Pete Pedersen is one of the (if not the) best jazz harmonica player(s) on the planet. He is nowhere near as widely known as Toots Thielemans (a contemporary of Pete’s)…

Pete Pedersen is one of the (if not the) best jazz harmonica player(s) on the planet. He is nowhere near as widely known as Toots Thielemans (a contemporary of Pete’s) or Howard Levy (a much younger man); the former had the great good luck to write a hit song (Bluesette) and play with George Shearing and Quincy Jones early in his career (when he was one of only a few harmonica players who could really play jazz), and the latter has developed a remarkable overblowing technique for chromatic playing on the diatonic harmonica that has made him notorious among harmonica players. Pete’s career began in the harmonica world of Borah Minevitch, and he has remained well-known mostly to harmonica afficianados. His playing is (at least) on a par with either of these musicians (or almost any others you might name). He is an amazingly funky and funny guy; you cannot imagine (sight unseen) the casual authority with which he leads a band onstage, the power and drive in his stance and playing. He looks at first sight to be much like any other senior citizen: a little overweight, casually dressed, white-haired, bearded. He smiles most of the time, and dispenses jokes frequently and funnily.

I saw Pete’s performance with “Good Company,” a Cincinnati-based jazz rhythm section, at the 1997 SPAH Convention in Detroit, and he blew my mind. He opened up with his own arrangement of a Scott Joplin piece; two minutes later my wife said to me, “That is one funky old man,” and she knew whereof she spoke. His movements on stage were something between a prowl and a dance. He plays chromatic harmonica with a big, driving tone, not a diatonic blues harp sound, but a sound with a fullness and power rarely heard in chromatic players. His single note lines are fast and hip, and his power chording on the chromatic lifts the whole band into a new level of groove. His latest recording, “Groovin’ High” (recorded with the same band), displays Pete’s abilities very well. You can find information on that recording (including how to order) at Pete’s homepage.

Pete resides now in Memphis, Tennessee, and I presume the good citizens of that city have opportunities to hear him more frequently than I do. Anyone living in or passing through Memphis is well-advised to check the local newspapers for jazz club listings; Pete might be doing his thing when you’re in town. Anyone else is advised to keep Pete in mind; if he does pass your way, you want to be there.

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