Jason Rosenblatt designs the Jerusalem Harmonica Festival


Anyone can play the harmonica, right? You just have to take the inexpensive little piece of metal, with its denture-like perforations, and blow it out. I mean, people like Bob Dylan, Robert Plant, and Mick Jagger have managed to find their way around with decent effect, so why can’t you?

Then again, there are the Larry Adlers of the classical world, blues wizard Paul Butterfield and great jazz jazz Toots Thielemans up there in the pantheon stratosphere. It’s a whole different league of mastery and art. And now Jason Rosenblatt is looking to introduce us to some of our own class numbers on the instrument.

Rosenblatt, who made his aliya from Montreal barely a year ago, is already entering the cultural scene in his new home, in a big way. The 40-year-old musician-educator has designed Jerusalem’s first harmonica festival, which will take place at Harmony Hall on Koresh Street on November 10 and 11.

The two-day program features a host of stellar acts from a wide disciplinary palette that, in addition to Canadian-born Founder-Artistic Director, includes New York-trained jazz virtuoso Roni Eytan, blues veteran Dov Hammer, the eclectic mainstay Michael Adler and jazz chromatic harmonicists Yael Feldheim and Yotam Ben-Or. The soloists will be supported throughout by pianist Daniel Schwartzwald, bassist David Michaeli and drummer Ben Silashi.

Not bad for one oleh hadash.

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

“I’m thrilled to make the festival happen,” says Rosenblatt.

Making alyah in the midst of a pandemic may not seem like the best decision. But Rosenblatt says things have gone relatively smoothly since then. “My wife and I are both musicians, and one of the things we’ve been really happy about since we came to Israel is that we started working pretty much right away.

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

And now the Municipality is helping Rosenblatt spread the word that the harmonica is a much more versatile way of making music than most realize.

HE MET several exhibitors of mouth organ pyrotechnics along the way that sparked his fervor for the instrument and ultimately put him on the road where he is now, a serious performer and educator and acclaimed.

At the age of eight, he caught legendary gender player Larry Adler doing his peerless thing, when the Rosenblatts vacationed in the Catskills, the “borscht belt” where Jews from all over the world. 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 McGill University Folk Music Society in Montreal, where he studied medicine.

“I found a harmonica lying around the house and immediately adopted it,” Rosenblatt recalls.

He quickly started listening to some of the greatest instrumentals, such as bluesmen Sonny Terry and Paul Butterfield. Early rock music also influenced his evolving musical consciousness, as did the contagious and heartwarming jazz sounds of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and King of Swing clarinetist Benny Goodman.

He took those feelings into account and ran with them and then started branching out into other areas.

Today he describes himself as “an innovator in diatonic harmonica who plays ancient jazz as well as Eastern European and Ottoman-influenced music”.

It’s a stylistic hinterland large enough to feed and feed, and cites highly versatile 70-year-old harp player Howard Levy as a catalyst for his decision to take the craft more seriously.

Rosenblatt says there are few limits to what you can do on the mouth organ. “If you listen to Michal [Adler] or Roni [Eytan], you hear such virtuosity that you imagine you are listening to a violin player. But, in fact, you don’t have to imagine. They play virtuoso equipment on the harmonica. It has this range to it.

This, Rosenblatt notes, is a hallmark of the chromatic model. He plays the diatonic mouth organ.

“Before, she was treated more like a blues machine. You bring it to your mouth, you breathe a pattern, and the blues come out, ”he laughs.

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

ROSENBLATT WILL bend and delight some ears when he takes the stage on Wednesday, to unleash a wide range of styles and dynamics.

“Shtreimel is probably the project that is closest to my heart,” he says, referring to the band he founded almost 20 years ago that “offers a high-octane blend of Jewish music. and Turkish Eastern Europeans not so traditional ”.

There seems to be almost no limit to what a man can do on an instrument which is considered by many to be little more than a party prop.

It is suspected that those who come to Harmony Hall later this week will be summarily disillusioned with this misinformed image and, like Rosenblatt, Eytan and the rest of the poster artists of the Jerusalem Harmonica Festival, will begin to take the harmonica more in the background. serious.

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