Mission: Harmonica 

Del Junco keeps audiences open to riff possibilities

Who: Carlos del Junco and Don Ross

Where : Millennium Place

When: Friday, March 8, 8 p.m.

Carlos del Junco is passionately committed to the fine art of harmonica.

With Up and At ’Em , del Junco describes this his latest album as a mix of "dark, jazzy harmonica."

His aim has always been to demonstrate the range of possibilities available with this particular choice of music maker.

"I treat the harmonica more like a jazz instrument," says del Junco, named 1996 Blues Musician of the Year by Jazz Report Magazine.

His interest lies in the complexity of the instrument, and how the harmonica infuses a composition with its own, distinct "lick." A lick is harmonica speak, a name for the equivalent of a guitar beat in a song.

Junco’s plays a 10-hole diatonic harmonica, an instrument he learned by ear.

He says his songs include "strong licks and riffs on which they can rely."

With a Cuban background (he came to Canada at age one), del Junco plays everything from Latin to Jazz.

Junco’s technique is what stands out at his performances. He uses the positioning of his jaw muscles to manipulate the chromatic notes of the harmonica as part of the blues sound.

Because of this approach, he has been likened by music reviewers to Howard Levy, the Chicago musician who first invented the overblow technique.

And he is passionate about what his music is not.

"I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a blues man, and this music always ventures into the eclectic," says del Junco, who cites Rod Piazza and B.B. King among his musical influences.

He completed high standings in Hohner’s World Harmonica Championship, while appearances at festivals like the Heineken Soul ’N Blues Festival have widened a fan base for this very eclectic type of music.

His 1999 album, titled Big Boy: Some Recycled Blues and Other Somewhat Related Stuff , took its title from the classic Taj Mahal album.

The album, nominated for a Juno award for Best Blues album, includes Ray Charles’ Mess Around as well as Howard Levy’s Jitterbug Waltz.

In both 1999 and 2000 he was nominated as Harmonica Player of the Year, by the Toronto Blues Society’s Maple Leaf Blues Award.

Originally a sculptor who specialized in stone and bronze artistry, del Junco has found passion in music for the past five years.

Canadian acoustic guitarist Don Ross joins del Junco at the Millennium Place show.

A two-time winner of the National Fingerpicking Championship, held in Winfield, Kansas, Ross plays alternating fretted and open strings as a specialist in the acoustic guitar sound.

The 200-seat Whistler theatre should provide a welcome backdrop for Ross, who once quipped to an Ottawa Citizen reviewer that "playing rock ’n roll in smoky clubs to people who are only half-listening gets really old, really fast."

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