Jean Labre (photos M. Vicent-Roubert)All the Harmonicas
of the World ...
Version française Version française








Mouthorgan Culture in the Batavian Country

Click to see enlarged image.

Netherlands have been for a long time up among the leaders of the mouthorgan culture. The "Veldhoven Festival 2010"(*1)has been one more time, a brillant demonstration, under the sign of the diversity, celebrating at this beginning of May the 25th anniversary of the "Veldhovense Mondharmonika Vereniging" orchestra, created in 1985 by the lamented Peter Janssen. A period rich in major international events including the foundation of the IHO (Internationa Harmonica Organization),at Peter's initiative,and of which he will be the first president.
It is in the same time that the NOVAM will be created, an association which includes together accordion and harmonica players.

Back to the past
I invite you to discover with me the "Mondharmonika" road so dearly travelled over by our Dutch friends. The departure point was, at the beginning of the thirties, with Max Geldray (1916-2004), Van Gelden for the civil registration, who in 1932, while he was only 16 years old, received as a gift, a chromatic harmonica. Admirer of Borrah Minevitch he lost no time before falling in the pothole. He to began with the creation of the "Mondharmonika Band" group, with Geert van Driesten, followed by "The Hollander Boys" quartet creation. In 1934 he began a soloist career which will come to an end one day of Autumn 2004 in Palm Spring (USA).
Named all over the world, and indisputably as "The First Harmonica Jazz Player", he established himself, over the decades as being a musician endowed with a "swing", with an innate sense of outstanding improvisation, that will gain him the right to play with the biggests : Coleman Hawkins, Jo Bouillon, Ray Ventura, Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt and the "Hot Club de France", Michel Warlop, etc.
On the initiative of Borrah Minevitch, during a European tour of the famous "Rascals"; he will be occasional soloist in the quintet ‘The Hotcha Boys" at the end of the thirties.
Our globe trotter will stay a last time in Holland in 1995, before returning definitively to Palm Spring, dedicating himself till the end of his life to harmonica therapy, contributing in the association "Jazz Without Booze" as well as with patients in a friendly private hospital; never missing an opportunity to take part in jam sessions, here or there, in café concerts of Palm Spring, harbour of rest of the Hollywood stars.
It exists à boxset of 2 CD's ofMax Geldray, under the label "Frémaux Associés", reference "Harmonica Swing Années 20.30.40 50". Contact: & fax (33)1-43652422.

Click to see enlarged image.

The harmonica current of the fifties will see the appearance of the traditional Harmonica trios, including the chromatic solo, the chord and the bass.
The trio "Hotcha"(1949-1970) is the perfect illustration of it (*2).
This trio remains, even nowadays, one of the world references, with the Dutch peculiarity of giving to the bass player the leading position in the trio, usually devolved to the soloist chromatic. Geert Van Driesten, legendary bass player, was the first one to do so, efficiently assisted by at the chromatic Joop Heijman and Jan Vink playing chord, vinetta and polyphonia. Some other partners will arise during decades (Eddie Sernie, Henk van Dipte, Lee Kuipers, Gijs vd Wiel, Wim and Cor Belder, Johan Janssen and few others).
From there will born the Dutch bass culture that we rediscover nowadays in the performances of Ronald Kaminga, with "Fata Morgana", with the young Lucïen Winterberg, son of Joop, celebrated chord player, in the "Multicats" trio as well as in many other ensembles, from trios to orchestras.
Geert Van Driesten was also the founder of the first harmonica school of Rotterdam, assisted by his wife who conducted in this period an orchestra of 35 harmonica players.
People can consider that it is in this period that a national craze for harmonica orchestras was born, so adding one more jewel to the dutch cultural range.

Click to see enlarged image.

Since the eighties, at the instigation of dynamic executives such as: Peter Janssen, Frans Bosmans, Meine Segveld, Joop Winterberg until now with Viola Barends (photo left), the vogue of ensembles has not stopped growing, with the providential help brought by the NOVAM.
I still remember "The Veldhoven Festival 2002" during which, as a jury member, I had to note 12 orchestras of 11 to 30 performers ;, and this year 5 orchestras which have met, during the competition in 2010 Festival a well deserved success... it was not easy to come to a choice between them.
If I had to quote names of dutch players wich became famous during the previous decades , other than those already quoted in this article, I would retain, in an approximative chronological order, those of : Lee Kuypers (fifties) an itinerant concert performer, notably in France, "The Snapshots" (fifties and sixties), Larryson, Larry Robert and his "Chromonika Group Da Capo", Karel Jansen, Frank Verwey (sixties, seventies), Rinus Gerîsten (seventies, eighties), Wim Dijkgraaf... Sorry for those whom I may have forgotten.
It's time now to greet Art Daane for the work he's done ( He is a tirelesss archivist and historian of the global adventure of the mouthorgan, and he is also a talented bass player.
I'd like to pay tribute to Rob Janssen under whose leadership the trio "Fata Morgana" ensured a world reputation. Achieved musician, Rob plays brilliantly all the harmonicas inherent to harmonica ensembles, he has also been jury president of the world harmonica championships for several years ; jury of which I have had the great pleasure to be member.
And where ever Max Geldray may be, his mind can rest, the jazz succession is assured by Hermine Deurloo, player of great talent.
Before ending this article, I'd like to thank the organizers of the "2010 Festival" for the warm welcome they have given me. Thank you to Jack Mikkers, mayor of this dynamics city.
Jean Labre

Click to see enlarged image.

(*1) Programme of the Festival 2010
8th of May
Saturday morning: national competition, ensembles, orchestras and soloists. (jury: Ronald Kaminga, Thierry Crommen, Jean Labre).
Saturday afternoon: workshops Thierry Crommen, Ben Bouman and concert Barefoot Lano.
Saturday evening: concert at the auditorium of the cultural center, opening by the "Velhovense Mondharmonika Vereniging" orchestra, directed by Viola Barends, guest soloist Jean Labre, following by the shows: Jean Labre, Thierry Crommen, the "Blue Kings" group, Brendan Power and the trio "Fata Morgana".
(*2)Trio Hotcha, 1997, publication of a casket compilation of 100 titles (3 CD) under the label "A brilliant Compact Disc" (Holland).
Reference: ABCD30091-2.
& "Hotcha" is a latin-american word meaning rhythm.
Photos: Frans Bosmans / Fata Morgana
Published June 7th 2010


Copyright © Jean Labre 2005-20 - Updated on October 21st 2020 -