Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival 

I went to Boquete Panama to attend the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival.  Along the way I visited friends in Bogata Colombia and stayed a few extra days in the National Park system east of Panama City. 

Panama is just a few degrees north of the equator, pretty much perfect weather all year round.  The people are friendly, the country is clean and safe.  I like this place... 

The most memorable experience of this trip was sitting in with various professional musicians at the Jazz and Blues Festival.  There were organized Pro-Am jams and I was able to sit in with some of the headliners, making Great music for a packed house of interested listeners.  Also got to sit in at the Pro Jam with Nighthawks Mark Wenner, vocalist and harmonica player. 

Towards the end of this trip I visited an Embera Village in the Charges National Park, east of Panama City, and met a local musician.  The guy played a homemade flute and was part of a show, welcoming visitors.  The tune was unique and these guys were Tight.  Later, I had a chance to interact with the flute guy directly and I tried to let him know how much I enjoyed his performance; However, he was speaking the local Embera language and a few words in Spanish and I knew neither so we were reduced to making our points with hand signals and facial expressions.  I wound up giving him my travel harp.  Later that day, just before we left, he tracked me down, this time with an interpreter.  I did not fair much better because the interpreter only spoke Embera and Spanish.  I did get his name, roughly 25 syllables and not something I could retain. He then pulled out his flute and began laying down some American Jazz licks, including snippets from Van Morrison's Moondance, very hot.  This was a connection made entirely through the unspoken language of music.  Awesome.

Learnin' & Playin' with The Pros in New Orleans 

I went to New Orleans to learn what I could about the music business from seasoned, touring professionals and for some serious harmonica lessons. 

I visited Bamboula’s where The Smoky Greenwell Band was playing.  I was asked to sit in.  Smoky Greenwell is a monster harp player himself and the first call session player for Sun Studios, as well as, the harp player for "War" in the 1990’s, replacing Lee Oscar. 
The lessons were huge, as far as, optimizing and tuning my harmonicas which will improve the quality of my performances and wallet.  Learning 3rd position, scales and overblow have extended my range and opened the door to participating in additional music styles.  Since this trip I’ve become more open minded when listening to other harmonica players, in fact, I don’t even listen to music the same way anymore. 

Check out what I'm talking about here HARMONICA TECHNIQUES

I got to tour the Lone Wolf Blues Company where they manufacture the Harp Train 10 amplifier I'm currently using.  I picked up a low Z version of the Jason Ricci mic and a couple effects pedals.  Randy Landry is the owner; a very humble and extremely knowledgeable man.

During this trip I was able to get first hand knowledge from touring musicians which gave me a detailed and unfiltered snapshot of their day to day activities.  I was truly surprised to see how much effort goes into gigging and touring, even with decades of experience these folks have and their agents and promoters.  There do not seem to be many short cuts to success here.  I left New Orleans with experience from professionals like Jasson Ricci (pictured below) that will last me a lifetime.

The more I learn, the more I realize just how little I know. 

Southwest U.S. Firsts 

New Smyrna Beach, FL

I'll begin with attending my first competition, the 13th Florida Harmonica Championships.

I’d never been to one of these things so there was a lot of anticipation and anxiety, having no idea what to expect. Before the event I wandered the streets down town, sat in with local musicians, and played to one of the organizers who ended up inviting me to the Pre-Event Party that evening where I was able to perform with the band backing up all the musicians at the championship.  Folks came the next day to hear me again, pretty cool.  I winged my first competition and ended up in the top 10 for each award category.  I was pretty drained, it was intense, full of high energy. I felt good, though, and there was no longer any question in my mind as to whether or not I could make the grade.   I can fit into that scene at any moment.

The best part of the experience was meeting some great people and learning what to do for the next one.  Although, the icing on the cake was my visit to Blue Moon Harmonicas, where I purchased a customized Suzuki "Manji" in the key of Bb with aluminum comb and a sound soooooooooo sweet it stopped all conversation at the sales counter when I tested it.

