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.

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

Max Geldray

The First Harmonica Jazz Playerby Art M. Daane

The Beginning.

Max Geldray

Max Geldray was born Max van Gelder in Amsterdam in 1916. It was not until 1932 that he first saw a chromatic harmonica; the shop owner offered it to him when he was taking refuge from a torrential rainstorm in his shop.
By 1934 Max had become a star on national radio and on two occasions he was asked to change his name. Max van Gelder was too Dutch. After listening to the Borrah Minevitch Harmonica Rascals and watching them on the screen, it occurred to him that harmonica bands would be the thing of the future.

The Bands.
In those days harmonica players were far from, and yet he found seven other harmonica players of his own age. When they found an agent they were soon told that a name had to be found the “Max van Gelder Harmonica Band” was too amatuerish, and too Dutch.
They soon became “Mac Geldray and his Mouth-Accordeon Band”. Max gave in but re-named himself Max at a later occasion.
The showbusiness didn’t pay very well and four members quit the band and returned to a more seriously way of life. The remaining four, Henk Lodema, Geert van Driesten, Rob Lodema and Max himself began taking it more serious and were engaged to tour Great Britain. Tom Moss, a very popular English comedian, was in Amsterdam for a few weeks seeking entertainers for his vaudeville show. He renamed their act. They became “The Hollander Boys”.
Their tour was a success, but after returning to the Continent again, they could not find work. Max had taken a fancy to travelling, and made plans to go to Brussels to see if he could get any bookings. The other three weren’t as enthusiastic as he, and told him to go by himself.

The Jazzplayer.
Brussels wasn’t actually waiting for a Dutch harmonica player, and after a couple of weeks Max started to get desperate for work. It was at the “Le Boeuf sur la Toit” that Max was allowed to play a piece with the house orchestra. At the end of the song the public broke down the house, and he was offered a job as a Jazz Harmonica Player, which lasted over a year.
A boyhood friend, Johnny Fresco, came to see Max at the “Bull on the Roof” the English translation of “Le Boeuf sur la Toit”. Johnny had formed a successful danceband, and offered him a job with his band in a dance palace in The Hague. It was the first time that he played in front of a Dutch audience, and this was also the first time he ever performed in front of his father, who seemed happy to see his son on stage.
Because of the warm family atmosphere, the time in The Hague was very memorable to Max but he was pleased to hear from Johnny that he had another engagement in Ostend, Belgium. This would be a nice working holiday and an investment in his future as the Ostend Casino was just across the road from where they were playing. The Casino was the place where aristocracy, industrialists and other rich people of Europe came gambling. The Casino also hosted great artist like Coleman Hawkins, Teddy Stauffer from Switzerland, Jo Bouillon from France and Ambrose and his orchestra from England.
It wasn’t the fame Max was looking for but the players in the groups. He was learning so much so fast that he felt like a real jazzman. Non of the musicians ever looked down on him because he played the harmonica and became good friends.

The Paris Connection.
It was during his stay in Ostend that Max met Ray Ventura. Ray told him that whenever he would come to Paris he would set him up with a place to live. Ray kept his promise and Max became a full member of the “Ray Ventura Orchestra” untill the second world war broke out.
It was early in 1938 when Max met Django Reinhardt at the “Hot Club de France”, Django had already heard about Max. There were about six musicians playing some light melodic jazz and after about 15 minutes Max was asked to join in. The friendship with Django lasted till early 1940 when Max fled to England. He was jewish and didn’t like the idea of falling into the hands of the Nazis. The fact that Holland was a neutral country made it easier for him to leave.

The Soldier.
The vessel that took him across the channel docked in Liverpool but it wasn’t untill The 20th of September of that year that he was introduced to the Royal Dutch Army Brigade “Prinses Irene”, and was send off to camp. By 1942 Max had become very popular by the people at the BBC, and Max’s harmonica was on radio very often in wartime Britain. It was on Princess Elizabeth’s sixteenth birthday that Max and his friend, pianist Ben de Koning, were part of the entertainment to the Princess’s party. At no lesser place than Windsor Castle.
Max was wounded during the landing at Normandy, 4 months later he set foot again in Brussel, but had to wait untill May 1945 to go Amsterdam where he was unable to find his family. Sadly, both his parents and younger sister had been killed by the Nazis. Having nothing to stay in Amsterdam for he went back to Ray Ventura for two years before returning to England.

