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Sugar Blue's back for more

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-13 11:08
Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica player Sugar Blue will return to Beijing with two shows at Blue Note Beijing on April 27 and 28, along with his band members: CJ Tucker on drums; Sergio Montaleni on guitar; James Cowan on piano and his wife, Ilaria Lantieri Blue on bass. [Photo provided to China Daily]

An American harmonica player is returning to Beijing with his band for two concerts later this month

Grammy Award-winning blues harmonica player Sugar Blue, who made his debut in China with a show at Blue Note Beijing in 2017, says Chinese fans are "warm, enthusiastic and knowledgeable" and that he finds the country inspiring.

"China has long been a hotbed of creativity," says Sugar Blue, adding that the Chinese musical instrument, Sheng, predates the harmonica by a millennium or more.

"It's an incredible traditional musical innovation that introduced the world to the first free reed instrument," says Sugar Blue who is now on a year's project researching the origins of the harmonica.

The 69-year-old musician, who is born as James Whiting in New York, will return to Beijing with two shows at Blue Note Beijing on April 27 and 28, along with his band members: CJ Tucker on drums; Sergio Montaleni on guitar; James Cowan on piano and his wife, Ilaria Lantieri Blue on bass.

"We have chosen songs from the tradition of jazz and blues as well as many originals from our previous compositions. We are just out of the studio with many new tunes ... who knows, we may have some surprises for you," says Sugar Blue, adding that the band are in the final stages of production on a new album, which is for a young audience.

"It's going to be titled Colors and it features an eclectic collection of songs that I am proud of.

"I am very nervous as usual at the looming end of studio days, everything has to be perfect and my wife keeps telling me that it's beautiful. If I didn't listen to her I would never get out of the studio," he adds.

Sugar Blue plays the diatonic harmonica of three different sizes. There is the ubiquitous 10 hole, the 12 hole Marine Band and the 14 hole Marine Band 365 that has a lower octave in the C tuned version.

He used to keep his musical instruments in a box that he would sit atop the amplifier. But it was "tedious and distracting" to have to turn his back to the audience whenever he wanted to change keys. And one day he accidentally knocked the entire box off the amplifier and they all tumbled backstage.

That was when the musician decided to make a change: to wear his harmonica belt like a machine gun belt on his body.

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