[Harp-L] Afro-American chrom players

Rick Dempster rickdempster33@xxxxx
Sun May 30 01:16:28 EDT 2021

Almost impossible to use words that don't offend anyone these days!
(Referring to 'subject' here)
Anyway, having taken up the chromatic harp only in the last four years or
so (only messed around with it before) I have frequently pondered the fact
that I did not take it up, because, generally speaking, it didn't appeal to
me. That's not to say I haven't appreciated some chrom playing over the
years, but the only one that really pressed my buttons (no pun intended!)
was Stevie Wonder. That is not because I dislike jazz (which is where the
chrome usually finds a home) and am attracted to Stevie's pop-soul only,
but because of his particular attack, which makes it, for me, a very
'human' sound, with every note shaped in a particular way.
You could say Larry Adler shapes his notes, but to me, Adler's playing
sounds overly dramatic, and, sorry, corny, no matter how technically good
it is.
I also felt that in imitating Stevie (as I have heard a few people try) you
just end up sounding like a poor imitation.
Then recently, it occured to me that Stevie is the only Afro-American
chromatic player I have ever heard of.
I know Walter and George Smith and other blues players use it in 3rd
position, no button; that is not chromatic playing, really.
I think the chrom does not appear in older jazz, or R'n'B because it is not
loud enough, and even amplified, the chrom does not seem to make it. It's
just not 'brutish' enough, like an electric guitar or tenor sax.
It is usually used in 'modern' jazz, and is popular in countries like South
America and India, where the customary musical styles seem to suit it,
probably because of strings being the main accompaniment, and the whole
sound less aggressive.
Stevie Wonder was using the instrument in a form of 'pop' (ie Motown soul)
that is light and breezy. It is clear why the instrument works here.
So then it occurs to me that Stevie is the only Afro-US chromatic player,
and that is part of what makes him stick out.
So, here's my question: who have I not heard?
Thanks, in anticipation!
PS So why did I take it up? Having messed with overblows for over 30 years,
I decided I can't stand the sound ( I'm sure it loosened my fillings) and
have been using customised Sub30s to deal with tunes that go VI-II-V-I and
the like.
Zombor Kovacs, in Hungary does the custom work; he's in Hungary, I'm in
Australia. Why didn't I just take up the trumpet??

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