A blog about the Jaw harp.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Goodbye, Mr Seeger

Photo by Jim McGuire, from his Nashville Portraits portfolio

Early this August Mike Seeger passed away. Mike dedicated his life to documenting, teaching and keeping alive traditional music of the American South. There's an excellent article about Mike, his life and accomplishments by the Washington Post that I encourage you to read.

The first time I heard Mike's music I was completely taken by the old songs and tunes he sang and played with so much emotion, soul and skill. He used a variety of instruments from the jaw harp to the autoharp to whatever he could make himself. I had a chance to see Mike perform at McCabe's in Santa Monica and even chat with him after the show. I showed and played for him my Morchang equipped with a California Delight vibrator and he got a big kick out of it.

Mike made me aware of and appreciate Old Time. He also taught me that music doesn't require fancy or expensive equipment. Pick up two sticks, a rattle, a couple strings, a jaw harp, a jug or whatever and go for it. Music belongs to the People and we must continue this tradition and gift from the past that he championed so well.

For those of us on the West Coast, on September 9, 2009 at 7pm, “Always Been A Rambler” will be screening at the Berkeley Old Time Convention. This new hour-long documentary about the New Lost City Ramblers, directed by Yasha Aginsky, features recent and archival footage, interviews, photos and LOTS of music. With Mike Seeger, John Cohen,Tracy Schwarz, Tom Paley and many more.

Mike has left the physical world but thank goodness, he leaves us his marvelous recordings.

Thank you, Mike Seeger.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring vibrations

Leonard Cohen on the cover of Harp Magazine.

The Man from Canada is touring. A great songwriter, he is one of the few to use the jaw harp in several of his songs and just for that, he gets all my respect. Truth is, I love his songs anyway ever since I heard Suzanne way back when I was a teenager in France. Suzanne viensje t'emmène, écouter les sirènes... Do catch him live but meanwhile, fans can listen to a live show he had at the Beacon Theatre in NYC on NPR. Yeay Leonard, yeay NPR!

Until April 11th, the Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City, OK presents two daily shows of "Woody Sez", a tribute to the words, music, & spirit of Woody Guthrie. Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie was born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. He is best known as an American singer-songwriter and folk musician, whose musical legacy includes hundreds of political, traditional and children's songs, ballads and improvised work. Renowned Broadway performer, storyteller, and guitar theatre legend David Lutken (Inherit The Wind, Ring of Fire, The Civil War) stars in the title role, and accomplished actor-musicians Darcie Deaville, Helen Russell, and Andy Teirstein join in to portray the many people who make up the fabric of Guthrie's amazing story. The four accompany themselves on over 15 different instruments, ranging from guitar and fiddle to jaw harp and dulcimer. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm & 8:00pm. For tickets: www.LyricTheatreOKC.com.

And now... (drum roll)

Gina Gershon

I was reading how after a 48 year absence, Bye Bye Birdie is returning to Broadway this fall. Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, this production is headlined by John Stamos, Gina Gershon and Bill Irwin. I was curious about the beautiful and talented Gina and had to read her bio. Gina is definitely hot! She played the jaw harp on "I Can't Decide" on the Scissor Sisters' release Ta-Dah. She also played the j- harp on the song "I Do It For Your Love," Paul Simon's collaboration with Herbie Hancock on his album Possibilities as well as other musicians such as Rufus Wainwright and Christian McBride. GINA! Let's get together and play some jaw harp! Or at least send a picture or video of you playing your jaw harp... : )

Traveling east from New York City, I recently came across an article in the Mongol News Media Group's website about "An Adventure with Mongolia's Reindeer People." Among other things, it interestingly describes a shaman going into a trance induced by playing his jaw harp and very possibly enhanced by the seven shots of vodka he downed.

Last year I introduced you to a jaw harp Punk from Vienna, Austria, Ing. LOOP (pronounce: Engineer LOOP.) He posted a demo video of a spontaneous jaw harp jam session he and an uncredited friend did in the Steffl Dom in Vienna. Ing. LOOP knows how to have fun.

Leave it to the one and only Vladiswar Nadishana to always push the envelope with news ideas and instruments. This time he brings us a traditional instrument of the Kuzhebar people of Southern Siberia. He calls it a Ghost Catcher and it can best be described as a two-stringed jaw harp. Play it with a stick and it sounds like a berimbau. Based on the video I believe the Ghost Catcher is chromatic. In any case, it sounds very cool. I can just imagine adding a little distortion and/or looping and you've got yourself out of this world soundscapes. Vladiswar demonstrates different playing techniques on this interesting instrument and you can buy your very own here.

Somebody brought my attention to a special listing on eBay: Johnny Cash's jaw harp! This seller out of Tennessee is listing several items that were previously owned by Johnny & June Carter Cash. She says they were made available to her by Peggy Knight, beloved friend and traveling companion of June and Johnny. Here's the description of the item:

This item belonged to Johnny Cash and Peggy said that it is one that he gave to Mother Maybelle. Peggy calls it a juice harp and an Ebayer said it is a Jews Harp. Supposedly you can make music with it or someone can, I personally wouldn't know where to start. It has green paint on parts of it, no writing that I can find and measures 3 inches long and the middle part has a curl on the end. I don't have any idea as to the age of this piece. All items will come with a Certificate of Authenticity from Peggy.

