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harmonica

aerophone

The Chromonica Toots Hard Bopper is a Richter system mouth organ, so called after the reputed but also disputed inventor, a certain Anton or Josef Richter. Sources don't agree about his Christian name. An instrument builder in Haida (now Nový Bor) in Bohemia, Richter is said to have first used his tuning system around the middle of the nineteenth century.

A characteristic of a Richter harmonica is that it has just one reed per note. Each air channel has a blow and a draw reed, which give a different note, for example (the blow notes are in bold) do/re, mi/fa, sol/la, ti/do.

In 1912 the German company Hohner from Trossingen (Baden-Württemberg) launched the first chromatic harmonica. By around 1925 it had become known as the chromonica. This type of harmonica has two rows of air channels, making it possible to play all the semi-tones. The bottom row is a semi-tone higher than the top. A slide system always closes one of the two. Depressing the slide button opens the bottom row and closes the top row. When the button is not depressed, it is the other way round: the top open and the bottom closed.

Over the years Hohner produced several special editions of the chromonica with the signature of a great harmonica player. And so it was that in 1987 Jean 'Toots' Thielemans acquired his signature series. Hohner designed and constructed two models to specifications provided by Toots Thielemans: the Toots Mellow Tone for a warm ballad sound and this Toots' Hard Bopper, which Toots claimed was just the instrument for uptempo numbers in the blues, rock or jazz genres. Or as he put it: "for when things get 'heavier' around you!" The slightly thicker reed plates explain the Hard Bopper's rather more aggressive sound. They are the metal plates with grooves which hold the reeds. The Hard Bopper has twelve double air channels and 48 reeds for three complete chromatic octaves.

Jean 'Toots' Thielemans (Brussels, °1922) is a self-made musician. As a schoolboy he entertained his chums in the playground with his mouth music. In his early years he was infatuated with harmonica stars like the American Larry Adler (1914-2001), his first idol, who played mainly popular classical music, and the Dutch jazz musician Max Geldray (1916-2004), who frequently performed in Brussels in the late 1930s.   

But it was Toots Thielemans who in the early 1950s really ennobled the little instrument which jazz cats had previously looked down upon. Thielemans began his international career as a guitarist, but by 1950 he was making his first record recordings on harmonica in Brussels for the Sphinx label. Until the 1970s he was just about the only jazz harmonica player of consequence. Toots performed and made recordings with pretty well all the great jazz musicians of his time. His harmonica can be heard in numerous films, advertisements and television serials. His most famous composition is the jazz standard Bluesette released in 1962, which he originally whistled and accompanied in unison on the guitar. 

This Toots Hard Bopper, built in 2010, was one of the harmonicas Toots Thielemans played in the autumn of 2013 at the very last concerts of his career. In June 2014 Toots gifted this instrument to the mim.

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Toots Thielemans (c)Jos Knaepen
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