Chapel Hill 1998



Last November, Howard Levy reconvened the week-long teaching format that characterized the so-called "Golden Age of Augusta." It was the first time since 1992 that Howard has taught a week-long class. The week's activities were, additionally, filmed in their entirety, and concluded with a sold-out concert that featured Howard's quartet from Chicago along with a set from the Summit's participants.

We had one very specific goal for this event. We wanted to bring together the best players possible that were exploring some of the ideas that Howard had pioneered, to demonstrate the new possibilities of the instrument, and to publically share and exchange their latest ideas and experiences. It has seemed that over the past few years, the harmonica community has deemed that while what Howard has done is amazing, it is "not for me" or "sounds weird." Meanwhile, there have been all sorts of exciting things done by all sorts of players that are "very" relevant to the community at large; and that's what we'd hoped to make apparent by bringing these varied players together.

A good example is Joe Filisko's approach : Joe teaches a very traditional style of pre-War and Chicago-style tongue-blocking. He goes to great lengths to break down what characterized each style, and teaches each technique very specifically. He then tells his students : "OK, that's how you do it in the first octave. Now, if you want to do it in the second octave, you are going to have to deal with the overblows."

The players in attendance included : 

  • Joe FILISKO - master harmonica craftsman and pre-war stylist
  • Carlos del JUNCO - former World Harmonica Champ and blues/swing fusionist
  • Sandy WELTMAN - former WHC and swing demon
  • Mike PELOQUIN - current WHC
  • Chris MICHALEK - well-known as a fearless improvisor in ob style
  • Dennis GRUENLING - great young swing/blues tongue-blocker
  • Allen HOLMES - diatonic jazz stylist and arranger
  • Dave PINZINO - young diatonic jazz and classical player
  • Jeff GROSSBERG - electric, eclectic fusion player-first studied with Howard in 1980
  • Rosco SELLEY - blues fusionist, Augusta veteran
  • George (The Law) BROOKS - blues and electric rocker
  • Randy SINGER - diatonic and chromatic pop/fusionist
  • Rob PAPPAROZZI - NYC studio pro/chromatic and diatonic
  • Winslow YERXA - HIP Publisher/diatonic and chromatic swing stylist and arranger
  • Paul MESSINGER - diatonic stylist/Augusta veteran (1991/1992)

We tried to get some European players involved in the summit, realizing that their musical background is different and would bring much to the approach we were trying to promote, but for reasons of cost and time constraints, none of them were able to make it.

Also, in attendance as observers were :

  • Jelly Roll Johnson
  • Mike Will
  • Buzz Krantz
  • Jim "TurboDog" Antaki
  • Bill Hunneke
  • Bobbi Giordano
  • Nate Clark
  • Phil Wiggins

The daily events were complimented by an additional evening activity. The class was invited to a Tuesday night welcome to Chapel Hill jam sponsored by Phil Campbell and The Flying Burrito restaurant. Phil also supplied lunch each day, climaxed by a sumptuous fish fry and oyster roast on Friday. The jam on Tuesday night featured an appearance by Phil Wiggins (of Cephas and Wiggins fame). Phil started the show with three tunes played with local finger-style guitarist Jon Shain (duo partner of Paul Messinger). The rest of the evening featured performances by Howard and many others. Dennis Gruenling's powerful amplified blues was an acknowledged highlight of the evening.

Wednesday night featured a trip to TGS Studio (co-owned by myself). Phil Wiggins had spent the day working on miking "issues" with Steve Gronbach, my studio partner and chief engineer. Phil has for years been frustrated with his inability to get his accoustic "tone" recorded properly. By the time the rest of the class arrived, Phil and Steve had discovered the way to record Phil properly. It mostly had to do with mic placement, as Phil's unique hand technique demanded a suitably unique series of mic placements to properly "locate" his sound.
Then, each class member went through the process of "locating" his unique mic placements. The evening ended with an impromptu jam between Rob Papparrozi (vocals and harmonica) and Howard (piano). As the tape just "happened" to be rolling, it has has become an instant classic A small portion of that (I Drink Muddy Water) jam is featured in the opening segment of the video.

Thursday night was devoted to rehearsal for the Saturday evening concert. I hired a four-piece that could cover anything from Winslow's The Mooche to Mike Pelloquin shouting the blues. Impromptu jams were the feature of the evening. Friday night featured another local party/celebration, then a jam at "Spanky's" with Phil Campbell's band. The surprise highlight of that evening was Winslow Yerxas' tweed-jacketed rasping shouting honking rendition of his blues original "Whiskey."

Saturday was spent in sound-checks and final preparation for the concert. The concert, filmed in it's entirety at The Arts Center, was a sell-out with many left out in the street. It began with a 15 minute solo spot by Howard. Howard then moved over to piano and was joined by Rob who then reprised their classic I Drink Muddy Water. Howard exited and Rob was then joined by Dennis Gruenling (along with piano and stand-up bass) for a slow blues. Dennis was then joined by Allen Holmes (along with drums and guitar) for a jump tune. Sandy Weltman then laid down a blistering version of the Benny Goodman classic "Slipped Disc." Mike Peloquin then came out with Chris Michalek and brought the house down with a blues with a "feeling." Then Joe Filisko got what most agree was the best "house" of the night with a stunning solo piece. Anyone that heard that piece has no doubt that Joe Filisko has become a major "voice" on the instrument. Joe was then joined by Winslow and Dennis and Allen and Chris for their classic remdition of The Mooche, and was greatly appreciated. It was the group's first performance with a live band, and it was a memorable one. Dave Pinzino then delivered a furious diatonic version of Fight of the Bumblebee. All week he had been greeted by shouts of "Bumblebee" by the class members, and that evening he delivered on his promise. Mike Peloquin, Jeff Grossberg, and Randy Singer then teamed up on the Miles Davis classic All Blues, which featured an improvised and vocal by Randy. Rosco Selley then joined Jeff Grossburg for a screaming version of Jeff's electric fusion original Elephants on Ice. Carlos del Junco then followed with an elegant rendering of Just Your Fool, and showed why he is among the most exciting and respected of the emerging blues "fusionists" . . .

The first portion of the concert then concluded with a spoken word piece I had written called "Louie Armstrong." It speaks about music and it's never-ending capacity for love and joy. I was joined by Howard on harmonica, and it will always be one of "my" personal artistic highlights. The second half of the show featured The Howard Levy Quartet, and they simply blew the house down. All told, the concert lasted four hours, and ended well past midnight.


A video documenting the week's events will be available beginning April 15th at The Buckeye Harmonica Conference. Topics (at this writing) will include:

  • Kind(s) of Blues
  • Breathing
  • World Music
  • Modal and "Odd Times"
  • Approaches to Jazz
  • Fiddle Tunes

Videos can be ordered care of Mark Goodwillie : vhsv@mindspring.com

There are tentative plans in place for an expanded Harmonica Summit for the week of November 8th in 1999. This event will be completely open to the public, and will feature Howard and many of the participants from the 1998 Summit. There will also be an expanded concert schedule. At this writing, tentative plans include: Trio Globo, The Howard Levy Quartet, and Howard's new band with Steve Smith(Journey), Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), and Oteil Burbridge (Col. Hampton and The Allman Brothers). Details will be available on Howard's website : http://www.levyland.com

We will, hopefully, see some of the great Europeans players at the 1999 Summit...