Primary Instrument: Harmonica
When it comes to the harmonica, French-born jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet knows how to turn skeptics into believers. Most people perceive the harmonica as a “side” instrument used in country and blues. However, Yonnet is one of a handful of musicians to successfully demonstrate the harmonica’s versatility as a lead instrument in contemporary jazz, as well as other genres of music.
Self-described as an “old spirit”, you know after listening to one set that Yonnet has “been here before”. As one of the youngest professional mouth harp virtuosos, he began his harmonica career at age 19. Since then, he has devoted all of his time to performing in Parisian jazz and blues clubs and touring Spain, Germany, Africa and the U.S. Formerly, a frequent guest musician on the French television network Canal Plus, Yonnet is quickly changing the groove and image typically associated with the harmonica and harmonica players.
Just listen to his sound. It funks. It rocks. It hips and hops. It grooves. It sways. It testifies. It prays. It has a reverence for blues and jazz while appealing to a generation raised on pop-rock and hip-hop. As part of a new wave of musicians emerging from Europe’s jazz underground, Yonnet is poised to change the way the music industry and music enthusiasts regard the “pocket” instrument.
Born in Normandy, France, Frédéric picked up the harmonica after a short stint as a drummer. “I got fired a lot because I kept trying to play the melody,” said Yonnet. Eventually, he revisited an instrument he had received as a child. “The harmonica allowed me to play both the melody and the rhythm, “said Yonnet. “Plus the harmonica is much lighter to carry than the drums.”
Yonnet’s latest CD project positions the artist where he and his music deservingly need to be -- Front and Center. The harmonica takes the lead when Yonnet brings it out front and demonstrates its versatility and range. In Front and Center, Yonnet covers songs like Boogie On Reggae Woman, Days of Wine and Roses, For the Love of You and God Bless the Child. With Front and Center, Yonnet is clearly trying to educate listeners to the musical capabilities of the harmonica by keeping much of the music familiar. Yonnet pays homage to one of his musical inspirations, Stevie Wonder, with a pepped up version of Boogie On Reggae Woman. In Days of Wine and Roses, Yonnet shuffles up-tempo workouts with African, Latin and European rhythms to add some “Afropean spice” to the jazz standard. Yonnet goes all out with his bluesy, high-energy interpretation of God Bless the Child.
“Including a range of standards and popular cover songs in my repertoire allows people to focus less on the tune and more on my interpretation through the harmonica.” And that’s not hard to do. After listening to the harmonica virtuoso, one is left in awe of his technical mastery of all twelve keys of the harmonica.
There is no question as to why his first, self-produced sampler CD is titled, Blowing Your Mind in Every Key of the Harp! A common refrain after Yonnet performs is, “Wow, I didn’t know you could do that on a harmonica.” The CD, which showcases his musical range and fearless improvisations, features two original tunes: Eden Legrand and ArtSpace 1.0, written by French harmonicist and writer Michel Herblin. Eden Legrand starts slow and builds to an intense and funky groove. ArtSpace 1.0 has a jazzy reggae beat. This is one of Yonnet’s favorite tunes and the 1.0 suggests that there will be many other versions.
Blowing Your Mi nd also features a live version of the gospel favorite Amazing Grace. “The Amazing Grace track was actually a ‘jam’ recorded live at a church in Los Angeles,” said Yonnet. “I had never played with the musicians before but once we connected, it was very powerful. This track is a good indication of the energy that comes through in my live performances,” he added. “The first stanza of Amazing Grace is soulfully paced while the second is fast, energetic and spirit-filled,” said Yonnet. The CD also includes original treatments of the jazz standard Chicken and the French standard, Autumn Leaves, a duo of bass and harmonica.
While Yonnets’ CDs are impressive, it is his live performances that get all the praise. Accompanied by a bass, guitar, drums and keyboard, Yonnet pushes even the most seasoned musicians with his endless energy and enthusiasm. A multi-faceted performer with exceptionally strong stage presence, Yonnet totally engages the crowd with his warm spirit and playful musical banters with the other musicians. “Music is fun and that is what I try to share with the audience.”
His ability to play chromatic scales on the diatonic harmonica gives him an unlimited range of notes and sounds, of which he takes full advantage. He demonstrates his command of technique and skill by masterfully bridging the gap between the diatonic and chromatic harps -- impressing fans of both.
After hearing him perform in Nashville, Tennessee, representatives from the German harmonica company, Weltmeister, commented, “We’ve never heard anyone play the harmonica like that before.” Since then, Yonnet and Weltmeister have teamed up and are positioned to change the way the music industry and music enthusiasts regard the “pocket” instrument.
Front & Center
FYI Music Group
Tracks: Boggie on Reggae Woman; Days of Wine and Roses; Eden Legrand; God Bless the Child; What a Wonderful World; Artspace 2.0; For The Love of You; Time After Time; What's Going On; Autumn Leaves; Amazing Grace
Personnel: Frédéric Yonnet | harmonica |
Michael Bowie & David Dyson | bass |
Stanley Cooper & Michel Randrianarisoa | guitar |
Vince Evans | keys |
Patrick Ferbac & Amadou N'Gome | percussion |
Jay Nichols & Eric Valentine | drum |
Blowing Your Mind In Every Key of the Harp
FYI Music Group
Tracks: Amazing Grace, Artspace. Chicken, Eden Legrand and Autumn Leaves
Personnel: Frédéric Yonnet | harmonica |
Lorenzo Sands | bass |
Stanley | guitar |
Eric Valentine | drum |
As A Side Musician
Middle C Music Jazz All Stars
Levy, Yonnet, Bowie, Fraize and Howe
Tracks: Blues on Middle C; Jessie’s Blues; Peter’s Rhythm; Footsteps to the Start; Little Wing; How High the Moon; Prelude and Samba
Personnel: Frederic Yonnet | harmonica |
Peter Fraize | tenor sax |
Jim Levy | piano|
Michael Bowie | bass |
Warren Howe | percussion |
Alejandro Lucini | percussion |
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