Jazz Harmonica Players

Also known as French harp or mouth organ, the harmonica while primarily known as a jazz instrument has had enough practitioners over the years to lift it out of the ‘miscellaneous’ category of instruments.

The most often-used harmonicas in jazz are the diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.

The diatonic harmonica refers to one that is designed to play in a single key, although virtuoso players using the Richter-tuned harmonica can force the reeds within the instrument to play tones not within the basic scale.

The chromatic harmonica utilises a sliding bar activated by a button that redirects the air through the mouthpiece to the reed plate selected by the musician.

Again, the Richter-tuned 10-hole chromatic harmonic is constructed to only play in one key, there are 12, 14 and 16 hole harmonicas that permit the instrument to be played in any key.

Toots Thielemans (1922)

Thielmans was a Belgian jazz musician and most well known a harmonica player. Using a chromatic harmonica.

Originally influenced by guitarist Django Reinhardt, Thielemans is steeped in jazz history from swing through to bebop playing with Benny Goodman’s band and famously in a jam session with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis Upon relocating the United States in 1952 the harmonica player would join Parker’s Allstars. 

Thieleman’s playing found widespread popularity and he recorded his debut album as leader, The Sound, in 1955. As well as his own groups, Thielemans would also work with the Billy Eckstine band, Dinah Washington, and later in his career would record with Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Stephane Grappelli and Bill Evans among others.

William Galison (1958)

Starting on piano and later guitar, Galison got turned onto the harmonica while studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

There as a guitarist he discovered that he was just one of many guitar players at the college and decided to switch to harmonica, and thus becoming the first harmonica player to study at Berklee.

Galison has performed at prestigious New Yrok venues such as The Village Gate and the Blue Note. His CV includes working with Jaco Pastorius, Jaki Byard, Astrud Gilberto and Peggy Lee.

He has also performed and recorded with Madeleine Peyroux. Originally influenced by Toots Thielemans, Galison has gone on to become an innovative and influential harmonica player in his own right.

Howard Levy (1951)

A multi-instrumentalist, Levy plays keyboards as well as harmonica, he is a versatile and complete musical force as a harmonica player. Known for his ability to play chromatically on a diatonic harmonica.

A co-founder of Bela Flack and the Flecktones, he plays in many genres including jazz, pop, classical, Latin and world music. He has toured and performed with Claudio Roditi, Chuck Mangione and Paquito D’Rivera. 

Yvonnick Prené

Like many harmonica players, Prené started out on guitar. Switching to diatonic harmonica and later the chromatic instrument he began playing around the clubs in Paris.

Relocating to the United States where he was awarded full scholarship at three different music colleges, along with the opportunity to study with Lee Konitz and Reggie Workman.

Prené has recorded as leader for the Steeplechase imprint and has also worked with Peter Bernstein, Rich Perry, and Ira Coleman. He is also the founder of the New York Harmonica School.

Chris Bauer 

Playing harmonica for over forty years, Bauer started learning to play at the age of nine. Originally influenced by his father he then joined Bauer Snr’s band four years later and at sixteen came third in a world wide harmonica competition. 

Bauer’s musical interests range from harmonica trios to church worship bands. He also has a passion for jazz and has recorded several albums featuring jazz standards, bebop and Latin number.

Grégoire Maret (1975)

Swiss born, but now residing in New York, Maret made the move to the US to study at the New School. In the rarefied field of jazz harmonica players, unlike many others Maret is not a multi-instrumentalist and channels all his musical energies through the harmonica.

One of the foremost exponents on his chosen instrument Maret has recorded as leader of his own groups and has performed with Herbie Hancock, Cassandra Wilson, Marcus Miller and Pat Metheny.

Antonio Serrano (1974)

Receiving his first harmonica at the age of seven Serrano was initially taught by his father, and was later mentored by Larry Adler. Active in many different genres, Serrano switches easily between classical music, jazz, flamenco, blues and pop music.

He introduced the harmonica to Flamenco music while performing with guitarist Paco De Lucia’s band for a decade. He has performed on the world stage with Paquito D’Rivera, Wynton Marsalis, and Perico Sambeat. 

Julian Jackson

Brought up in Liverpool in a musical family, Jackson was the first and only harmonica to enrol at the Royal Academy of Music and The Guildhall School of Music.

Naturally influenced by the great Toots Thielemans with who he studied, Jackson also cites Larry Adler, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane as important influences on his music. 

As well as being active in music for film and television, Jackson has also performed with pianist Julian Joseph and vocalist, Claire Martin, and has recorded as leader for the UK label 33jazz. Jackson is also involved in education. 

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