Listen to Lori Andrews play Roatan from the album Suspended.
Playing Jazz on an Electric Harp in a Band
by Lori Andrews
Jazz is the only music I play, and the single most rewarding thing I
do. I play in a quartet of electric harp, bass, sax/flute, and drums.
One of the things that drew me to jazz is the spontaneity of the
playing: I'm constantly searching for new ways to play the same song,
and I encourage my band to do the same. My mood, good or bad, allows me
to be different each time I play. As well, when I'm playing chords for
other soloists, I always try to interpret how they are feeling so I can
give back the type of energy they need at that moment. I find jazz to
be the most creative music in the world.
Harp: Lori Andrews
The key ingredient in jazz for me is rhythm. I believe that no matter
how brilliant your improvising skills, no drummer or any other musician
will want to play with you if your time and rhythm are not excellent. I
listened to funk music in college and was always drawn to that pulse on
the 2nd and 4th beat of the measure. I found a way to create this
technique with my left hand which I call my "slap bass" technique, so
that even when I'm playing solo, my foot and my listeners' are tapping.
"It don't mean a thing"...well, you get it!
When you play jazz with a group, you usually follow a pattern: first
the melody is stated by the group, and then each musician takes a turn
improvising the melody while the others play the harmonies as indicated
by the composer. There are many ways of approaching a solo, and the
chords used when accompanying, or "comping", can also be altered. This
is what makes jazz so creative, and how it happens that when new players
sit in with you, you get a fresh outlook on any tune. As a bonus, your
circle of musicians grows so you can keep your music vital.
When I first got a call to play at the Warehouse in Los Angeles, where
I'm now in my ninth year, the sax player asked if his friend Bart, a
bass player, could sit in with us. As we played, I could hear that Bart
was doing something very scary and unrecognizable to me: he was playing
bass notes outside the chord (called "substitutions") to make the chords
that I was playing sound really different from what I was expecting. It
made me very hesitant in my playing because I was not sure if I should
alter my notes to make what he was doing sound good to my ears. I was
quite shy and very scared about trying different things on the harp and
as a result, I thought the evening was a nightmare because I was
second-guessing myself constantly. Well, the owner liked the band so
much, he hired us on the spot for two nights a week!
The Lori Andrews JazHarp Quartet, 2000, Playboy Jazz Festival
Now I was left with a decision: should I hire the bass player for a
whopping $25.00 a night, or not? Well, I know now that I made the
politically incorrect choice, but I did call someone else to play the
gig. Now and then, though, Bart would come in to sub once in a while and
about two years into the gig, I was really starting to hear the
uniqueness of his playing in a jazz sense. Eventually I got to trying
new and creative things, because Bart had me listening and opening my
ears to different jazz chords and feeling pretty confident, at that.
Here is an example of some of the chord changes I have learned. Play a
simple C7 chord (left hand C/; right hand, bottom up C-E-G-Bb), then
an F Major 7 chord (left hand F/; right hand F-A-C-E). Play them a few
times to get the sound of them in your head. Now play the C7 chord
with an F# in the left hand instead of a C and then the F Major 7 chord.
Did you hear how drastically that chord has changed? One note did all
Here's a simple example in a very common "turn-around" (a series of
chords at the end of a musical phrase to bring you back to the
beginning, used for repeating a segment of music):
C Major 7 (bass C/; right hand, C-E-G-B)
A Minor 7 (bass A/; right hand, A-C-E-G)
D Minor 7 (bass D/; right hand, D-F-A-C)
G7 (bass G/; right hand, G-B-D-F) *
*note: repeat these chords 2 times through as if each chord was a half
note in 4/4 time giving you 4 measures of music.
Repeat these chord changes until you're comfortable with them and can do
them with fluidity. Then try changing one bass note the second time
around: in the C Major 7, play E instead of C in the bass. This gives a
very different sound to your turn-around, doesn't it? Sometimes the
simplest changes result in the most effective listening experiences. If
you want to use more substitutions, try another bass note with the G7
chord the second time around - play a C# in the bass. Now that's
By the way, whatever happened to the bass player who taught me all this?
I married him!! But until then, the gig belonged to someone else and I
always looked forward to the learning experience I got from playing with
Bart, who pushed my musical limits constantly.
