A Jazz Lesson with Yvonnick Prene

On January 9th, 2017 I braved the New York Subway system and navigated my way to Manhattan from Queens in 2o degree weather for a lesson with the awe-inspiring Yvonnick Prene.

Yvonnick first came on my radar way back in 2004 or 2005 when I discovered him on myspace. We corresponded a bit. He was always kind and genuinely impressed and complimentary regarding my diatonic blues playing as well as my approach to chromatic.

He has a practice space at Columbia University on Broadway and, after meeting up at Starbucks, he led the way to the University with its labyrinthian hallways where we chatted and played for about 90 minutes. I recorded everything on a camera but he requested I don’t post any of it. “Let’s just take some still pictures. You can post those.”

He showed me some things like where he puts the extra half steps in his lines to make things land right. (Sounds like the be-bop scale but it was more than that. More than one half step). He also showed me this 2 triad concept that’s a little different than what I’m used to doing. These were a half step apart rather than a whole step and he uses that to create tension. There was no way he could show me everything he does but he really emphasized learning the harmony to jazz standards and a process he goes through including just playing the roots of the chords over and over in tempo until he starts internalizing the harmony. Then playing roots and thirds. He has been working out a lot with the metronome at slow tempos with the click on every 8 beats so he just patiently plays quarter notes to work on his time.

I played Blue Bossa on piano and he improvised over that. Later he played piano and I played through a blues in F. He mentioned a thing he does on blues in F which is to outline a B major triad at a certain point in the progression. A good jazz player is all about creating tension and release and the thing that is a little boring about my playing is a “safe” approach to the harmony so this kind of thing like hey I throw this weird thing in to create tension was good medicine for me.

Playing good jazz on an instrument is a challenge. I’ve been working on jazz saxophone for many years of course but playing those same lines on the harmonica in a multitude of keys is Mount Everest for me. I want to scale the summit!

Coincidently, I also ran into another astonishing NYC jazz harmonica artist William Galison on the same trip! The day before my lesson with Yvonnick!

Coincidently, I also ran into another astonishing NYC jazz harmonica artist William Galison on the same trip!

Yvonnick has also published a few harmonica books that are for sale on Amazon. I have purchased three of them. There’s a few spelling mistakes I meant to talk to him about but the musical content is solid and there are links included in the book to download samples of the phrases and tunes. Please take a look at his website to learn more about this recording artist and educator and listen to his amazing jazz harmonica playing.

So I am posting this mid-October 2017 and I have recently started back up practicing everyday but I will confess I haven’t returned to the recordings to bring all that stuff into the shed yet. The woodshed. The one thing I brought into the shed was working with the metronome more. He inspired me to do that. He was carrying an extra smartphone that had a metronome app on it that he was using.