The Goons.
Max [The Conk] was a member of the Goons from start to finish. The show was first called “Crazy People” in May 1951 and re- named “The Goon Show” in November 1952. The end came on the 28th of January 1960. During those years he acclaimed International recognition. He was invited by the Austrlian Broadcasting authorities to appear on a Nation-wide television show in 1961, On his way back to England he made a stop- over in Hawaii and Los Angeles where he looked up his old friend Johnny Fresco and some other musicians he had known in Europe, most of them had become studio musicians. This wasn’t what he was looking for and returned to England.

The change in his life.
He had only be back in England a few days when he had another job offer, this time as an entertainer on board the Queen Elizabeth. Four crossings later Max decided to pack his bags and take a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, not because it was the place to be for a musician, but because of old friends. His first booking was in Reno, Nevada, where he had some marvellous opportunities, working with Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Shore, Billy Daniels and many more others. He didn’t feel at ease in Reno though and went back to L.A., where he landed a job in a local bar as a harmonica player.
He was longing to settle down permenantly and met Suzan, a small, gentle and pretty mother of three just at the right time. She was divorced, just like him. It was only a matter of weeks before he proposed to her, and soon after the five of them moved into a small bungalow in the San Fernando Valley. Max got a steady job in a department store as a clothing salesman. Two years later Philip was born; he was a gift from heaven for Max and Susan, and adored by the other kids.
Two years after they moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where Max worked for the the “Christian Science Monitor” as a regional sales supervisor. They missed the warmth of California and decided to return there. While in the midst of planning their move back to L.A., a letter from England arrived. They were going on a short trip to England first.

The very last Goon Show.
During all the years that he had been away from England, Max had kept contact with Peter, Spike and Harry and often saw Peter when he was in Hollywood. The Goons had never lost track of each other. The reason for the Goon Show reunion was the fact that the B.B.C radio was to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Max, Susan and Philip arrived just one day before the production in London. Everyone had arrived except Wally Stott, the musical arranger from the beginning who declined for personal reasons.

The Final Chapter.
After returning home from England it would take another seven years before they returned to L.A. Max and his family often visited Palm Springs where Susan’s relatives lived. By April 1973 her father became ill and they decided to move to Palm Springs to take care of her dad. Max had found himself a job in the “Trinidad Bar”, hardly a name for a place that featured jazz. One evening he was approached by a man who introduced himself as Doctor Hirshleifer. He told him that he was a jazz fan, and that he had founded the “Stroke Center” in Palm Springs. He asked Max to volunteer to put up a show for the patients, and this he did just one week later. Max returned every week, much to the pleasure of the patients. They formed a group and called themselves “The Blow Hards”. A wonderful co-operation that lasted nine years! The combination of taking care of her father and their son Timmy, who tragically died after being very ill for a year, took their toll of Suzan who eventually was treated at the “Betty Ford Center” in Rancho Mirage, California. Max immediately volunteered his services, and after a short period of volunteer work he joined the staff full time. Considering the hand of cards dealt him by fate. He is a truly remarkable man, and an example to us all. Let’s take a few minutes silence to pay homage to this great man.

Max and Art at the 1995 Dutch Harmonica Festival

When he visited me in September 1995, for the Dutch Harmonica Festival in Rotterdam, he was still working full time.

Early 1996 Max was advised by his physician to stop working. At the age of 80 he still found it difficult not to go to the Betty Ford Center daily.

Max was still playing in 2002, but 2002 had not been a good year as it slowed him down quite a bit. But he’s on the mend.But as of November, at least, all the maladies had been cured and Max was just trying to regain his former strength, something that doesn’t happen quickly at his stage of life.

Max’s son in law, Dr. Roger Blomquist, recorded a new jazz album; Jazz for Charity. This jazz album features Max, and each of the following tracks Roger played the same song on the alto saxophone.

Max lives in scenic splendor on the edge of a golf course in Palm Springs, enjoying the company of his wife of over forty years, Susan, and entertained by two delightfully frisky small dogs, Ruth Ann and Ebby.
Max turned 87 on February 12, 2003, and still plays gigs at jazz clubs around his home town Palm Springs. Max played Hering 12 hole harmonicas exclusively.

 Listen to Max playing Crazy Rhythm during an episode of The Goon Show

You can listen to Max and other players of his vintage on “Harmonica Swing

Max passed away on 2 October 2004.

He will be sadly missed by his family and friends.

“Max and Susan Geldray at their home in Palm Springs with Ruth Ann, the newest member of the Geldray household.”

Photo by Dick Baker – Auburn, California, USA, archivist of the Goon Show Preservation Society and webmaster of the US Archives 

Contact Art: e-mail

Webmaster: The-Archivist/Art Daane
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All rights reserved

Harmonica Music sur Cher 2017

Harmonicas sur Cher is my favourite festival. Great location, great organisation, great music and great local support from the people of Saint Aignan. For three days, harmonicas can be heard on the streets, in the cafes, the church and the Salle des fete.

Saint Aignan is a small old town with narrow cobbled streets in the wine valley of the river Cher, near where it joins the Loire at Tours in Central France.

There are some small daytime events but the core of the festival is the three evening concerts in the Salle des fêtes. Each concert features two artists/bands and this blog features music from all of them. As usual at this festival, the range of music and harmonica styles is very wide. You can look for something that you like or, maybe, sit back and listen to some of the places the harmonica can take you. You might be surprised!

Thursday (Jeudi) 25 May. The concert was opened by the Zanella Trio who play acoustic jazz and world music featuring Jérôme Peyrelevade : diatonic harmonica, Gilles Zanella : guitar, and Cyril Cianciolo : bass. Jérôme’s latest CD is called Somewhere on the Edge of The track which is featured is Nadia’s Nights.

The concert was closed by Cory Seznec, a band playing a mix of blues, country and African music. Cory plays guitar and banjo and David Chalumeau is the featured harmonica player. Their latest CD is called Backroad Carnival The track which is featured is Sell You My Soul.

Friday (Vendredi) 26 May. The concert was opened by French Canadian harmonica player and storyteller, Gérald Laroche, who presented sound images to illustrate his stories. He used harmonicas, Celtic flute, Indian mouth bow, Jews Harp and percussion instruments to create a unique fusion of sound and speech. His latest CD is called Rubato: Stealing The track which is featured is Last one to leave.

The concert was closed by jazz chromatic player, Will Galison, who performed a musical fantasy based on Homer’s story of Odysseus. He was accompanied by a jazz trio with the composer, Karim Maurice on piano and a small string section, la The track which is featured is Circe. The website for Karim Maurice’s Odysseus project is

Saturday (Samedi) 27 May. The concert was opened by new group, Liouane, led by chromatic player, Thomas Laurent. The music included traditional compositions and music influenced by Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan music played on oud, clarinet, percussion, harmonica and double bass. Their latest CD is The track which is featured is From Bethlehem to Angers.

The concert and the festival was closed by Mountain Men, featuring Barefoot Iano on blues harmonica. They played their own mix of rock and roll and blues (with a touch of Madness) which had grandparents, parents and children dancing in the isles as the evening drew to a close. Their latest CD is Black Market The track which is featured is Still in the Race.

That was the end for 2017 but Christophe Minier will be back with another Harmonicas sur Cher festival in 2019.

If you want to see what the town and the festival looks like, here is a video I made at the festival in 2011.

1 – Jérôme Peyrelevade – Nadia’s Nights – 00:00
2 – Cory Seznec – Sell You My Soul – 03:26
3 – Gérald Laroche – Last one to leave – 08:17
4 – Will Galison – Circe – 11:51
5 – Liouane – From Bethlehem to Angers – 19:03
6 – Mountain Men – Still in the Race – 24:20

Homage to Toots – Steven De bruyn

When I started to play the harmonica 27 years ago, Toots was big in Belgium. He did not only play on films and in concerts, but also on many local music shows and local television series. He was also the godfather of the great Jazz Middelheim Festival and played the national anthem before an International Soccer game.

When I attended a workshop by Toots I had the nerve to play him a tune. He said Cool man, let’s start the second part like that and to my disbelief we played this tune together, Toots on guitar and me on the harmonica in front of all these music students. Afterwards he give me a big hug. He was a lot of fun with his Brussels accent – a true ambassador for Belgium.

After his seventies Toots could no longer play the guitar well, due to a stroke, and only from then on he became a full time harmonica player. He constantly reinvented himself and in the last years of his public performances he really got to the essence of his playing. Very bluesy, very sparse and soulful. He made me cry and laugh at almost every concert I heard him.

Amazingly, the longer I play, the more I play the chromatic, and I realise how wonderful Toots was and will ever be as a human, as a musician and as a mentor.

Thank you Toots for your kindness, humour, passion and inspiration!

This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.

Toots’ Funeral – William Galison

On Saturday 27 August, I attended the funeral of my friend and mentor, the incomparable Toots Thielemans. I was on tour in France when I heard the news of Toots passing, and I knew I had to go to Belgium to pay my respects.
I drove with Belgian harmonica player, Steved De bruyn, to Toots home town, La Hulpe, a peaceful little town not far from Brussels. People lined the streets and pictures of Toots were displayed on a large video screen.
The Prime Minister and Prince of Belgium attended the service in the local church, which was full to its capacity of about 500 people.

Kenny Werner, Toots’ accompanist, played Bluesette beautifully as the pall bearers entered carrying the coffin, The pastor gave a moving eulogy about the breadth of Toots’ contributions to the world, as a musician and as a kind, generous and loving human being. Several friends spoke, including Kenny Werner who read out a personal message from President Obama.

After the funeral friends gathered at a nearby hotel to reminisce to the sounds of Toots’ Brazil Project albums. Even as I chatted with others, I was constantly distracted by the sheer mastery of Toots’ playing on this masterpiece recording. It brought home to me once again the significance of Toots’ musical legacy.

This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.

Toots and Jazz – Howard Levy

I was lucky to meet Toots and play with him on two occasions – once around 1980 at a club in Chicago, and then at the Harmonica Summit in 2000 in Minneapolis.

When we met in Chicago, I told him how I chose to play Jazz on diatonic because I loved the bluesiness of the instrument and wanted to play everything on it. I told him that I visualize the keyboard when I play diatonic harmonica. Toots told me that he did the same – he called it keyboard vision from starting music by playing the accordion. I felt a real kinship with him.

He invited me to play a tune in the second set – he had heard of me and I think that he was a little curious. I was very excited and a little nervous so I picked Autumn Leaves, the simplest Jazz tune I could think of. The audience liked my playing. He then played a fantastic version of Speak Low. His knowledge of harmony gave me something to aim for- not just as a harmonica player but as a musician.

In 2000 Toots shared many stories of his early days playing sessions in NYC. When musicians showed a lack of respect for the harmonica. he showed them a stub from a royalty check from Bluesette with him. I loved this story. It showed his fierce, determined side and his great sense of humour and irony.

Toots was a total original. He didn’t imitate other harmonica players. He was inspired by all the great Jazz musicians – guitarists, pianists, trumpeters, horn players etc. and he played with many of them including his explorations of Brazilian music with Elis Regina and Oscar Castro Nueves. He combined these high- level musical collaborations and his encyclopedic musical knowledge into a powerful and emotionally compelling style that appealed equally to casual listeners and the most advanced Jazz players.

Toots was truly beloved by the harmonica world. His personal warmth was genuine. His playing was inspiring and directly touched people’s hearts. He also endeared himself to millions of children by playing the Sesame Street theme song. Many other people enjoyed his playing on film music without ever knowing it was him.

And finally – Bluesette. This innocent, seeming little tune that he wrote around 1960 is actually a 24 bar blues, and he put the clue right there in the title. It took me about 20 years of playing it to realize that. It uses descending be-bop 2-5 progressions a la Charlie Parker, but goes several steps further than the convention of going down to the 4th, continuing down the whole tone scale all the way to the key of the b2 before the final turnaround. It’s also a European-sounding waltz – graceful, humorous, elegant, harmonically advanced and bluesy all at once.
Just like Toots.

This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.

Memories of an Old Friend: Toots – Rob Paparozzi

Toots came to the USA in the 50’s to join the Benny Goodman band and later George Shearing. John Lennon saw this LP cover in a shop in Hamburg, with Toots playing guitar, and decided if the Rickenbacker 325 was good enough for Toots he wanted it and hit the pawn shop on the corner!

He moved to the NY area in the 50’s to Yonkers, Montauk and NYC, In the 70’s I found his number in the AF of M Musician’s Directory and called him. He told me he had no time to teach but would be glad to talk and advise me by telephone and he never refused my calls and we chatted many times.

He said, “we were phone buddies, and was happy to answer my questions and gave me some invaluable practice tips which I will always treasure. In the 70’s he would tell me he was ready to retire from the NY studio scene as he really wanted to be more known as a jazz artist with his own Quartet. I would go see him live in NJ/NY at Ramapo College, Gulliver’s, The Blue Note and Greene St. in NYC.

Years later I went to see Toots at Carnegie Hall called The Magic of Toots with my friend Chris DePino and teacher Robert Bonfiglio. At the end of the show with tears & a big smile in his eyes Toots came up to us backstage and said Guys, I can die now, I played with Herbie Hancock at Carnegie Hall – we all laughed.

I asked him many questions, he loved talking about his work with Quincy Jones and Jaco. He said he met Paul Simon when Paul was a kid. Paul’s dad was the bassist on the old Arthur Godfrey show in NYC in the 50s & 60s!
When the Beatles came to do the Sullivan show in NYC, Rickenbacker Guitars asked Toots to go and demo their Guitar for them in a NYC Penthouse – John loves Toots!

Then only 4 years after John was shot dead in NYC, Toots played on his son Julian’s hit LP Valotte. Three years later in 1987 Julian came up to me in a NYC club and asked me if he could sit in with my band….We did Johnny B Goode!

Toots told me that Quincy wanted to do a record someday with Stevie Wonder and Toots as the featured artists!…Quincy got too busy and that never reached fruition.

These are just a few of my Toots memories, I guess I need to write that book.

Goodbye Toots and thank you so much for everything.

This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.

Toots & me – Antonio Serano

I first met Toots Thielemans when I was only 17 years old, in Seville, during the World Exposition of 1992. My father and I had travelled there to hear and meet the great Toots Thielemans! I was beginning to get interested in jazz so I was really excited! We arranged to meet in the lobby of his hotel for a coffee and chat with Toots before the concert. The moment arrived and suddenly I was there sitting beside the genius of jazz harmonica. I felt the luckiest boy on earth.

I´m not sure what the conversation was about but after 10 minutes Toots said something I will never forget. He looked at me and said: Hey boy! you must be kidding if you think I´m going to let you play with me on stage like Larry Adler did! Imagine how I felt. For one second I was devastated.

Then he continued: Let´s see, what scale would you play on a Dmin7(b5) chord? I answered wrong not only because I was nervous but also because, to be honest, I had no clue of what Dmin7(b5) meant. My knowledge of harmony at that point was only about I IV V progressions. He stoped me and said: You still have to study a lot if you want to come up on stage with me. From that day on I started to take the study of harmony and improvisation seriously and I understood that playing the harmonica very well wasn´t enough if I wanted to play jazz.

I will always thank Toots for being so honest with me on a critical point of my career.

The rest is history…

Thank you Toots!!

This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.