Flecktones member to headline 'Blowout' event on Jan. 24

COURTESY PHOTO - Howard Levy, among the world's top harmonica players, will join several other names in the harmonica world for a show at Alberta Rose Theatre Jan. 24.Mark Hummel’s annual touring Ultimate Harmonica Blowout certainly lives up to its name this year, featuring a slew of some of the world’s best harmonica players, including: Corky Seigel of the Siegel-Schwall Band; Jason Ricci, arguably the hottest reed-bender on Earth; and Benjamin Darvill, aka Son of Dave of the Crash Test Dummies.

However, it’s pretty likely all three harp players and Hummel, a Grammy-nominated tin sandwich muncher himself, will stand in the wings watching every move made by Howard Levy, the most inventive diatonic harmonica player ever, probably the only harmonica player who could intimidate John Popper of Blues Traveler in a “cutting heads” contest.

Levy discovered the concept of “overblowing” and “overdrawing” notes on a diatonic, or 10-hole harmonica, essentially finding notes that were never meant to be played on the instrument.

Levy's style allows him — and now his numerous disciples worldwide — to play a full chromatic scale on an instrument that doesn’t actually have the chromatic scale. You can learn more about his technique at as well as

Levy joins the other harpists as well as Roomful of Blues/Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Duke Robillard for the Blowoff, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 N.E. Alberta St.

Tickets are $30, and adults must accompany minors to the show. For more information, call 503-719-6055 or visit

Stubborn man

Levy has played jazz, rock, blues, folk, Latin, classical and world music. He’s probably best known for playing with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and he also has worked with Kenny Loggins, Dolly Parton, Paquito D’Rivera, Styx, Donald Fagen and Paul Simon.

Among his many awards, Levy won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for “Life in Eleven,” which he wrote with Bela Fleck. He also has played with Trio Globo, Lebanese oud player-composer Rabih Abou Khalil, and the avant-garde jazz group the Riessler/Levy/Matinier Trio. Levy also is music director and chief composer for the Latin jazz group Chévere de Chicago.

An accomplished pianist who has been tickling the ivories since he was 8 years old, Levy says he became an inventive harmonica player almost by accident, taking up the Mississippi saxophone when he had just become a man.

“I wasn’t some great harmonica player,” he recalls. “I was an 18-year-old kid and stubborn.”

As a pianist, he became frustrated that he couldn’t find all the notes on a diatonic harmonica that he could on a piano. He adds that he considered playing the larger chromatic harmonica, which boasts the entire chromatic scale, and which is favored by players like Stevie Wonder and the late great Toots Thielemans. However, he decided to bend the diatonic to his whims.

“The whole notion of the chromatic didn’t appeal to me,” he says. “It’s kind of like telling a violinist to put frets on his fingerboard.”

So over a series of months, he played the smaller diatonic harmonica until he figured how to play every note possible on it, by manipulating the airflow until he hit each note correctly. Unlike many diatonic players, who have to use different key harmonicas from song to song, Levy can play any song on one harmonica regardless of the song key, so extensive is his knowledge of how to manipulate the instrument.

He adds that his Hohner harps are now custom-made by Joe Filisko, a noted player and musical historian himself and one of the world’s most innovative harmonica designers.

“He does a whole bunch of little things to the reeds and the reedplates … that streamline the instrument,” Levy says of Filisko. “He figured out many logical things to streamline the airflow.”

As for Levy himself, the ever-busy musician hopes to keep teaching others through his online classes and jamming with the best in the business. The web has made his name — and methods — accessible to people worldwide, and none could be happier about that fact than Levy.

“I never thought I’d see hundreds of guys all over the world playing my stuff,” he says.

Harmonica online

For information on the other Ultimate Harmonica Blowout 2017 artists, check out these Web sites:

Mark Hummel at

Corky Siegel at

Jason Ricci at

Duke Robillard at

Son of Dave at

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