Harmonica music is often seen as a popular trend. Folk, blues, jazz – all bring to mind the brassy tones of the mouth flute. However, one would be remiss to think that only popular music uses this instrument. One such individual to buck this trend is Canadian-born Tommy Reilly. While he was born in the New World, his fame and mark on Harmonica players goes back to his time in London, where he spent most of his professional career.
Tommy’s passion was the international concert circuit, which for the Harmonica might not have been taken all that seriously under a lesser player. Canadian great, Bernie Bray, and French master Claude Garden paved the way for him by playing the harmonica as a concert instrument. Mr. Reilly took this a step further, becoming known internationally as a virtuoso and showing that classical pieces could be done on the harmonica with dazzling results.
Today one can find over 30 different concerts composed specifically for Tommy Reilly. Michael Spivakovsky’s Harmonica Concerto of 1951 is often seen as the single most important piece of classical styled music designed specifically for the harmonica.
Not only were works by modern writers converted for his use, but Bach, Chopin, and Mozart were converted. He also recorded original works by such greats as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Benjamin, and Villa-Lobos. The Hohner silver was developed as a concert quality harmonica at his behest and much of the playing standards known and used can be traced back to to his handbook Play like the Stars.
One the other end of spectrum is Paul Lamb. Along with his band the King Snakes, Mr. Lamb is known for being leader of one of the best blues bands in the United Kingdom. Lamb’s skill has led him from representing his nation at the World Harmonica Championships to playing to sold out concerts. His style and leadership has created both award winning music and lead to breaking records for recording sales.
Another Master in the harmonica crowd would be British born Steve Baker. Not only does this player have his own tuning from Hohner (the SBS or Steve Baker Special), but he joins with Tommy Reilly’s legacy in another fashion. Where Tommy cemented classical harmonica, Steve’s Harmonica Handbook is known as the ‘bible’ for modern diatonic players. He is known as one of the world’s ten top blues harmonica players and has been showcasing his talent for over 35 years.
Some people just play the harmonica. Others make it their life. One final addition to this category from Britain is Pat Missin. His unusual style, friendly ease, passion, and broad understanding of technical aspects of the instrument lifts him above many others who are more well known.
Not only does Mr Missin play the harmonica, but he repairs, modifies, rebuilds, and designs them. He plays Blues and Jazz based harmonica, but can also do anything from ‘folk to reggae to avant garde to pure pop’ (his words). His music can be heard on recordings by Angie Scarr, Roger Higgins, and Basil Kirchin.