I arrived at SPAH 2012 at the Westin Hotel DFW in Irving TX last night, and it’s been a lot of fun since then (even taking into account the freezing temperature throughout the hotel; my hand nearly froze to the counter when I sat down to dinner in the Blue Fire Grill, the only restaurant in the place). As usual, too many good things to recount (or even remember) them all, but here are a few highlights:
I arrived at about 8:30 last night, so I missed what I was told was an incredible set of Celtic music by James Conway (which I can easily believe). I did get to hear Tom Ball play a great set of acoustic harp, accompanied by the equally great Eric Norden on National Steel guitar, followed by Mitch Kashmar doing a solid set of West Coast swing blues, backed by Hash Brown on guitar. Ball was simply terrific. He has a unique style that mixes country roots with swing, and he threw down hard from the very first number, a terrific harmonica solo version of Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Norden’s accompaniment throughout the set was spot on.
Filip Jers is blowing my mind every time I hear him at this show. Last night he tore up the jazz jam with killer chromatic harp performances on “Caravan” and “How High the Moon.” Tonight he did a brief solo performance of one of the tunes from his recent CD “Spiro,” a simple folk song that he played simultaneously on diatonic harmonica and guitar. The harmonica part (in first position) was slow and luminous, and barely included a note not found in the major scale, but the emotional power was incredible. Jers has the most beautiful harmonica tone I have heard since Charlie Leighton; he imbued every note in this simple melody with life and emotion. This kid is barely in his early 20s, and he is already without question one of the best harmonica players in the world, not to mention a terrific composer.
I had the opportunity to check out a range of chromatic harmonicas in the SPAH store, including the Suzuki Sirius and Gregoire Maret 12-holes, and the Seydel Saxony. The price of the Sirius is eye-popping at about $950 list, but the second you put it to your lips you know you’re playing a world-class instrument. I spent about $125 the last time I bought a CX12, about 11 years ago, and it’s going to take a while for me to set my internal price bar up to the level of a Sirius, but it’s definitely the production chromatic to die for. While I was in the store I picked up a Seydel 1847 and a Seydel steel, and I think I’m going to like them both. I verified as well that the Suzuki SUB30 retails at over $200, and I’m stifling my desire to own one accordingly. The Sirius at $950 (minus whatever discount I can get at retail) strikes me as a much better investment than almost any diatonic at over $200. I also took advantage of the Hohner repair table to get my CX12 and a Marine Band Deluxe fixed up good as new, gratis. Thanks Hohner!
I had a hallway jam last night with Jimi Lee, Cheryl Arena, Steve Baker, and Scott Albert Johnson, along with a guy playing brushes on a snare drum and a couple of good fiddle players, and man was it fun. Baker is one of my favorite harp players, and he threw down some beautiful stuff, including an absolutely killer first position solo on a slow blues. Scott sang a terrific version of “What a Wonderful World” and played his unique harmonica style (influenced by John Popper, but more harmonically sophisticated).
I went to Brendan Power’s seminar on looping this morning at 8:30 AM (after going to bed at 2:00–welcome to SPAH!) and loved it. I brought my Zoom H4 to record the session for later study, and the damn thing’s batteries pooped out sometime before the end, meaning that I lost everything. Oh, drat (that’s “drat” spelled “s—“). I’m going to charge up everything I’ve got before my own seminar on looping tomorrow.
I spent a half hour with Charlie Musselwhite talking about how we’re going to get him set up on the RP155 I gave him last April. He is such a sweet, gentle guy. He loved the sound of the 155 at the gig I sat in on at Infinity Hall in Norfolk CT, and I’m really looking forward to getting the patches I tweaked for him there (on my RP) onto his machine.
Like I said, those are some of the highlights. I’m about to leave my room to hear Jerry DeVillier play cajun harmonica, and I expect that to be a blast, too. In between all these fine performances are the impromptu jams and encounters with friends that make SPAH such a lively and enjoyable scene.
Stay tuned for more news from SPAH–I ain’t leaving until Sunday morning, and it’s only Friday night.