A blog about the Jaw harp.

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.


Demis CousCous said...


If it's any consolation, Johnny Cash's harp was at some point in the past slightly damaged.

The reed has a very slight bend in it resulting in a kind of muted sound.

Still a nice piece of memorabilia though.

2kryla said...


It may seem interesting to you.

"Three ways of playing two jew's harps at once" -

Harm said...

@ Demis Couscous, looking at the picture I don't think the tongue is the problem but the jew's harp arms, they are insane wide. To make a jew's harp sound the arms should be as close as possible to, but not touching, the arms of the frame.