The lucky buyer is Demis CousCous, a musician, songwriter and producer out of the UK. I wish I had Johnny Cash's jaw harp!

Speaking of Tennessee. I read an interesting article about the musicians of the Smoky Mountains. It does mention that the jaw harp was part of the instruments used. But we all knew that! Here's a taste of what the musix may have sounded like, courtesy of Sheesham and Lotus.

On the subject of jaw harps for sale, Wang Li is offering an interesting one. He says it is made by an old craftsman in Northern China, that it has a very nice sound, and that this craftsman's j-harps are very rare. Wang Li is also open to trade so check out the item called G-C2 Kouxian.

Staying in France a bit longer (Wang Li lives in Paris), here are two funny Messieurs playing a two-sided guimbarde. Not exactly Laurel and Hardy but funny anyway. There's a part where the gentleman on the left yells at the other "Darn it! You're pinging! It's not THAT complicated!" LOL! Embedding is disabled so here's the link.

A while back I added a link To Veskimo's Journal. It is a great blog with always interesting articles. He recently posted his trial at making a vargan based on a Japanese model. Check out his article with step-by-step photos here.

To end this post, here's a new release from Norway.

Just released by the Geir Lysne Ensemble is a CD called The Grieg Code. There's some beautiful, moody as well as rhythmic music on the album. This CD is classified as Jazz but it is also quite experimental in the soundscapes it creates. The website offers several samples to get your appetite going. Listen to Kaa featuring Terje Isungset on the jaw harp along with a plethora of talented musicians including no less than Terje Rypdal.

That's it, folks! Until next time... Keep it real and good vibrations to all.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Boinging through hard times

J-harp, patented March 28, 1934, Inventor DeKeller, Stamey.

Massachusetts resident Bill Zucker was getting depressed hearing and reading about the financial bad news out there so he picked up his guitar and in five minutes wrote "The Tarp Song." (TARP is the acronym for the Troubled Assets Relief Program.) TARP, jaw harp... Coincidence? I don't think so. It might explain the hot jaw harp boingings in the song. So here it is, Bill's gift to us, a new song for these hard times. Quote Bill Zucker: "I wanted a simple song about a complicated situation that everyone would get. I was trying to find a way to make people laugh in these dismal economic times." Boing on, Mister Zucker! I'll be foot stompin' thinking about better days to come along with you.

Catchy and uplifting song, isn't it?

Next, jaw harp music from Russia.

I recently got a message from Aksentiy in Moscow, Russia. He was letting me know about a new CD he has released called Jaw Harp Speech. This is a great CD really worth multiple listens. The actual title is great: The Tale of How the Bird of Falling Stars Helped the Hunter to Get the Tusk of the Walrus Shapeshifter. Reading the description reminded me of a book I read recently. It's called The Way We Lived: California Indian Stories, Songs and Reminiscencess by Malcolm Margolin. There is an uncanny similarity of myths, legends and tales that just confirms my belief that we are all connected. From my research, the Native People of North America didn't know bout jaw harps until Europeans came but they had an uncanny kinship and ability to play them.

Staying in the U.S., coming up is the 200th anniversary celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

Singer-songwriter Chris Vallillo is on tour paying a tribute to this great American president. When Lincoln was a lawyer on the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit, he was part of a group of 25 lawyers and one judge who traveled the 400-mile circuit on horseback. At their stops along the way, they performed music together. Among his repertoire of well researched tunes and songs, Vallillo plays Hoosen Johnny on a jaw harp. Check it out and if you like Old Time, spend the few bucks to buy this great CD. Heck, I'd skip a meal just to buy it.

Up until now, one music genre that has been underrepresented using the jaw harp is Reggae/Dub. This has been rectified by Natty Matty who gives us his tune Mash up Dub. Right on, Natty Matty!

Also, I want to bring to your attention a new link I've added to Veskimo 's Journal. His blog is in Russian but there's an acceptable translation, courtesy of Little Big Brother, aka Google. Click on the link at the top on the right below Events and check it out.

Animal Collective is a music collective of avant-garde musicians originally from Baltimore, Maryland. This band is often classified as psych folk or noise rock but they have just released their ninth album that just doesn't fit any label. Here's a vid of ther song Lion in a Coma which makes good use of the jaw harp. True, it's a sample but somebody played the loop and it's wonderfully trippy.

On the subject of music, jaw harps, human social structures and other living creatures, Tribal Flora is a band from Mumbai, India. Check out this vid:

While you're at it, check out their version of Johnny Cash's song I've Been Everywhere.

Last but not least, our man in the UK, Jonny McBoingBoing has uploaded some instructional videos to help newcomers play the jaw harp. Do check him out, he's a great player, a nice person and kind enough to share his knowledge.

That's it for this time. As always, let me know if you want me to post something you would like to share. Take care, eat more vegetables, spend more time with your friends and family, and keep playing your jaw harps. Guaranteed to keep hard time blues away.