Thursday, January 15, 2009

HARPING ON: Jason Ricci

Jason Ricci is one of the greatest young harmonica players in the world today. He tours internationally and is known for his great playing, as well as his  eclectic style...both in music and in wardrobe. He took the time to answer some questions for us. Be sure to check out his website so you can hear his playing for yourself.

1. I've heard that you became very good, very fast when you were very young. How did you get started on the harmonica?

Well the old story goes the same every time I answer this: I was in a punk band, wasn’t a good enough singer, other band members were singing and writing too, I was getting benched at rehearsals and shows for multiple tunes so they (The Band) just decided I would play harmonica instead of another guitar probably so I couldn’t ruin the song as bad, like a tambourine or something. I didn’t actually become that good that fast because I was 14 at that time and wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to other harmonica players.

Later when I was in college in Idaho supposedly studying Wild Life management, really I was actually studying Little Walter with a minor in Paul Butterfield. I guess I got pretty good pretty fast then because I was doing about eight hours a day of practice and I took a night job on the graveyard shift at a Gofer Mart there and I would stay there all night “working” and practicing when customers were not in the store. I also spent some time at the heels of all the greats who would come through Boise on tour like Madison Slim, Hummel, and others.


2. Your tone is very unique. Very different. Where does it come from, and what does it incorporate?

Thank you I wasn’t aware it was so unique. I have heard some people say they hate it...that was weird to me not because I was offended or thought my tone was all that great or anything but more cause I thought it was pretty straight forward? My internal tone is from diaphragm vibrato and some throat and jaw vibrato too...I am a lip purser mostly but I can and do play single note and other combinational tongue blocking techniques....I’ll bend Tongue blocking and all that...I don’t ever blow bend tongue blocking (Which Rules!) or overblow Tongue blocking...I’m really a pretty mixed up player...Maybe that’s a good thing.

I try to be quick to see where other players are right instead of what I might not like or what my preconceived notions may be...Where do they sound good? What’s working, what swings...what rocks? What can’t I do that they are doing and why...Which embouchures work and sound best for whatever licks and styles...So that leads to me trying a lot of new things and venturing out of familiar territory. That may effect my tone...I love Deford Bailey’s sound AND Little Walter’s AND Howard Levy’s and Chris Michalek' when you have all those influences so varied it’s going to mess you up a little...As far as how it incorporates I just try and not blow too hard so I can play and sound a little smoother, but like most people I get excited and carried away too and often end up playing a little too hard and ultimately a little flat. I’ll always be working on that.


3. I don't want to ask the typical questions. I heard you comment once that everyone asks you, "Jason, how do you play so fast?" Well, I'm not going to do that. My question is...when people ask you that, what's your answer? (in other words, how do you play so fast?)

Well Satriani said the best way to play fast is to start playing slow....That's true! Just take some scales preferably (so later you can improvise) or less preferably some licks and then just speed them up. I don’t use any easy breathing patterns for example blow blow draw draw that much unless they happen to actually adhere to a scale or the chord structure they're played over...Most of my playing may sound like that but those notes are actually in pretty awkward places as far lay out goes and are not easy to play fast pattern type things. Just to play the pentatonic scale alone or with a few variations in two octaves involves a lot of accurate bending hitting over blows cold and/or form other holes on the harp jumping etc...I just start those scales slow even now then gradually speed them up that’s mostly all I practice to this day at least for the first twenty minutes or so.


4. I heard a song The next song that came on was very different than the first one. How do you keep your style unique without everything sounding similar?

Thanks for listening...That tune is called Dodecahedron and is off our new CD for the Eclecto Groove Label: “Rocket Number Nine”...I’m not sure our music even has a feel or a style. We are very eclectic and will switch gears at any time, multiple times in a night. I love ALL music. Also you’ll note I used the term “WE”...I keep all my band writing and encourage as much participation with ideas, arrangements etc, as possible, so of course that helps vary tunes a lot. The song you mentioned “Dodecahedron” was written by Shawn Starski our guitar player and the horn player was Michael Peloquin who some of you may know is also a great great harmonica player as well. So ultimately I just listen to lots of different music styles, instruments, and players and people around me and otherwise, then grab on to whatever I have time to learn or study and tryto incorporate it all into something that will be fun and hopefully people will like.”


5. Jason Ricci and New Blood are on YouTube...if I was going to go and listen to your band for the first time...which songs would recommend­?

Damn there are so many...Besides the obvious thirty some ought instructional vids that are obviously not about the band...I like that big harp solo from “Harpin’ Help” from the end of driftin’ blues('s another one called Playboy from an out door show in Boise and in part two at the end I do this great third position solo I probably haven’t done as good since ( )...Also I love the one with me playing with Josh Miller from the Beach Shack in Florida because I playing WAY traditional and I think there may be a mess of people who don’t really know that I can or do ever play that way ( and my bass player Buck Weed all have great moments there as well...There’s a million good tunes moments up there ...the Mexacali version of “The way I Hurt Myself” where I’m wearing the Andy Warhol-skateboard shirt rocks pretty good ( . I don’t know there’s even some videos of me in Drag up there your readers may want to avoid.


