Michal Adler 88 248.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Michal Adler almost didn't follow in her father Danny's footsteps as a harmonica virtuoso. Even though Danny, known as one of the world's great harmonica players, started teaching his daughter the family trade from an early age, her heart was more into athletics.
"My father gave me my first harmonica, the same kind that he played - a solo harmonica. I was around 13 or 14 and I immediately started playing. But I was more interested in sports. I was an athlete and focused on swimming, right through the army," said Adler, speaking from her home in the Tel Aviv area.
"But even when I later began working as a lifeguard, I would take out a harmonica and play by the pool. That was how I met Shlomo."
Adler was referring to her husband, Shlomo Gronich, the veteran genre-crossing musician and singer.
"Someone heard me playing poolside and asked me if I wanted to meet Shlomo, because she thought we would hit it off, both being musicians. But I had a boyfriend at the time. But around five months later, Shlomo needed a harmonica player for a recording session and he called me. We met and haven't separated since," she said.
Gronich and Adler have been making music together for over 10 years, performing with Gronich and the Sheba Choir, and playing a Gronich-penned rhapsody for harmonica and orchestra with the Israel Camerata Orchestra called "Michal." But Adler has really made her name as a world-class harmonica soloist in The Adler Trio, the internationally known harmonica trio founded by her father in 1962, together with his brother Dror.
"The person who had replaced my father in the trio wanted to leave to pursue law, and Dror asked me to replace him. That was nine years ago. Dror heard me play 'Michal,' which was a complicated composition - as only Shlomo knows how to compose - so he figured I was good enough," laughed Adler.
The Adler Trio, one of the only harmonica trios around, performs extensively in Israel and abroad, including at an Israel Festival event featuring Adler called 'Harmonica and Friends' and at artists workshops in Hong Kong. In 2004, Adler served as a judge in the International Harmonica Festival in Japan, and she was presented with a gold-plated harmonica by the head of harmonica manufacturer Suzuki - the Fender of harmonicas.
The group's signature tune is "Harmonicadence," a composition in three movements for harmonica trio, strings and percussion, composed by Gronich especially for them and featuring Adler as soloist.
When Adler talks harmonica, it sounds like she's on a one-woman crusade to educate and entertain.
"People say harmonica and they think about Bob Dylan's mouth harp. But the harmonica can have four octaves, the most of any wind instrument. There's really no restriction of what can come out of it," she says.
Together with the Trio, which also includes Jacob Kol, who joined in 1975, Adler travels around to schools to run workshops on the instrument via the Education Ministry's culture basket.
"We teach the kids about the instrument. The harmonica isn't an instrument they recognize or know very well. We play them all different styles and show them that it's possible to play almost anything on the harmonica," she said.
THAT WAS partially the idea behind Adler's newly released first solo album, appropriately entitled Harmonica. Subtitled "Israeli Classics in a Current Vibe," the album takes pop standards by the likes of Shalom Hanoch, Mati Caspi, Shlomo Artzi, and of course, Gronich, and rejigs them in instrumental, chill-out versions, somewhere between trip hop and world music.
"The harmonica has such an old-fashioned connotation to it - like going to the campfire and sitting around playing 'Oh Susanna,'" said Adler.
"My idea for this album was to show that the harmonica can sound current, so I went in that direction - a little electronic, a little ethnic with the integration of instruments like the oud. I tried to break the boundaries of the instrument. I chose songs that I love and tried to play them in the way in which I felt them, not exactly the way the singer may have sung them, but in a way that spoke to me personally."
Adler said she didn't know if all of the artists she paid tribute to have heard the album, but that she's heard from a couple.
"Mati Caspi told me he really liked it. That's good enough for me. And, of course, Shlomo, but that doesn't count," she laughed.
While Adler and Gronich get along famously at home where they raise their two daughters, Adler admits that professionally, it hasn't always been easy.
"Shlomo's very pedantic, and he hears music differently than me. I like to move around a note, and he's more accurate, which comes from his classical background," she said.
"So sometimes there's arguments, but we always end up meeting somewhere in the middle."
As far as harmonica players she admires, Adler has some favorites, including, not surprisingly, her father.
"I love my father's tone. But as far as groove goes, there's a harmonica player named Toots Thielemans who's amazing," she said referring to the legendary Belgian player.
When told her playing on her new album is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, she reacted with surprise. "There can't be a better compliment. He really is one of the best."
It takes one to know one.