The beautiful sound of the harmonica, as we came to love it, has a European origin. It began in Germany. There are famous harmonica brands, then and now. Yet, no one knows who created the first harmonica. It’s also referred to as a ‘harp’ back then. It was shipped to the US by German manufacturer Hohner in the mid-1800s. It was during this time that America was on the move. Thus, this was due to immigration and also the conquering of native territories. It was a handy instrument at that time because of its size. Harmonicas are easy to learn even when you don’t have formal musical training. If you ever wonder what’s the role of harmonica to Jazz music, then read further.
The Introduction Of Harmonica To Jazz
Harmonica was already a folk instrument before the turn of the century. It also found its home in the hands of Folk and Blues musicians. Because of its warm and expressive nature, the harmonica was used as an instrument during solo parts or as a primary instrument itself. A harmonica tone can sound close to a saxophone under expert hands(and mouth). In the 1920s, Jazz exploded in the American music scene. During this time, Blues was also famous. The two cousins met, and that’s how harmonica found another home-Jazz music.
Harmonica To Jazz: The Blues To Jazz
At this point, it was not hard to imagine how harmonica transitioned from Blues to Jazz. The African-American music community found cafes and music bars to jam together. All these borrowings and common ways of playing found the instrument to be versatile in all genres. As a blues instrument, it was played by a lead singer during adlibs or bridges. Howlin’ Wolf made it his solo instrument during the 40s and 50s. His harmonica solos often followed his guttural voice during his verse, chorus, and verse performances. Jazz musicians started incorporating the harmonica in the jam sessions, and this later made them into recordings.
How The Mood Changes
Ever heard of your friend saying, “I got the blues?” Playing blues requires emotional honesty. This honesty gets into the music. This music is called Blues music. When musicians realized that the harmonica could also be played in Jazz music, the instrument found a new form of expression. In the hands of a Blues musician, the harmonica bleeds. In the hands of a Jazz musician, the harmonica laughs. These mood changes associated with the instrument became common up to this day. It also found its renaissance in BlueGrass and Celtic music. Yet, the harmonica sound will always be closely linked to both Blues and Jazz.
As mentioned above, one does not need formal training to play the harmonica. You can master the instrument by memorizing each hole and comparing them to piano keys with its sharp and flat keys. But, playing Jazz deserves a full understanding of Jazz scales and techniques. A harmonica can sound like a saxophone and also faintly resemble a trumpet. It has a distinctive timbre that is both folk and blues. Notable musicians in popular culture are Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite. Famous Jazz musician William Clarke also did many recordings with the instrument. He was influenced by saxophonists of his time and incorporated that expressiveness to his instrument.
If you want to know further about Jazz harmonica music, then you visit your local music library. There, you can hear these recordings. You can also stream harmonica music via the internet. It has a mellow sound compared to the saxophone and trumpet. That is why it is also an instrument of folk music. Harmonica has come a long way. It helped Jazz music move forward.