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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Ed Wasserman and The Blues Harmonica Class

Since I was thinking about Ed Wasserman yesterday, I decided to drop in on his old stomping ground, the Monday 8 PM Chicago Blues Harmonica - Level 4 class. The class is held in a windowless basement room in the Old Town School of Folk Music on North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. It is classic basement construction - concrete floor, cinder block walls. It isn't a glorious space, but Joe Filisko has converted it into a shrine to blues harmonica music and harmonica music in general. The walls are covered with images of blues harp players - album cover art, portraits of Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson I, Sonny Boy Williamson II, George "Harmonica" Smith, Papa Lightfoot, Billy Boy Arnold, Junior Wells - well, you get the idea. Joe Filisko is the leader of the class. He is also a big fish in the international harmonica world (a somewhat small pond, I suppose). All of us harmonica nerds are deeply devoted to Joe - he is the Master, the Grand Poobah of the Harp Cult.

Ed Wasserman always sat in the same seat for the years he spent in the blues harp classroom - third from the corner on the east side. Now that he has passed on, we try to leave that seat empty. He loved all types of music, especially the blues. Ed was dedicated and faithful. But dedication and faithfulness do not alway lead to brilliance. In truth, Ed's musical talent was modest. His harmonica skills didn't seem to improve much. His singing voice was thin and reedy. But he had a way of radiating quiet happiness - he was visibly delighted to be hanging out in the class, playing harmonica to the best of his ability. The guy never had a bad day in our class. His courage was inspiring; performance anxiety was not a problem for Ed. If he made mistakes in his performances, or just stunk up the joint, he didn't sulk or mope. He was never embarrassed. He just put it out there and smiled. And once in a while, he would uncork an amazing performance that floored us all.

One Monday night, Ed stood up and sang the following blues song:

I don't want no
No skinny woman
I want a woman
That's got a lotta........
(Hooo Lord)
I don't want no skinny woman; I wanna woman that's
gotta lot of meat.
We can roll all night long and this woman
wouldn't have to stop to eat.
(by John Lee Williamson circa 1943)

The whole class fell out. It would have made a rock laugh to see this tiny 75 year old guy singing about his lust for a meaty woman. And Ed just smiled and sat down calmly after he was done. It was just another happy day in class for ol' Ed.

Mr. G - 12/14/04

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