[Harp-L] Stevie Wonder Drops by at NAMM, & Other News
I just spent three hectic but enjoyable days at the huge NAMM music trade show in Anaheim, California. I was working on the Suzuki booth alongside staff from the factory in Hamamatsu and US agent Oz Leguizamo. As it was the 55th anniversary of the founding of his company, Mr. Suzuki himself (now 84 but still very much at the helm) joined us for the last couple of days.
Helping with demonstrations were young chromatic maestro Gregoire Maret and Federico Gonzalez Pena, who played the Melodion and an interesting new mouth-blown Suzuki keyboard instrument called the Andes (sounds like a cross between recorder, kalimba (thumb-piano) and pan flute).
Trade shows like NAMM are a great place to meet up with other players, especially the ones doing demos for the other brands. Madcat Ruth was working for Hering, blowing up a storm every couple of hours on his cool Madcat Shaker mic. I had a try, loved it, and Madcat kindly sold me his on the last day. I hope to use it on some upcoming recordings. Hering had their new overblow diatonics on display, the Silver Blow and Golden Blow. These are hand-customised by a person working for the factory. When no-one was looking Madcat let me try them. The overblows pop in easily and they sound really sweet.
On Saturday Tom Ball was doing a demo on the Hohner stand, and stopped by for a jam. What a swinging player! It was a joy to go a few rounds of a shuffle in F with him, trading rhythm and licks. I could have gone on all afternoon but he had to leave for the performance with Kenny Sultan, and a friend who played cool percussion with brushes on a cardboard box. I spoke to him afterwards and apparently getting just the RIGHT box is not easy...
Phil Wiggins demo'd the new Hohner handheld Hoodoo wireless mic, which seems a pretty cool product. Hohner also had their new CX-12 Jazz chromatic on display, brought out in response to all those who like the CX-12 but find it too bulky in the mouth. They have narrowed the front profile by milling away the plastic of the original models and then coating in smooth purple finish. It lookks good; they wouldn't let me try it though!
Huang have a new mouthpiece on their 12 hole Professional chromatic too, a rounded one virtually identical to the Suzuki SCX mouthpiece. The inside finish leaves a little to be desired, as it is a bit rough for good airtightness, but if they improve that it will make for a good affordable 12 hole chrom.
On the last afternoon, we were suddenly honoured on our booth by the appearance of Stevie Wonder! He just strolled up (along with his considerable retinue...) and very humbly asked if he could try the new Suzuki prototype chromatics he'd heard about. These have silver-coated brass combs, silver-plated covers, long-slot reeds, and come in 12 and 16 hole sizes with precision slider movements in both straight and cross-style configurations.
I explained the features of them, guided his hands to the instruments and he started playing. Amid the bedlam of NAMM there was a sudden oasis of silence amongst the growing crowd around the booth. Stevie swooped and wailed in his gorgeous inimitable style, pausing to try a different prototype every few minutes. He then asked for a microphone, and we linked him up to our small PA. It sounded fantastic! That drew even more people, and there were soon a couple of hundred crowding in for a listen.
He loved the new chromatics, and was presented with a 16 hole and 12 hole of his choice. Then Gregoire and Francesco turned up, and had a jam on the Andes and Suzuki chromatic harps. Gregoire was in heaven, as Stevie is his idol and he shares a birthday with him. He played brilliantly and Stevie really appreciated this new master of the soul/jazz chromatic. Stevie then tried the Andes and had it wailing in 10 seconds!
He must have been at the booth for the best part of an hour, playing and listening, graciously posing for photos in between. Finally, his entourage laden with gifts, he went next door to pay his respects to Frank and Alice Huang, old friends of his along with Frank's brother, the brilliant harmonica player/designer Cham-ber Huang (now sadly suffering from illness).
After that he disappeared around the corner to the Hohner stand, and we stood shaking our heads in disbelief at hearing this great musical genius close-up in such an informal and intimate setting. Needless to say the Suzuki staff were finding it hard to stifle their pride at Stevie's appreciation of the new chromatics, and were soon on the phone to Hamamatsu giving the good news to their young designers Toku and Masaru.
For those of you interested in the new luxury Suzuki chromatics, they are to be officially released around April, along with a new silver-coated brass-combed diatonic produced in a limited edition.
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