Exclusive Interview with Jan Hartmann

Jan Hartmann How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ I grew up in a family where playing an instrument was kind of normal. I had piano lessons until the age of about 14. Turning 17 I assumed I'd enhance my chances with girls significantly if I would play an instrument again and I picked the harmonica. Why the harmonica? I really don't know. Maybe I heard it on one of the Supertramp songs. Not sure if it helped with the girls but sometimes lives takes it's own turns anyway.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ That's a hard one ... there are many...but certainly Little Walter when he was a young player. I'm sure some of this fresh and unbiased drive would rub off on me. Then probalby Lee Oscar, who was my biggest influence when I started playing, and to this day is the absolute master of sound and soulful melodies. Finally Carlos del Junco, who tought me many things back in 2014 when I studied with him.

What is your favorite blues harp brand / type and tell us why?
~ The Seydel 1847 classic. In my opinion the best stock harmonica out there. Better than a lot of customized harmonicas I tried. Dedicated workmanship which results in smooth response and beautiful sound. It also feels really good in your hands and lips. I was endorsed by Hohner for many years, had a great deal, but the 1847 by Seydel made me quit. With the Seydel team, it feels like beeing with a family. And with Ben Bouman I found a fine customizer who takes them to an even higher level.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ Do it for the girls ... best motivation ever ... just kidding, but I think motivation and patience is the key. Invest enough time to learn the basic techniques to develop a full and great sound. Get the bends right. Get the rhythm right. Practise thoroughly, don't be lazy, but also don't ask too much from yourself. Find your learning speed. Listen to as many harmonica players you can. Pick the ones you like most, the ones who touch you directly and copy their stuff. Listen closely, not superficially, when doing that. Check out their licks, sounds, timing, dynamics, the whole range. Then make it your own, mix it with the voice of your heart, put your own emotions and feelings in there. Also don't hesitate to get advice from a professional. Stay critical and be open to feedback from others.

Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why.
~ I'm a "Synchretist". I mix both techniques because this way I get a wider range of sounds and more possibilities to articulate. When I tongue-block I can throw in vamps and slaps, I can play intervals by splitting or I can accompany my melodies with chords, etc. When I lip purse I can use my tongue to do articulations with consonants like "d", "t" and "r", which is impossible when your tongue is blocking a hole. I also feel I can play much quicker in and out of bends when I lip purse. Finally I find overblows much easier with lip pursing.

Give us the 3 most important albums every (beginning) blues harp player must buy.
~ Honestly, I don't think there is something like the 3 most important albums for every bluesharp player. It so much depends on the player himself, on his taste and feelings. He should listen to stuff he likes and start from there. But I guess that misses the point of the question. Generally I'd say get some earlier records of WAR (Lee Oscar), earlier Little Walter stuff (also with Muddy Waters), Sonny Boy Willamson II, Sonny Terry. Also get some contemporary stuff of J.J. Milteau, Carlos del Junco and Howard Levy. And my stuff of course!

How do you clean your harps?
~ Toothbrush and toothpaste (with whitening stuff in it).

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ Good one ... Harmonica players are usually asked which harmonica player influenced them the most. But hardly ever people ask about inspirations from other "non-harmonica" musicians. I get a lot of inspiration from jazz musicians like Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, Nina Simone, Eddie Harris, Stephane Grapelli, Billie Holiday and many many more. I also listen to oriental and gipsy music or musette a lot. My advice: don't only listen to harmonica players, widen your horizon.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ I don't know too much about those things. I like a room with a well balanced sound when I record acoustic stuff, but I don't think it's that important to me. In the end you can work with any acoustic situation, you'll have to be flexible though. And you need a sound engineer that understands and feels what you are doing. Also enough food and drinks close by.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ Not really. Only when I play with people I don't feel comfortable with. But usually I don't do that. I'm very concentrated and focused though. I think my gig starts about 2 hours before I go on stage. No special technique, just natural mental focusing on my inner emotional state, which is the main source for my music, no matter whether I'm happy, sad, tired, excited or in any other possible mood. I accept it and make it my island in the storm. It's me, it's authentic. Nothing can go wrong with beeing authentic, so no need to be nervous.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ Oh - there are several. First my first harmonica lesson with my teacher and mentor Joe Walter: his open and enthusiastic way of teaching sucked me right into harmonica playing. Then the encounter with Lee Oscar at a little workshop in Zurich, when I was still a teenager and he was my big hero. Also sitting in with people like Lousiana Red, Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, and the many weeks I spent socializing and playing with my musician friends in Memphis.

Jan Hartmann

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Answers given on DEcember 16, 2016