[Harp-L] steamroller

Richard Hunter rhunter377@xxxxx
Fri Feb 3 08:43:25 EST 2017

Doug Schroer wrote:
<If you have even modest playing skills, why look for someone else's
<Why not spend some time with the song and figure out YOUR best take on it?

I can think of a few good reasons.

First, let me note that the versions of "Steamroller" that have been
proposed for imitation so far are not very impressive examples of the
harmonica playing art, and even less impressive as examples of blues harp.
Part of becoming a better player is learning to distinguish the crap from
the cream.  Listening to lots and lots of stuff is how that's done.  If
you've only heard one harmonica player, that's the best harmonica you've
ever heard, regardless of whether it's the best there is.  Listening widely

Second, every great player learns from other great players.  Nobody is
smart enough to figure it all out for him or herself.  As one of my
teachers said in college, Beethoven was not born hearing thirds and writing
in sonata form.  He had to learn that stuff.  He learned it by studying
Mozart and Haydn.  Miles Davis learned by studying Louis Armstrong, of whom
he said in later years that "You can't play anything Louis hasn't played."
 It's clear to me that Little Walter spent plenty of time listening to John
Lee Williamson (a/k/a Sonny Boy I).  I studied Musselwhite, Little Walter,
Miles, Charlie Parker, Bela Bartok, King Curtis, Charlie Christian, Stevie
Wonder (some of whose solos I transcribed and studied note-for-note before
I put them in my book "Jazz Harp")... I could go on, but you get the point.

Third--and this is the point that many people miss--learning a solo by
someone else, a solo that inspires you, is about self-discovery as much as
it's about discovering the other guy.  If a solo appeal to you, there's a
reason. The reason is that it touches some part of you--it expresses your
personality as well as the personality of the person who played it.  When
you learn that solo, you're learning to express that part of yourself.  The
deeper you get into it--the more closely you study the nuances of the lines
and the tone, the expressive moves that the player makes--the more you
learn about expressing your own ideas.

I remember Jerry Portnoy, no slouch on the harp, talking at SPAH (1999?)
about how he studied Little Walter, literally putting his head between a
pair of stereo speakers, paying close attention to every little move Walter
makes. Did Jerry sacrifice a piece of his personality by doing that?  No.
He learned more about how to express himself--that's himself-, not
Walter-in the language of the blues, as spoken by one of the very greatest
speakers of that language.

That's called inspiration.  We are all inspired by what we hear from
others. That's why most of us play music--we heard something that inspired
us deeply, and it made us want to do the same thing.  Learning to express
what inspires us, in detail, is important learning.  And if you couple that
with your own creativity, you can create something inspirational of your

Of course there's a trap, too. The trap is that you become lost in your
inspirations--that you essentially become a stenographer, playing back only
what you've heard from others, instead of the new things you hear in your
head.  The solution to that is indeed to make a point of using what you've
learned in new ways.  But you have to learn it first.  And that means
intense, close study, trying to imitate someone else's genius note-for-note
and sound-for-sound.

I spent a lot of time doing that kind of thing, and it helped me plenty
when it came to making music of my own.  I still practice many of the solos
I learned decades ago, because they still inspire me.  I play Stevie
Wonder's solo from "For Once In My Life" every once in a while as a warmup
for my chromatic harp practice sessions..  Why not?  That's some great
stuff.  And now it's part of me.  Thanks goodness (and Stevie) for that.

Regards, RIchard Hunter
"The Lucky One" 21st century rock harmonica project at
Author, "Jazz Harp" (Oak Publications, NYC)
Latest mp3s and harmonica blog at http://hunterharp.com
Vids at http://www.youtube.com/user/lightninrick
Twitter: @lightninrick­­­‪­‪­­­‪‪­­‪­‪­‪­­­­‪­­‪‪‪­‪‪­­­‪­‪­­­­‪‪­­‪­‪­­­­

More information about the Harp-L mailing list