Fifth Annual Harmonica Summit Set for Jazz Depot Saturday
David Berntson, an organizer, performer, and instructor for Tulsa’s annual Harmonica Summits, thinks it’s important for the event to offer patrons something different each year.
For the fifth and latest installment, you can begin with its very structure, which has for the first time been divided into two parts.
“We’ve gotten feedback, and some of our feedback said the perception might be that it’s a very collegial event [for harmonica players], with all these workshops and then a concert,” Berntson explains. “So we decided to promote the evening’s program as a big show and dance, with the bar open and people getting a very fun, entertaining evening of jump jivin’ blues.
“For the day, we kind of followed the model of SPAH, the Society for the Advancement of the American Harmonica, who do some summits and have a big convention every year. That’s when we’ll have vendors, presenters, workshops, and harmonica-centric things.”
Patrons can get into either the daytime portion, which runs from approximately noon to five p.m., or the evening show, beginning at seven p.m., for $15 at the door. Those who want to do both can pay one $25 charge.
A centerpiece of the afternoon activities this year is the Hohner Roadshow, which Berntson calls “a real coup.”
“We’re really fortunate,” he says. “Hohner, out of Germany, the biggest harmonica and accordion manufacturer in the world, is sending this to Tulsa. They generally only do it for vendors, like guitar centers and big music outlets. Apparently, they were impressed with our spirit and what we do here.”
The Hohner Roadshow, he adds, brings to town “a world-class teacher namedRonnie Shellist and his colleague, Adam Hamil, who’s Hohner’s chief harmonica-repair technician. Anybody who wants to can bring in a harmonica, and Adam will give you the vintage of the harmonica. He’ll also repair a harmonica free of charge. So if you have Grandpa’s old harmonica in a drawer, and you’re not really sure about when it was made, Adam can date the instrument and fix it on the spot.”
Shellist, says Berntson, will be giving away 100 blues harmonicas at his workshop, one of several scheduled for the afternoon. Other instructors include John Gindick, author of the book Rock N’ Blues Harmonica, noted harmonica player R.J. Mischo, Mike Peace, Dennis Oellig, Jim Miller, and Berntson himself.
“Workshops are the key to our Harmonica Summit,” says Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO Jason McIntosh. “We’ll introduce harmonica to a lot of aspiring musicians, as well as those who want to brush up, or more serious players. We have various workshops that focus on people’s different levels of expertise; we really try to appeal to the fact that it’s one of the most versatile and user-friendly instruments there is. And you can take it with you.”
Hohner, whom McIntosh calls “a great partner to work with,” has also donated merchandise for giveaways and raffles during the day.
Several of the instructors, including Mischo, Gindick, and Berntson, plan to perform at the evening show, which also features the Kansas City-based Levee Town,Johnny Long, and Tulsa-based legend Jimmy “Junior” Markham, with Little Joe McLerran scheduled for a guest appearance.
“Levee Town has a harmonica player, and they’re younger, and they kick up their heels, so that’s going to give our evening program a lot of great energy,”Berntson says. “Johnny Long is a treasure, a phenomenon – an amazing storyteller who plays country blues and some very sophisticated tunes, similar to some of the Piedmont [blues] stuff Little Joe does. He’s really one of Little Joe’s muses.
“Joe’s in the Dominican Republic right now, touring for the State Department, but all fingers crossed, he’ll make it back to sit in with John.”
And how about Markham, the veteran Tulsa Sound figure who’s recently been opening shows for B.B. King?
“Junior’s the heart and soul of the whole thing,” says Berntson simply. “He’s why I do it.”
Doors open for Harmonica Summit 2014 at 11 a.m., Saturday, March 1, with workshops beginning at noon. Admission to the afternoon portion, running from noon until 5 p.m., is $15. Admission to the evening show, scheduled for 7 p.m. until midnight, is also $15. Admission to both is $25. Children under 14 get in free when accompanied by an adult.
All events take place at downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street.
Harmonica Summit 2014 is presented by the Route 66 Harmonica Club and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and sponsored by the Oklahoma Arts Council, theBlues Society of Tulsa, Capps BBQ, Hohner, The Bureau Digital Printing and Design, andThe Music Store.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fameis a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.