FastForward interviews jazz harmonica master Frederic Yonnet

A&E FEATURE - January 2014

By Lauren Anderson, Avani Bahl, Sophie Barron, Joe Blair, Lizzie Chadbourne, Erin Fernwood, Alexandra Kitze, Julia Kudler and Maddy O’Hara; from The Bay School, Branson, Marin Academy, Marin School of the Arts and University High Schools

Illustration of the jazz harmonica master Frederic Yonnet Born in Normandy, France, Yonnet grew up Paris, which he considers to be the crossroad of different cultures. His grandfather, who was a musician, also inspired him. But he didn’t begin his musical career with the instrument that eventually made him famous.

Yonnet started out as a drummer, but the bands he played with told him to stop trying to play the melody. They wanted him to stay in the backbeat where the drums belonged. This didn’t appeal to Yonnet, and he eventually became drawn to the small and portable harmonica. What he said about this encounter was simply, “I got lucky. My life got better when I played the harmonica.”

Yonnet also explained to us that the harmonica had served a dual purpose for him in life. He was using it as an inhaler of sorts; he had bad asthma, and the use of the harmonica strengthened his lungs allowing him to be able to breathe easier. Now, he is working creating his own harmonica now. The words that he used to describe what it was going to look like were, “Cool, hip, and sexy.” He also said that the harmonica will be of better quality than normal ones, and would be something that collectors would adore. Frederic also decided to make his own harmonica, was because the harmonica is a “broken piano.” If you imagine a piano associated with a harmonica, then you would find that on the piano some of the white keys would be missing. It’s hard to play when the notes that you need aren’t there. But Yonnet has been able to play even without those keys.