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Pocket Full of Soul Draws Enthusiastic Crowd to New Haven Premiere

by Holley Dey and Louise Uznanski. Photos and video by Richard Uznanski and Louise Uznanski for OnTapBlog.

© 2013 OnTapBlog All Rights Reserved.

Criterion Cinema PFOS MarqueeLast Thursday we went downtown to get the low-down.  The movie was screened one night only at select theaters across the country, and thanks to the support of many in New Haven, we were there to enjoy the premiere of Pocket Full of Soul: The Harmonica Documentary.

The movie had been billed as a concert and a history lesson rolled into one.  It’s true!  From beginning to end, Pocket Full of Soul was both entertaining and educational.  There was music.  There was humor.  There were people, musicians who coaxed a symphony of sound, an encyclopedia of emotion from the humble harmonica.  From legendary blues harp players like Little Walter, James Cotton and Magic Dick, to newcomers Jason Ricci and hip hop artist Bad News Brown, we were offered a broad perspective on the harmonica (r)evolution.

We learned from an earnest John Popper that a precursor to the harmonica was made in China long before the modern day instrument was mass produced in Germany.  We learned about harmonica construction and performance technique, visited with Matthias Hohner’s grandson in the factory town of Trossingen.  We learned about reeds and plates, to blow and draw, breathe the music.

Through new performance clips and archival footage, we saw the harmonica played across music genres by players whose unique tone and delivery brought new dimensions to the sound. We learned that Little Walter played only a few notes, but that each of those notes was remarkably full and satisfying. We heard from Howard Levy and Jason Ricci, modern day players with an individual, recognizable technique. So many former and current master players were represented first through interview and then in live performance, each with the passion in their eyes and beads of sweat on their brows.

We learned about respect. A deadpan Jerry Portnoy drew spontaneous laughter when he opened the film by describing the typical reaction encountered when people realize he plays harmonica for a living.  Silence.  After all, “you’re not a real musician.” We watched as a timeline was described, from the early 20th century when harmonica players were excluded from the musicians’ union, to the accidental, chart topping success of B side track “Peg O’ My Heart” by Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats, to the use of harmonica across a spectrum of music styles.  Riding a continuous sine wave of popularity, the harmonica is due for a resurgence!

Well known names and faces populate the film.  Johnny Cash plays a compelling “Orange Blossom Special” in black and white archival footage.  Charlie Musselwhite’s appearance drew cheers from the New Haven audience; Charlie emphasizes the expression of emotion through the harmonica during his interview.  American Idol winner Taylor Hicks describes the harmonica as a “little sword”, with a sound that cuts from the living room to the kitchen, then proceeds to demonstrate just what he means.  Not all the famous names belong to musicians.  Astronaut Wally Schirra carried a harmonica on his Gemini mission into space.  Abraham Lincoln was a presidential player.

There are so many names, faces and details, so much pulse raising music shared in rapid succession that eighty-two minutes pass quickly, and at least a second viewing would be needed to fully appreciate all that Pocket Full of Soul has to offer.  Here’s hoping that the film will soon enjoy a wider, and worldwide distribution, starting right here!

Organizer Holley Dey w/ Louise Uznanski distributing harmonicas for the after show lesson.

Organizers Louise Uznanski and Holley Dey distribute harmonicas for the after show lesson.

John Popper of Blues Traveler

Screenshot of John Popper of Blues Traveler

Taylor Hicks

Screenshot of Taylor Hicks

Harmonica teacher Mark Zaretsky

Harmonica teacher Mark Zaretsky of The Cobalt Rhythm Kings

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scene from the harmonica lesson.

After the New Haven screening, the audience graciously agreed to participate in a poll.  From four simple questions, we learned the following about the audience and their take on Pocket Full of Soul.  While the majority who attended were blues lovers, or as one respondent wrote “blooze” lovers, a significant number of the audience preferred rock as a music genre.  Smaller, but important numbers of attendees were fans of country music or jazz, and a single audience member held out hope for a jug band!

On Thursday evening, 73% were not harmonica players, although one audience member shared with a smile, “not now…”  A full 92% of those polled were ready to pick up a harmonica and play after watching Pocket Full of Soul.  Of those who resisted the urge, one said modestly, “I have no rhythm.”  When asked whether Pocket Full of Soul: The Harmonica Documentary would appeal to a general audience of movie goers, the crowd shouted “Yes!”, and 94% replied in the affirmative on written response cards.

A beginner’s harmonica lesson and jam followed, and were led by musician Mark Zaretsky.  Mark has been the lead vocalist and harmonica player for The Cobalt Rhythm Kings for the past sixteen years.  One of Connecticut’s leading blues bands, The Cobalt Rhythm Kings were winners of the 2010 New Haven Advocate Grand Band Slam for “Best Blues Band”.

