more about SuperTAB here.

http://www.harmonica.co.uk/supertab.htm

In the 1990s Steve was part of an attempt to develop a process to assess the ability of harmonica teachers – HTAB (Harmonica Teacher Accreditation Board). Unfortunately the project was never completed.

Steve was very interested in the chord harmonica family of instruments and about 10 years ago he wrote a detailed article about the history and development of the many types of chord instruments, which was published in the April/May and Oct/Nov 2012 issues of Harmonica World.

Even as his health was failing, Steve continued to play as a duo, The Junkyard Crew, with Bob Coombs on guitar.

Steve had lots of experience and memories of the history of the harmonica. At the time of his death I was digitising his favourite VHS tape of the NHL festival concert in Shirley, Birmingham, in 1988.

Steve the Reader

One of the last things Steve did was to apply to Sarum College, Salisbury, to study for an MA in Christian Liturgy. It has just been awarded to him, posthumously. Steve got the funeral he wanted. In addition to the church hymns and plainsong, the service included Hoochie Coocjie Man by Muddy Waters, Down at the Doctors by Dr Feelgood and Free as a Bird by John Lennon.

Steve got the funeral he wanted. In addition to the church hymns and plainsong, the service included Hoochie Coochie Man by Muddy Waters, Down at the Doctors by Dr Feelgood and Free as a Bird by John Lennon.

When God made Steve he threw away the mould. He was an educated and determined man with an impish sense of humour who gave strength and support to the NHL for over 30 years, for which we are very grateful. I will miss his enthusiasm and support.