Feb 21, 2012 - Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame Presents the Third Annual Blues Harmonica Summit
Tulsa, Oklahoma—February 21st, 2012—Not long ago, David Berntson traveled to New Orleans, where he participated in a long-running jam session hosted by Smoky Greenwell, a well-known name in blues-harmonica circles. Greenwell turned out to be a friend of Berntson’s own harmonica-playing pal back in Tulsa, Jimmy “Junior” Markham.
That’s hardly an unusual occurrence, Berntson says. “I travel all overthe country and all over the world, and it doesn’t matter where I am—London, Barcelona, Paris—everybody [in blues-harmonica circles] knows Junior, and everybody smiles when I say his name.”
Which makes Markham the perfect guy to be one of the performers andinstructors at the third annual Blues Harmonica Summit, a whole day of concerts, jams, and workshops set for Saturday, February 25th at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, 111 E. First Street in downtown Tulsa.
“Blues is an oral tradition,” explains Berntson. “That’s how the artwas passed, from musician to musician. You learned how to play by hanging out with the bluesman—the maven. In our community, that maven is Junior. I can’t even articulate what he’s taught me.”
Berntson’s done plenty of his own teaching as well, instructing acourse in blues harmonica at Tulsa Community College for the past two decades, and spreading the gospel of the harmonica in other places as well.
“I’ve probably educated hundreds and hundreds of adults on the harmonica,” he says. “My goal from the beginning was to make people more aware of good harmonica playing.”
And that brings us back to the Blues Harmonica Summit, in which Markhamand Berntson are set to be joined by nationally known guests Rudy Scott, R.J. Mischo, Todd Parrot, Ronnie Shellist and Adam Gussow. They’ll be doing workshops as well as playing in what Markham terms “a blues harmonica blowout” at the end of the evening.
“We’ve got Mr. Microphone from Kansas City coming in, too,” Markham adds, “his specialty is amplified microphone techniques.”
Markham’s own style, Berntson believes, is a part of the much-discussed classic Tulsa Sound, which first came to national prominence in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s but whose roots took hold in the illegal and semi-legal Tulsa clubs of the ‘50s. Markham was there from the beginning, singing and playing harmonica, and when the likes of Leon Russell, Jack Dunham, David Gates, and Jim Karstein took off from T-town for the West Coast in the early ‘60s, Markham made that scene, too. His California band Junior Markham and the Tulsa Rhythm Revue included such players as J.J. (then Johnny) Cale, future Rolling Stones saxophonist Bobby Keys, and Marc Benno, who’d play in the recording act Asylum Choir with Russell. Markham’s Rhythm Revue recorded for the Uptown label, a subsidiary of Capitol Records.
At this writing, well over four decades after the Rhythm Revue records,Markham is at work on his latest disc, which he says will feature guest appearances by a number of national artists, including Marcy Levy, Cale, Keys, and Levon Helm. Markham’s band members are guitarist Charles Tuberville, bassist Stan Reed, and drummer Chuck Blackwell – another Tulsa Sound icon. “I am really excited about this thing,” he says. “I haven’t had any new product out in eight or nine years.”
Although, he says, “I’ve never been busier in my life than I am now,”Markham found time to get with Berntson and put together Saturday’s event, as a joint collaboration between the Route 66 Harmonica Club. It's a full day, beginning at noon with educational workshops by the artists. While those wanting to play harmonica, or to get better at it, are the workshops’ focus, Berntson says that all are welcome. “A lot of people come in at the beginning and go to everything, he says. “They come to hear the performances, but they go to the workshops, too. The workshops are up-close and personal and you can really get next to the players.”
Doors open at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 25th. After the workshops, at 6:30, the concertportion begins with the Tulsa Harmonica All Star Showcase, followed, at 8 p.m. by the national and international artists. Rudy Scott, a Texas native whose resume includes stints with Ike and Tina Turner and Tulsa’s Ernie Fields, leads things off. Admission for everything is $15. For more information, call Betty Downing at 918-281-8609.
“National harmonica workshops are going on all the time for $100 or more,” says Berntson. “We keep ours down because of our wonderful sponsors and underwriters. And I can’t say enough about the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and their educational programming—their friendship and long term support makes it possible.” “The Oklahoma Jazz Hall's commitment to honoring the greats makes all the difference in continuing and building on Oklahoma's music scene," adds Markham. “It’s an Oklahoma institution that I'm proud of and grateful to be an inductee.”
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural andeducational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.