“….Mike Turk, ….not for lack of trying….”
Who is Mike Turk ?
American born, Mike began playing harmonica in 1967 at age 14. Mike’s father, Dick Richards –member local 802 AFM in NYC, was a busy, working Jazz bassist and vocalist from 1940’s to 1970’s. Despite all that, