An Afternoon Playing Jazz Diatonic Harmonica

Originally posted June 2013

pboro_jazz_workshopI had the opportunity to play harmonica in a jazz workshop the other weekend in Peterborough, NH at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. I brought a mic and 14 harps with me, in various keys, but ended up only playing my C diatonic Golden Melody.

I settled on the C harp, not because the key was particularly suited to the tunes called for that day, but because it it has the best overblow setup of my current harps, and importantly, it’s the one I read best on.

We played Solar, by Miles Davis, So Danco Samba by Jobim, a Mingus tune arranged in 5, and a ballad whose name I forget.

We read the tunes down, everybody took a solo, and the director gave us suggestions, one of which was to play guide tones behind the soloists during B sections, then remember those guide tones to help structure our own solos.

The high school flautist sitting next to me had an even simpler approach: take the notes in each measure and rearrange them. Brilliant.

In my solos, I ended up mostly just arpeggiating chords. But darned if that didn’t get me through the changes and sound a little bit like I knew what was going on!

My intonation in the low octave was sometimes a little seasick, but the fact that I got through all keys and chords without much problem was a major encouragement. Next step is to get through those changes with more linear lines and less hopping…

It was really great to play with a live jazz rhythm section and be a part of a horn section for a couple hours.

Big thanks to workshop leader Rich Greenblatt and to Gordon Peery for organizing this event at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture.