Exclusive Interview with Joan Pau Cumellas

Black and white picture by A. Bertol

Joan Pau Cumellas How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ Although I started playing on themes of Neil Young or Bob Dylan, it was for a blues concert in 1990 when I really discovered what a blues harmonica might do musically. That moment was decisive in my early days.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ Would have to wake up many dead ones to complete my ideal jam session. De Ford Bailey, Walter Horton, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Paul Butterfield, Norton Buffalo and many others. A part from this, of those who are alive, I like very much artists as Carlos del Junco, Jean-Jacques Milteau or Tom Ball.

What is your favorite bluesharp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I use Hohner harmonicas, especially Crossover and customized Marine Band models. Good airtight, tone and volume. Sometimes I use also Golden Melody and Special 20. All of them, after a small adjustment I make myself, work well for overblows and overdraws.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ I have spent many years teaching to play this instrument. I am self-taught because there where no harmonica teachers here in Barcelona when I started playing. I lost a lot of time learning just by listening to records and tapes. Now I'm glad I can help people to get into it. I firmly believe that having a good guide is the shortest way to learn the basics of this instrument. The main advice I give in my courses is first to work the musical rhythm. Then the phrasings and later concepts of theory to understand the context in which to improvise. Besides, listen to both classic and modern harp players and copy their songs, their riffs. No matter what song or riff but do it with dedication. Before you can improvise over a blues you have to stockpile musical ideas and patterns.

Whiskey, wine, beer or ...?
~ Each has its time, but nothing like sharing a good red wine at dinner with the musicians of the band the day of the concert.

How do you clean your harps?
~ I only clean my harps when something blocks the reed. While they are well kept in the box it is enough to keep them protected.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ Why do you play this instrument so small and insignificant, instead of devoting your life to a truly serious instrument?
Although it looks like a toy, it is small and insignificant, has an expressive force that makes it unique. Its potential is vast and if you work thoroughly can go very far in the musical field with it.

Describe the ultimate recording.
~ My ultimate blues recording includes 14 representative themes of my duo with the guitarist Miguel Talavera, most of them original compositions. This album offers an eclectic vision of the blues, with a personal style that reflects our way of understanding music. We've been playing together for many years developing a music dialogue between harmonica and guitar which I think is well reflected in this album. We walk through different styles ranging from acoustic classic blues or Chicago shuffle besides some jazz, celtic or melodic tunes, but with the intention to have a sense of unity along the cd. This album includes also tracks recorded with a band where Miguel and me are surrounded by some excellent musicians and friends from the Barcelona scene.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ There is always the initial excitement before going on stage, but I like my job and I'm so focused on what I have to do that do not think of anything else but enjoy my playing.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ I have many memorable days and hope to have many more in the future. One that I like to remember is the first time I got on the stage. It all started as a joke. There was a music festival at my university. I had never played with any musician or acted in front of others. Without asking permission I got on an empty stage without public and I started playing the harmonica. I was alone. I thought no one would see me, but people out there who passed stopped and encouraged me to keep playing. A guy plugged a microphone for me and my harmonica sounded loud through the speakers. Musicians who came from another stage were told there was a guy (me) playing harmonica elsewhere. Suddenly joined me a guitarist, a drummer, a bass and a keyboard player. And so it began spontaneously the most exciting concert of my life. That day was so thrilling that I decided to learn to play seriously and try to become a professional musician.

Joan Pau Cumellas

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Answers given on April 7, 2016