Blow the house down: Harmonica virtuoso to play Bay Ridge - Brooklyn Paper

Blow the house down: Harmonica virtuoso to play Bay Ridge

Six-shooter: Jia-Yi He shows off a six-sided wheel harmonica, which lets him change keys at the flick of a wrist. The harmonica virtuoso will perform on March 15 in Bay Ridge.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

This guy really harps on.

Harmonica master Jia-yi He is blowing through Bay Ridge for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd’s Arts on the Corner Series on March 15.

The Beijing-born musician said the European-invented instrument is big in his native China, but He didn’t pick up the mouth organ for its popularity, He said.

“At the time we could not afford to buy a piano,” said He, a Queens resident who grew up in Beijing and moved to the U.S. in 1998 to have an easier time traveling to play shows.

The virtuoso will play a dizzy array of harps, including a wheel harmonica, which he busted out on season five of “America’s Got Talent,” and a melodica — a cross between harmonica and a keyboard. And there will be theatrics.

“In a song, there’s four harmonicas I’ll be holding in my hand in order to play,” He said.

One of He’s signature pieces is “Flight of the Bumblebee” — composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s lightning-fast operatic interlude. The feat is particularly tough on harmonica, where players are physically limited in their ability to intone the instrument, He said.

“Piano players use many fingers, but with harmonica you only have one mouth,” He said.

A string quartet will accompany He, but the harp virtuoso doesn’t stick to classical. He plays the blues, polkas, and even a little Gershwin.

He also teaches at the Turtle Bay Music School in distant Manhattan and leads a free group class in Central Park every year for Make Music New York. The maestro instructed and jammed with former Mayor Mike Bloomberg during the festival in 2012.

“He learned for about 30 minutes and played pretty good, so we played together,” He said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Reeded relic: He plays a sheng, a reeded Chinese wind instrument considered a precursor to the modern harmonica.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Jia-yi He and Friends present “Harmonica Harmony” at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd [7420 Fourth Ave. between 74th Street and Bay Ridge Parkway in Bay Ridge, (718) 745–8520, www.artonthecorner.org]. Free.

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