John – My Harmonica Studio Legends

I would like to John welcome Austin, Texas native John to our hall of fame! Check out his  interpretation of "Joy Spring" by trumpets Clifford Brown.

 What model(s) of harmonica do you play?

I play Suzuki S56 and SCX-48, Hohner 280C and lots of Special 20s. I also love Brendan Powers' Power Bender for special tunes like Sweet Georgia Brown. 

When did you begin your harmonica studies?

I began playing the Marine Band in 1970 and played semi-professionally for 50 years alongside a busy life as a globe-trotting correspondent for NPR. I always had a diatonic in my equipment bag! I've been trying to play the chromatic since my college days, but I never really got very far. it's a beastly hard instrument (that Yvonnick makes look easy!)  I learned some Toots heads but I never learned how to solo over the changes. It was just too bloody too hard, especially since the 10-holer came so easy to me. I had spurts over the last 20 years when I would try to study jazz chromatic, but life was just too busy: I had three kids, a demanding job, my marriage dissolved, and I just didn't have the systematic time to dedicate to the slide harp. During the waning days of the pandemic I got serious about the chromatic. I retired from NPR in January. Now I try to practice 1-2 hours every day.

Which three songs do you prefer to play the most?

That's a hard one. I love Bluesette, St James Infirmary in Eb and all the Jobim classics: Wave, Insensitive, One Note Samba, Desafinado.

What musical aspirations do you have?

My aspirations are to play jazz well enough to hold my own with good players--whether sitting in, joining jazz jam sessions, or even joining a band. I already play quite a bit in public, mainly on the 10-holer. But I'm rotating in the chromatic more and more as my confidence builds. The challenge I have is that my musical muscles and mind grew up on the diatonic and now I'm trying to learn jazz and it's a whole new language. I've played with Steve Ray Vaughn, Asleep At the Wheel, Hot Club of Cowtown, Johnny Nicholas, Marcia Ball...really a lot of fantastic players. This is heresy, but I'm sort of I'm bored with the diatonic. I can play Cajun, Country, Bluegrass, Irish, and Blues in every style until the cows come home. Done that.    

The chromatic is the gateway to the future. I absolutely love it. And with a world full of guitar slingers and sax players, there are very few good chrom players. Most of what you hear on it is blues in D dorian or Eb dorian, a la Little Walter and Kim Wilson. So there's lots of room for exploration, as far as I'm concerned. 

How long have you been a member of My Harmonica Studio?

I joined Harmonica Studio in 2022. A buddy in Houston told me about Yvonnick. I still can't believe how lucky we are to have a player of his skill dedicated to teaching.

What aspects of it do you like? How does it benefit you?

As other members have said, there's a world of instruction on this site that I could dig into for the rest of my life. The arpeggios, the scales, the inversions, and the deconstructions of jazz standards...which I love. I still struggle with the instrument--a lot. It's imperative to play live with other people. Too much practice with the door closed only gets you so far. Jazz is about co-creation in the moment. It's a beautiful thing. Fortunately, I live in a musical town where there are lots of opportunities to play.  Moreover, studying the chromatic has given my diatonic playing some fresh ideas. Now I'm doing cool jazz blues on the 10-holer such as Moanin, Now's the Time, Work Song, Blue Monk. They sound pretty great, actually. So I haven't abandoned the 10-holer, I'm still growing on it...thanks to Harmonica Studio.  

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