I attended the Howard Levy seminar arranged by Zvi Aranoff in NYC yesterday, and it was a thoroughly inspiring 2-plus hours.  With about a dozen people in attendance, and beginning with an illustration of first position blues played on a C-harp (a Filisko with rock maple laminate comb, Hohner Marine Band reed plates, and special 20 covers), Howard discussed his techniques in great detail, covering breathing pattern exercises, overblowing and overbending techniques, harmonica choices and setups and their implications for technique and tone, and much more.  It felt like a 2-hour private lesson; I didn’t have a question going in that wasn’t answered in depth before I left.  (One of the things that became evident, in Howard’s playing as well as his comments, is that he practices a hell of a lot, as in hours per day, and he analyzes his own playing very carefully to find weaknesses and solutions.  As noted previously in discussion on Harp-L and elsewhere, if you want to play at the technical level of a Levy or a Bonfiglio, that’s the door charge.)

Attendees were permitted to audio record the proceedings, and my cherished Zoom H4 produced an excellent recording of the session from about 3:40 PM to 6:05 PM, when I had to leave, though Howard and the attendees were apparently still going strong. Zvi Aranoff video taped the proceedings as well.  The session included several pieces played by Howard and accompanied by his Chicago-based guitarist and Howard’s son on drums, and one or two pieces played by Howard on harmonica while he accompanied himself on piano.

The question has come up on Harptalk before as to whether Howard plays all his gigs with a single harmonica, and I made sure to ask about that.  Howard replied that he uses harmonicas in multiple keys on his gigs, even though–as he demonstrated by playing a very convincing bebop blues in C sharp on a C harmonica–he can certainly play in 12 keys on a single instrument.  The reason, of course, is that he gets certain chords and effects by playing in certain positions.  

I’ve expressed a lot of reservations in the past about fully chromatic playing on the diatonic.  Those reservations don’t seem to apply in Howard’s case.  Certainly I heard occasional tuning or tone anomalies, but the whole efect was so musical that those issues just didn’t seem to matter very much.  The playing was most often simply, purely dazzling.

This was one of the very best-spent days I have had where learning about harmonica is concerned.  I strongly urge everyone reading this to take advantage of any similar opportunity that comes their way.  Thanks to Zvi Aranoff, and other Harp-L members such as Rob Paparozzi, for making events like this possible on this and other occasions.