6. As far as harmonica players go...who do you look up to­?

LIVING: Pat Ramsey, Adam Gussow, Joe Filisko, Wade Schumann, Chris Michalek, Howard Levy, Dennis Gruenling, Michael Peloquin, Taj Mahal (For his Timing) Wally Peterman (Chord Harp, I play Chord for fun check this duo with Aki! v=QaxXFGRLI8), William Gallison, Paul Linden and more...Also I love Ronnie Earl even though he’s not a harp player. DEAD: Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, George Smith, Deford, Jazz, Paul Delay, Al Wilson and others.


7. Do you do very much harp maintenance, or is it easier just to replace them? 

I’m WAY WAY into harp maintenance, customizing, repair and cleaning! I have harps that are seven years old and will be much much older some day. I do a ton of my own work and have most my career. I buy custom harmonicas from Joe Spiers, Brad Harrison and some from Richard Sleigh. I usually replace reeds on my own when I’m on the road then after a few times of that, the harp starts to feel untempered (unbalanced): where different notes have different amounts of give, volume and tone then I’ll send it back to them and they redo it all over...I make my own custom Marine bands and they're actually better than many so called customizers that have come and gone, but not as good as Harrison, Spiers, or the filisko guild...I’m getting close though. I usually give all those harps I make away as gifts to cool people. 

Brad Harrison is coming out with an American harmonica company called Harrison Harmonicas this year and I can testify that those harmonicas will blow away the competition, pun intended. They are unbelievable and will be unrivaled by far by any company out of the box...This is the first time ever a real customizer with real working knowledge of brass and other metals will be starting, supervising and working at harmonica company. Brad is very serious and stops at nothing to be the best, He has spared no expense in research both scientific and other wise. These harmonicas will go down in history as a milestone for the instrument and will ultimately produce some great young players who will have more time and money to practice instead of screwing with reeds all day...Having said that I think it’s also very important for any player to get inside they're instrument quite literally and figure things out. I believe working on your own harps makes you a better player. Look at Filisko, Harrison, Spiers, and Sleigh! Stay tuned for Harrison Harmonicas!


8. Besides music, what hobbies do you have

I love/hate skateboarding. Skating is a huge part of my life, who I am, my culture, my youth, my attitude, my reading material, humor, everything. When I’m on the road I try to hit as many parks as possible...these days they’re building concrete parks that look like what my friends and I use to dream of and draw pictures of when we were kids. I might of ended up a pro skater or at least gave it a serious try if it hadn’t of been for a few injuries mainly this torn muscle in my upper thigh that never healed right...I was really good and may have had a shot...a few of the friends I grew up around and skate with all the time are pro now, I watch all they're video parts and magazine photos every month with a degree of envy. I’m pretty much always recovering from some skate related injury, so far though (Knock on wood) it’s never pulled me from a gig or off tour...I would quit for obvious reasons but I can’t ...really....I’m down for life and that’s just the way it is. I did my last tour with two broken ribs which sucks for singing and playing.

Other than Skating, my boyfriend Brady Mills is obviously much more than a hobby and we have been together coming up on five years and have owned our home in Nashville for two years., We love spending time with our animals Heifetz (Cat), Bongo ( Great Dane/Sheppard mix) and Bjalla (Pomeranian/ Pom-insane-ian). We love Scary movies, Classical music, shopping, and going out to eat. He is a great award winning classical pianist and vocalist although he makes his living now as one of the best and most sought after up and coming young graphic designers specializing in: web design, Internet marketing, email marketing and web positioning. He owns his own company and has several employees and beautiful office in downtown Ashville. He is very supportive of me as I am of him and it’s exciting that both of us have our own businesses.


9. What was the hardest part of learning to play harmonica

By far the low octave intonation issues involving accurate and stable bending. Playing in tune down there with finesse, grace, power, consistency, and stability is always a challenge to me when all the above is combined with intonation. Playing over blows in tune has been much easier for me as there really is little room to a half can bend them up further than that but you have to’s not like your gonna hit two whole steps above an overblow by accident!

Keeping oxygen is hard too...Also there’s a million other things I can’t do all that well.

10. Last words to members of HOOT­

 Thanks to all the Hoot folks! Thanks for digging my music and our great instrument. Everyone try and keep an open mind to different players, instruments, styles, styles of music...everything. It’s a clichĂ©’ but There’s room for all of us and something to be learned from everyone. Soul is subjective! There’s beauty in everything and everyone. Would you say the desert is more beautiful than the rain forest because it has less...or the rainforest more beautiful than the Grand Tetons because it has more...Is a Snake more soulful than a cat because he is simpler or cat cooler than a mouse because he is bigger?

Spend less time on the internet and harp l and philosophical debates and get out and play and practice most all the answers will come. Dig on harmonica bands all you diatonic and blues guys take up one of those orchestral instruments for fun, those old guys have a lot to teach us! God Bless.

Thank you Alberto!!!


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