New Orleans, LA

I’m a part of a Detroit music circle and one of the musicians recommended I check out The Harmonica Collective in Louisiana.  Now, being a musician in New Orleans for the first time was . . . yeah, it was amazing.  It was "New Orleans!"  There’s is music everywhere.  I crossed through music and mayhem everyday on the infamous Bourbon Street.   Phenomenal musicians were everywhere I turned. My reason for being in the Big N.O. was The Harmonica Collective which was more about training than playing. All the pros were offering lessons and workshops and manufactures were representing. I played out the night in the streets of the French Quarter.  I, then, played at the actual Collective  with a live audience; it was incredible, it was really good.  The feedback was really good.  I ended up befriending Jason Ricci and Hank Shreve who are now imparting in me fundamentals, some of which, I have missed being self taught.

Santa Monica, CA

There was lots to learn at my first 2018 American Film Market (AFM).  One of the things, was the music structure for performing in film.  Where they find their musicians and the mechanics behind the way music and film come together.  I now feel I understand the language about how to navigate this world more than I ever did.  Meeting some really down to earth people gave me a sense that there is nothing in the industry that’s not approachable.  I had some vigorous recording time in studio for a movie project I’m involved with titled “the 10th RIDE.”  The icing on this part of the trip was the rehearsal on a Malibu beach for this movie with the director.  Playing playing with the background of the surf was transcendental

I'm ready for 2019

Korean Blues 

I had my first trip to South Korea.  I was in Seoul and, while I only had a little time to explore, I found a phenomenal music scene. 

There are nearly 11,000,000 permanent residents plus the visitors. I've heard the total population may add up to 25,000,000 at any given time.  The city is vibrant and never seems to shut down.  Another thing that became clear was, unlike most cityscapes where you navigate at the street level, in Seoul, you also have to look up; there are a lot of incredible places hidden in the elevation.  I visited a little Jazz bar named Burn with a friend and, even knowing the address, we had a very hard time finding it.  The only sign was 3 stories up on the side of the building.  I did get to sit in with a local artist there.  She was singing karaoke style which proved to be a bit of a challenge, had to find the key all by ear.

The only other music this trip was during a dinner with friends.  I had a handful of harps with me and the folks at our table were asking general questions, "Why so many? What's the difference between them?"  The discussion went on to bending notes (where you take a note and bend it to a different pitch) so I demonstrated what that sounded like.  I had my eyes closed, just going with the music and when I opened them I found the entire restaurant turned in their seats, looking at me.  I thought I was in trouble for a minute; but they gave me an ovation and went back to eating... turned out OK. 

It was an incredible place and I only had a few evenings to explore.   I'll be back again, soon as I am able!

The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise #29 

Oct. 21st-28th 

Stops Willemstad, Curacao / Oranjestad, Aruba - Caribbean 

This is a cruise set up for Blues aficionados - I was there because I love the blues!  And the line up of performers was phenomenal:  Elvin Bishop, who use to be a guitar player in Paul Butterflies band.  Taj Mahal, living legend and Keb-Mo also of high status who now perform together as “Taj Mo.”  Samantha Fish, a great up and coming singer, guitarist and all around Blues artist and Coco Montoya, world class performer to name a few.   

This was my first cruise and it was worth every penny.  I spent my days with a lazy morning, espresso in the Crows Nest and social events which kept me busy until the afternoon.  When the evening came I would just pick a performance and go.  They were all over the ship.  Schedules and gifts were laid out in our rooms the night before but it was impossible to get to all the shows. 

One night, while wandering the lower deck, I came across Mitch Woods playing in the piano bar.  I had a harmonica with me and when I walked in someone said “There’s a harmonica player!”  He then pushed the mic my way, gave me a key and we all started play’n.  So, I got to sit in with Mitch Woods in a live professional impromptu gig. 

They had Pro-AM (professional and amateur) jams scheduled everyday and I caught everyone that I could.  When I was playing I could see the audience swaying, tapping their feet and having a good time … like a wave at a football game.   

People came up to me throughout the cruise and commented on my performances.  Pro’s and amateurs alike enjoyed the jams and we attracted a good size audience.

I came away with the understanding that the professionals on the ship work really hard at what they do and they are at the top of their game.  You can’t find better music anywhere … and “I” could fit in with anyone of those groups.