Re: [Harp-L] Rhythm Harp

Ken Deifik wrote:
<The greatest exponent of playing ahead of the beat in American dance band 
<music was King Curtis.  His bands were always full of studio cats who could 
<play around a beat in their sleep.  And so often you hear Curtis, or the or 
<the bass or the drums, or something, pushing the beat.  They're so good 
<that it never sounds rushed, but the excitement on his records is 
<wonderfully unbearable.

King Curtis was an absolutely awesome musician.  I transcribed two of his performances from his LP "Everybody's Talkin'", "Ridin' Thumb" and "Honky Tonk," for my book "Jazz Harp," and I studied his solo on "If I was a Carpenter" over and over.  I learned more about playing R&B from that LP than I learned from anyone or anything else.  One of the things I learned from him was about mixing things up--never using the same articulation, or register, or anything all the way through a chorus.  Another thing I learned from him was his technique of building ascending lines from a pentatonic scale, climaxing on a high blue note, and descending with a blues scale.  Talk about drama.  Almost all of what he plays can be played on a standard diatonic in 2nd position, and almost all of the rest can be done with a couple of overblows, which makes him a good source of lines and licks for harp players.

For years I envied Curtis his ability to hit a very low note with tremendous power, a killer example of which is on "If I were A Carpenter": Curtis does a couple of quick licks in the sax's top register, then drops two octaves and hits it hard. Harmonicas just don't have that kind of power way down low; it takes too much air to get the reed vibrating in the first place, which makes the attack much less powerful than it is on a tenor sax. (You can force a lot of air through a tenor sax compared to a harmonica.) Modern FX make it possible to get that power on the harmonica with very low notes, so I can now apply lessons from Curtis that I couldn't before.  (I suppose the Thunderbird, which is designed for very low tunings, might allow the same kind of hard attack on very low notes, but I haven't tried it so I can't say.)

The big three for me where R&B sax is concerned were Curtis, Junior Walker, and Maceo Parker.  Of all of them, I think Curtis was the most important for me.  He's certainly the one I listened to most.  I think everybody should hear his stuff, especially anyone who wants to play R&B.    

Regards, Richard Hunter    

author, "Jazz Harp" 
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