The Lori Andrews JazHarp Quartet,
1999, Sacramento Jazz Festival
I bought a "Salvi electronic" harp many years ago, and I believe it
gives me a better sound at a higher volume compared to an amplified
acoustic harp, which many other players use. Also, I especially like my
harp's contemporary appearance.
Unfortunately, sound engineers are not always skilled at getting the
best sound for the electric harp, so I have had to be prepared to
trouble-shoot by knowing my equipment and the rules to make electronics
work. If you feel unable to do this, you might hire someone, like audio
engineering students at your local college, to help.
Here are a few simple rules you should follow when dealing with
amplifiers and such:
- Make sure the volume control on your amp is down before you power it
- Make sure the volume control on your amp is down before you plug in
- Make sure your amp is not aimed at your soundboard because this will
cause feedback (sound coming from the speaker causing the soundboard to
vibrate, creating a howl or squeal)
- If using a contact pickup (not a microphone), you should use a
pre-amp with tone controls for the best possible tone. They can be as
small as a calculator).
Also, I carry spares of everything and I have top-of-the-line gear:
- Lyon & Healy Style #23 (acoustic harp for solos and duos,
- 2 Fishman harp/piano pickups (SBT-HP)
- Sadowsky preamp
- Salvi Electronic Harp (equipped with preamp and pickups on every
string) (PS: Lyon & Healy makes a wonderful electric harp - call Steve
Fritzman @ 800-621-3881 for more info)
- Midiman mixer, 8 channel
- Boss reverb pedal
- Boss delay pedal
- 2-10" JBL EON powered speakers
- 2-15" Barbetta powered speakers
I always "cover my own chair" on every gig, meaning that whatever the
job could quite possibly require, I consider it my responsibility to
have the necessities with me, such as
- spares (cords, tuners, etc.)
- a CD player for music on my breaks
- a stool
- extra strings
- an extra fuse for an amplifier outage
- charts (sheet music) for anyone in the band who is subbing.
(Regulars are asked to learn the music because I do not care for the
look of a music stand on a big stage.)
Bass: Bart Samolis Sax: George Shelby Drums:
When picking instruments to play with the jazz harp, the bass is my
first choice. It frees me to be able to "comp" - play chords in the
middle section of the harp - with the left hand and solo with the right
hand. The only time I wouldn't play that is when the bass player is
soloing. At that time I give him a bass line which I feel strengthens
his solo, (or maybe no bass line at all, if it seems more appropriate!).
The next instrument I like to add is the sax. Because of the different
timbre, it enhances the sound of the band. Besides, everyone loves the
sax! When he's there he often is the first to play the melody, and then
we take turns for our solos. Our saxophonist plays EWI (Electric Wind
Instrument) which is wireless, enabling him to move around freely. At
some of the festivals where we perform he actually leaves the stage and
plays while walking though the crowd. The audience loves this close
contact. He is one of the best sax players I have ever heard, plus he's
To round out the quartet, I feel the drummer is the icing on the cake.
I have been using the same drummer for 14 years. It took us a while to
lock into the right volume, lightness and dynamics but now we've got it!
There are a couple of instruments I would hesitate to use in the band.
Although I love both the guitar and the piano, I feel they interfere
with the audience's ability to hear the harp. I choose to have the
listener know that if it isn't sax or bass--it's the harp!
Finding the best location for the harp on stage can be a problem when
you're playing with a band. When we started out, and depending on where
I was placed, I saw either the audience or the band, but I really
needed to see both. Since we're not playing written music, eye contact
is essential in the band to pass signals back and forth. Unlike most
other instruments the harp is stationary, so sometimes I have to look
through the strings (as though I'm in jail), and I can't ever turn
around while playing to see behind me. My solution has been to place
myself at an angle in front of the drummer who is rear center stage.
This way, I have contact with the full audience, the sax player and the
drummer. Unfortunately the bass player is behind me and eye contact is
limited, but the more we play together, the less it is needed
(especially because he's my husband!). This stage arrangement seems to
be "as good as it gets".
I love playing with my band! I treasure the moment the music hits the
air. I can't take it back and no one else's music compares to it at
that very moment. After the gig is over I make myself available to the
audience, who love telling me how unique it was and how the music
Never underestimate the power of the harp - especially with a band!
( You will need Realplayer to listen to this clip. )
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