Jason Rosenblatt conceives the Jerusalem Harmonica Festival

Anyone can play the harmonica, right? Just grab the inexpensive little piece of metal, with its denture-shaped piercings, and blow. I mean, people like Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, and Mick Jagger managed to find their way to decent effect, so why shouldn’t you?

Then again, there are the Larry Adlers of the classical world, the blues magician Paul Butterfield and the jazz great Toots Thielemans up there in the stratosphere of the pantheon. That is a completely different league of mastery and art. And now Jason Rosenblatt wants to introduce us to some of our class acts with the instrument.

Rosenblatt, who made aliyah from Montreal just a year ago, is already entering the cultural scene in her new home, in a big way. The 40-something musician-educator conceived the inaugural Jerusalem Harmonica Festival, which will take place at Harmony Hall on Koresh Street from November 10-11.

The two-day program features a host of stellar acts from a broad disciplinary palette that, in addition to Canadian-born founder and artistic director, includes New York-educated jazz virtuoso Roni Eytan, veteran bluesman Dov Hammer, eclectic hardcore Michael Adler and jazz. chromatic harmonica players Yael Feldheim and Yotam Ben-Or. The soloists will be supported by pianist Daniel Schwartzwald, bassist David Michaeli and drummer Ben Silashi.

It is not bad to go for a by hadash.

YAEL FELDHEIM to perform at the 1st Jerusalem Harmonica Festival (credit: PETER VIT)

“I’m excited to bring the festival to life,” says Rosenblatt.

Slap-bang aliyah in the middle of a pandemic may not seem like the best move. But Rosenblatt says things have gone relatively well since then. “My wife and I are musicians, and one of the things that has made us very happy since we arrived in Israel is that we started working right away.

“In Canada, everything was closed because of the crown, and you couldn’t even do outdoor performances in Canada since mid-November. [2020]. Here there were open-air performances sponsored by the municipality ”.

And now the municipality is helping Rosenblatt spread the word that the harmonica is a much more versatile means of making music than most would think.

He encountered several exponents of oral organ pyrotechnics along the way who sparked his fervor for the instrument and eventually led him to where he is now, a serious and acclaimed performer and educator.

At the age of eight, he caught legendary genre player Larry Adler doing his thing when the Rosenblatts vacationed in the Catskills, the “borscht belt” where Jews from all over North America flocked for a family break.

However, in fact, his initial push in the desired direction came from much closer to home. His parents were avid folk musicians and his father was a member of the folk music society of McGill University in Montreal, where he was studying medicine.

“I found a harmonica lying around at home and grabbed it right away,” recalls Rosenblatt.

He soon began to listen to some of the great instrumentals, such as blues musicians Sonny Terry and Paul Butterfield. Ancient rock music also influenced his evolving musical consciousness, as did the infectious feel-good jazz sounds of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and King of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman.

He took those feelings on board and followed them, and subsequently began to expand into other areas.

Today he describes himself as “a diatonic harmonica innovator who performs early jazz as well as Ottoman and Eastern European influenced music.”

That’s a pretty expansive stylistic interior to feed on and feed on, and he cites the highly versatile 70-year-old harpist Howard Levy as the catalyst for his decision to take the craft more seriously.

Rosenblatt says there are few limits to what you can do with the oral organ. “If you listen to Michal [Adler] or Roni [Eytan]You hear such virtuosity that you imagine you are listening to a violinist. But actually, you don’t have to imagine it. They are playing virtuoso material on the harmonica. He has that rank. “

That, Rosenblatt observes, is a characteristic of the color model. It touches the diatonic organ in the mouth.

“It used to be treated more like a blues machine. You put it in your mouth, you breathe a pattern and the blues comes out, ”he laughs.

“The diatonic harmonica is better for that than the chromatic because you have the ability to bend the notes.”

ROSENBLATT will be tipping and delighting some ears when he takes the stage on Wednesday, to unleash a wide range of styles and dynamics.

“Shtreimel is probably the project closest to my heart,” he says, referencing the band he founded nearly 20 years ago, which “offers a high-octane mix of not-so-traditional Eastern European Jewish and Turkish music.”

There seems to be almost no limit to what a man can do with an instrument that many consider little more than a party accessory.

One suspects that those who go to Harmony Hall later this week will be summarily disillusioned with that misinformed image and, like Rosenblatt, Eytan and the rest of the artists on the Jerusalem Harmonica Festival lineup, will begin to take the harmonica more seriously.


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