Another year goes by…2012

As 2012 nears its end, it leads me to reflect on the incredible variety of experiences I had in this last go-round.

January through May:

It started with a whirlwind Flecktones tour of Dublin, Glasgow, and- believe it or not- Eilat, Israel.  This was wonderful but really grueling. I got to play with some fantastic Irish and Scottish musicians including the magical Scottish vocalist Kathleen McInness. In Israel Andy Narell sat in, which was a joy. The traveling was strenuous, but the trip was so short that I never had jet lag when I got home. I just fell over for a while and when I woke up, I was back.

February started with a dual concerto concert in Destin, FL with Sinfonia Gulf Coast (conductor Demetrius Fuller) and pianist Anthony Molinaro. I played my Harmonica Concerto, he played Rhapsody in Blue, and then we played a few tunes together. It was a blast- wish we could do this more often. Then Fox and I played our annual Valentine’s Day concert at The Town House Café in St. Charles, IL, playing a combination of classical, some Jazz standards, and a few of my tunes. Next, Chévere played our annual Winter weekend at The Green Mill, and I played a reunion gig with the fantastic 80’s rock group Tantrum. I recorded a track with them in 1979 called “Lady’s in Lust”- it is smoking! And so are they, still! Then- “The Harmonica Hoedown” at The Hideout, one of Chicago’s secret treasures. This included Joe Filisko, James Conway, Bob, Kessler, and more.  The place was mobbed. The next day I played a concert with the UIC Jazz Band led by Joel Spencer, which included the debut of a fine arrangement of my tune “Chorinho” by Scott Routenberg.  The day after this, I gave a presentation of the central ideas of my ongoing project “The Melody of Rhythm” with percussionist Jean Leroy at Roosevelt University, at the invitation of Paul Wertico. February was quite a month, really incredible in its variety and quality.

In March, The Flecktones tour started up again in the Midwest with memorable shows in Madison and Skokie, moving on to the West Coast, with an extremely memorable concert in Las Vegas’s brand new hall, then the Southeast and the Midwest- we were everywhere…the best catered meal and best Steinway were, believe it or not,  at Univ. of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.  Then the final blitz of 22 shows in 25 days. How did we do it??? I finally got to play The Ryman in Nashville, went back to The Birchmere ( I love this place), and we finished- as we started in 1987- in Louisville with our friend Richard Van Kleeck bringing us onstage, as he did at “The Lonesome Pine Special” in 1987 for our first – ever performance… If we never do it again, this was a sweet way to go.

Very little rest for me after this- the following week in May I played “Prairie Home Companion” in Minneapolis. This was a particularly cool experience, because after the show, Garrison had the band come to his house and play a 90 minute totally acoustic set for swing dancers in his living room- what a hoot. Not only is he a genius at what he does on the radio, but he is also a truly gracious host. A few days later I flew to Boston to rehearse and perform Maxwell Dulaney’s ultra- modern Harmonica Concerto at Brandeis University. This was a thrilling and slightly scary experience that I will write about in more detail later. And when I got home, I played a concert at the Irish Cultural Center with Kathleen Keane, a musical force on several instruments. We performed an Irish-ized version of the first movement of my Harmonica Concerto, with bodhran, whistle, and a step- dancer in addition to a string quintet. This was a wild success and I hope to do more in this vein.

June Through August:

Things kept going like this- I played 3 concerts in Virginia with old friend Paul Reisler, Amy Speace, and one-man musical marvel Joe Craven.  When I got home, I was special guest with Reely Dan, a fine group that plays the music of Steely Dan. There were several recording sessions, and then one of those weekends that I can’t actually believe happened. I performed again on Prairie Home Companion at Ravinia, the beautiful venue near my house. The next day, I played for my dear friend Cantor David Landau’s daughter’s wedding in Highland Park. Fox and I played the ceremony. I put together a stellar band for the party- Eric Schneider on sax/clarinet, the great Jazz vocalist Dee Alexander, Chris Siebold on guitar and vocals, Eric Hochberg on bass and vocals, and my son Miles on drums. If more weddings were like this, I’d play more of them! The following day Miles, I, and bassist Larry Gray went into Transient Studios in Chicago and recorded many hours of free improvisations, or as I prefer to call them, “spontaneous compositions”.  We got a lot of good music from this day and I am going to release the best of it on a CD sometime in 2013.  Three days that shook my world.

Two of my best harmonica students, Ilya Portnoy and  Jason Rosenblatt, each came to town for a series of lessons- this was fun. Then I had a wonderful weekend at The Green Mill with Acoustic Express (check out the “Time Capsules” CD), followed by a super- intense recording session at Transient with Trio Globo and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi. This resulted in the “Matzah to Menorah” CD, just released this week (Dec. 8) on Balkan Samba Records.

After a few days off, I got on a plane to Perth, Australia, courtesy of Hohner International and their Australian distributor, Kurt Jacobs and Co.  I got to visit with my daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Roland, then played concerts with local musicians and gave workshops in Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney. It was a great experience to play down there and meet a lot of wonderful people in the Australian harmonica scene, including Tricia Smits and her family from Kurt Jacobs, who kept everything running smoothly.  Also, Michael Timler, a true champion of the diatonic harmonica and Hohner employee (he is a major force in the harmonica world), flew in to give workshops in Melbourne and Sydney. It was great to see him again. Then I took an overnight flight to Taipei and gave a workshop and played a solo concert. I was pretty tired from that, so I slept well on my two flights home.

September through December:

After a much- needed break, Fox and I visited my parents in Florida where we played a concert for them. On returning home, I began preparations for playing the Jewish High Holiday services for Aytz Hayim, something I’ve been doing with my son Miles for 5- 10 years now. It is always an adventure and takes a lot of planning with the cantor, rabbis, and the president of the congregation. Between Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur, I flew to Toronto at the invitation of Mervon Mehta and performed the Bach Em Flute sonata on harmonica with an excellent harpsicordist as part of a tribute to Glenn Gould at the Royal Conservatory. Next came a 3- concert tour of the Northeast with the indescribable Joe Craven, a duo gig in Montreal with guitarist Greg Amirault, and a weekend at The Green Mill with Chévere.

November started with a 10 day European tour- Kiev, Ulm, Langenau, and Dresden. I played several solo concerts and workshops, a classical concert with organist Matthias Gruenert, two concerts in Dresden with The Klazz Brothers and the phenomenal trumpeter/trombonist James Morrison, and one with my good friends Michael Riessler and Jean – Louis Matinier. I have to bring them to the US- our trio is something special.

This was followed by a US East Coast tour (Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts) with Chris Siebold- a total blast- and a concert with the lovely and virtuosic guitarist Muriel Anderson in the Chicago area. After that, a bit of a break followed by 2 shows at the Evanston SPACE- a Holiday Concert with Harry Shearer, his wife Judith Owen, and a cast of dozens (this was indescribable), and the other with my dear friend Bonnie Koloc.  My last performance of the year will be the Dec. 16 CD release concert for “Matzah to Menorah” with Trio Globo and Alberto Mizrahi at Temple Enshe Emet in Chicago.

What a year! I am so lucky to be able to do what I do. Not just all the concerts, but also composing, running my harmonica school, (, playing on the cool recordings I am asked to do, and all the great people I get to meet along the way. In spite of all the catastrophic things that happened in 2012- hurricanes, tornados, shootings, etc, I was able to keep playing music for people, the thing I love doing the most. I hope I can keep doing this for a long time and that all of you will have a happy and healthy 2013. I look forward to seeing many of you down the road.

All the Best,




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