Mark is also an experienced harmonica teacher, although the students in his classes generally number fewer than one hundred!  Nonetheless, the professor managed the class well, instructing the audience first how to hold the harmonica, then how to play chords and single notes.  More ambitious students were challenged to “bend” notes, while novices like ourselves happily, if randomly, made sweet music by breathing through brightly colored Hohner harmonicas in the key of C.

Several well known local area musicians were in attendance.  Among those spotted were Peter Rost of River City Slim, The Zydeco Hogs and The Mighty Soul Drivers, jazz harp player Chris DePino, Ryan Hartt of Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts, musician Edward “Thirsty” Hurston, Andy Weinstein of The Rising Tide Band, and Matt Rhone of Grit Rhythm Zero.  A few musicians and students joined Mark for a brief harmonica jam at the front of the theater as the evening ended.

We all left with a heart full of music and a pocket full of soul!

Mark Warms Up the Audience

Group Performance

Group Jam after the lesson

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

Scenes from a harmonica lesson.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fantastic Ladies!!

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thanks, Ginny. We are hoping that this enthusiastic scene that took place in 14 cities on Feb. 28th means the film will have a wider audience if it is released nationwide. It was pretty fantastic!!!

      March 4, 2013
  2. Good job!

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you, Julie. It is a great film for music lovers of all kinds. It is put together so well and entertains and enlightens all at the same time. Hope you get to see it in your neighborhood!

      March 4, 2013
  3. azure #

    Holley and Louise –

    So interesting and looks like such a fun night. I continue to be enthralled at the way you write, and the pictures always add so much. Thank you both.

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you. It was a pleasure seeing this film. So interesting and the night was so much fun for the audience especially with the harp lesson after the movie. There was a lot of positive audience reaction to it so hopefully that will transfer to a wider showing.

      March 4, 2013
  4. jonibug #

    Excellent, as usual! I do hope I get a chance to see it in the future. Love things that are entertaining as WELL as educational cause i think the entertainment factor makes it easier to remember the educational aspect!

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Oh, for sure. There were many lighthearted moments in the film that kept everyone entertained and open to the more serious/academic content. I know you’ll enjoy it, jonibug. Here’s hoping that a distribution deal is struck soon so that everyone can enjoy the movie! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

      March 4, 2013
  5. What fun! Were there any teenagers or children in the audience? There was one young girl of about 14 that came to the Austin showing with her dad. Afterwards they talked to the promoters about harmonica lessons for her. 🙂

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Cool! She’ll have a blast. It was a weekday school night here, so I’m afraid the timing wasn’t right to draw the younger crowd. Hopefully, everyone will get to see the movie when it next comes through town!

      March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      We don’t remember seeing any really young kids but a few teenagers and early 20’s for certain. Mark is a sensational teacher. I’m sure if any parents in attendance wanted to take lessons or have their children take lessons, Mark would be their man. He was funny, informative and could really jam. There were several who brought their own harmonicas to the show in the same key as the harmonicas we distributed. It was a symphony in C, harmonica style.

      March 4, 2013
  6. Linda #

    That was such fun to watch, Hope it will be sold? Good job Louise and Holly

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      I’m not sure how plans for the film will develop? It would be great to own a copy, though. I agree!

      March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      If the video buffers, click pause for about a minute and let the dark gray bar run to the right. Then click play and it should resolve any lag time. Thanks everyone!!

      March 4, 2013
  7. Diane #

    great follow up to your prior email letting us know about the release of this – hope it hits vegas soon

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank, Diane. We are hoping for a release and/or a DVD sale. Would be awesome to have both happen it’s that good!

      March 4, 2013
  8. Claire #

    Looked like a fun night!

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      It was a fun night without a doubt. The harmonica lesson was the icing on the cake. How many people are now playing harmonica in their cars on the way to work???

      March 4, 2013
  9. This looks like it was a lot of fun! Didn’t know there would be a lesson as well- but the guy in the grey looks like he’s eating his….lol!!

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      It was fun! The instructor said to put the harp in your mouth as far as you could. We ended up with a lot of people with a mouth full of soul! Thanks, Annie.

      March 4, 2013
  10. madaboutu #

    This was so much fun to read! You gals continue to do a super job. Wish I had been in this larger audience when I saw my half of the film. I hope this gets widespread love from fans of the harp.

    March 4, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Thank you so much, mad. It was a fun night and we wish everyone could have seen it. We thought it did fairly well for a one night only premiere. Would love to see it on TV or sold on DVD if not in theaters where independent films are show. Thanks again!

      March 4, 2013

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