Blues Harmonica (Fantasy) Jam Camp
Think of a music camp and envision young musicians learning to advance their skills in a traditional educational format. Then think of a fantasy baseball camp, where you get baby boomers living out a fantasy for a few days at a baseball camp at a major league spring training facility, run by former baseball players. Combine those two images and you get Jon Gindick’s (jongindick.com) Blues Harmonica Jam Camp in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
We met Jon when he performed (harmonica, guitar, and vocal) at the International Folk Alliance Festival in Kansas City in 2016. Jon invited me to join a one-hour group harmonica lesson where the Jam Camp was mentioned. The April 2018 Jam Camp fit our schedule so I signed up. I thought this would be the traditional music camp, but it was more!
Imagine 30 baby boomers, with interest in the Blues, most of whom have put musical interests aside for careers and family. Now retired, with a few dollars to spare, they take the opportunity to live out a life- long musical fantasy. They visit the epicenter of blues music in Clarksdale, MS. The participants range in age from about 55 to 80, coming from across the US, Boston to San Francisco, Portland to Atlanta. Throw in some international boomers from Switzerland, Scotland and Canada, and 5 of the best Blues harmonica players in the country as coaches and trainers.
Shack Up Inn
The event was held at the Shack Up Inn, a B&B (Bed and Beer) where the housing is a mixture of shacks and metal cotton bins. The main venue for performing was appropriately called the Blues Chapel. To imagine the Blues Chapel think of cross breeding Knuckleheads with BBs Lawnside BBQ in KC.
Back to School
The “training” included some large group lessons, small group lessons, and one-on-one sessions. “Training” is dominated by jamming, that is, playing/creating music together with others. Students were learning by doing. For the more experienced players, the opportunity to jam with other musicians seemed to be the highlight and the reason for attending.
For me and the fellow “raw beginners” we were handled with care in small groups, and in one-on-one lessons. We were still required however to perform solos along with the experienced players at the camp. By the second day we had to perform at the Blues club Ground Zero during their open jam session. Our final was a solo of our choosing on day 5 at the close of the program.
The musical excellence of the trainers can not be overstated. Jon Gindick was the master of ceremony, lead “class room” instructor, expert on single note blues harmonica style, and creative musical story teller. RJ Mischo, who was born 20 miles from where I lived in Wisconsin, tours internationally and will be in KC at BBs September 9. Cheryl Arena, was the vocal and harmonic instructor and can set off smoke detectors with her harmonica playing. Hash Brown, accompanied us on guitar through the week and helped work out arrangements for our solos. He was so kind and encouraging that even when I misplayed 3 of only 4 notes during a rehearsal, he said “that sounded good, keep it up.” TJ Klay plays a folksy-blues guitar/harmonic. On the second day he forced beginners to play 2-3 minutes extended solos, re-enforcing the message about the safe notes. Richard Slay plays a contemporary and introspective Blues harmonica. How about listening to a short piece of Harmonica Blues? Here ya go...
By the end of the week I had learned a lot about the Blues and learned a lot about playing the harmonica. I also listened to tremendous playing, singing, and song writing by campers and trainers, attempted 3 solos, and spent 5 days with 35 of the most supportive people I have ever been with in my life. Now, back to trying to bend the 2 draw on the C harp (harmonica)
In about a week, I will post my own blog on the Harmonia Heaven experience!
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge