Harmonica in D/ Song in G
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1-Only Trust Your Heart, Concord, 1988
Only Trust Your Heart” is Toots Thielemans’s first album that I listened to when I was a kid and it remains my favorite to this day. I would listen to it on repeat, back and forth just about every day. I consider it a masterpiece featuring the great Fred Hersch on piano, Marc Johnson and Harvey S on bass and Joey Baron on drums.
2- Bill Evans Affinity, Warner Bros, 1978
Almost 40 years ago was released one of the most incredible jazz harmonica albums of all time. Every chromatic harmonica fell in love with ” Affinity” and the amazing playing by pianist Bill Evans, Toots Thielemans, Larry Schneider on tenor, Marc Jonhson on bass and drummer Elliot Zigmund. The repertoire contains jazz standards such as “Body & Soul”, “Days of Wine and Roses” with a reharmonization and pop tunes including Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love” and Michel Legrand’s “The Other Side of Tonight”. Thielemans is stretching solos, taking adventurous harmonic paths and asymmetric phrases.
3-Man Bites Harmonica! Riverside, 1958
This album was recorded during Thielemans bebop period featuring the great Pepper Adams (baritone), Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass) Art Taylor (drums) and Toots Thielemans on both harmonica and guitar on “18th Century Ballroom” and “Soul Station”. Listen how swinging and precise he is both rhythmically and melodically. The way he uses the bebop language was unheard before on chromatic harmonica. We can hear the thread from Louis Amstrong (“Struttin With Some Barbecue”) to Charlie Parker (“Don’t Blame Me”). Thielemans recorded another great album the same years with a very similar band, Time Out For Toots.
4- The Brasil Project, BMG, 1992
Thielemans recorded on The Brazil Project Vol 1 with top Brazilian performers as Ivan Lins, João Bosco, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Eliane Elias and others. The harmonica seems to be the perfect instrument to depict the feeling of the Bossa Nova as coined by Thilemeans himself “between a tear and a smile”. Check out the version of Bluesette in 4/4.
5- Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner, Verve, 2001
The most recent recording from this list, “Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner” recorded 40 years after Thielemans Bebop debut album, “Man Bites Harmonica” reveals how far he can took the harmonica to diverse places. In this album as well his released thought the last twenty years of his career we can notice a focus on the sound and expression than on fast lines. Kenny Werner is the perfect interlocutor for this wonderful music conversation. Check out Herbie Hancok’s “Dolphin Dance”.
Most likely, after you’ve picked up a harmonica for the first time and started playing the first bottom notes, I’m sure you probably thought your harmonica was broken and you were ready to ship it back to Amazon. Well, it was probably your drawing technic which wasn’t right.
This is what happens when you draw more air than it is necessary and as a result, you’ll end up choking the reed and over-stressing it. So my first piece of advice is to start out playing gently, breathing naturally, relaxed, and use less air.
If you hear a windy sound coming out when you breathe in, it simply means that the harp is too far from your lips and the air can escape out. That’s why your lips should overlap a good part of the cover plate to create a tight fit.
Here is a very simple tip to implement right away and improve your sound and single note technique. Try to blow as many holes as possible at the same time, then slowly push out your lips until you finally hear a single note. After doing this exercise a few times you’ll remember the shape you had to form with your mouth. Always keep the same lips shape when blowing, drawing and moving from one hole to another. If you open a bit too much you’ll blow or draw into the adjacent notes.
I see a lot of people spending too much time focusing on which harmonica, microphone or amplifiers to buy. No expensive harmonica will replace hard work and will surely not provide any shortcuts. Though it’s a joy to possess a beautiful instrument, just know that it will not make you a better musician.
My advice is to focus on the stuff that really matters. Get a decent chromatic harmonica, it doesn’t matter if you chose Suzuki, Hohner, Eastop or Seydel, they are reliable brands. Work on your sense of rhythm, learn new tunes, expand your knowledge of harmony, theory and play with other people.
One of the major difficulties we go through when playing jazz harmonica is to play a regular stream of eight notes. It’s easy to rush and lose the pace as we alternate between drawing and blowing notes. You’ve probably heard it from me in another post. So I’ll say it again: rhythm and time is of the essence. side note: “Time is of the Essence”, is a Michael Brecker album released in 1999. It is one of my favorite organ quartets.
Don’t get exasperated if you miss a note. The harmonica might be the only instrument you play “blind”! You cannot see the notes, just “feel” where they are, unlike a pianist or guitarist. It’s only through hours of practice and memorization exercises that you will master the instrument. But the journey is amazing and with my help, there will be no boundaries.
If you liked this article you might want to read My Top 5 Toots Thielemans Albums
Can you get more than 7/10 on my Harmonica History quiz???
Everything you need is right here at Harmonica Studio! You’ll find over 200 step-by-step courses for chromatic harmonica. Start your free trial today and be ready to take your playing to the next level.
Want to know how to improve your harmonica technique ? Want to create interesting jazz solos? Knowing your melodic minor scales will be very useful in your musical development whatever style you like to play from rock, blues to jazz.
In this book I’ll show you how to play the 12 melodic minor scales throughout a variety of exercises and practice tips which will build your technique and improve sight reading skills. ou can utilize the melodic minor scale over major, minor and dominant chords equally well. This scale is often used by Toots Thielemans and every major jazz harmonica players to color there solos on modal and minor tunes.
This course is structured into 3 important learning stages for each minor scale designed to make harmonica learning fun and easy.
The first step: I’ll show you how the scale is made, the location of sharps or flats, also where to draw or blow and when to push in the slide.
We’ll practice together the scale up and down from each degree (modes) and seven diatonic 7th arpeggios.
The second step: We’ll practicing Intervals from the third to the seventh.
The third step: Lastly we’ll practice group of two, three, four, five and sixth notes throughout each scale in all twelve keys.
This book is designed for the chromatic harmonica player (12, 14 or 16 holes).
Vlog#8 The Hang! Featuring Mike Ledonne and The Groover Trio