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.”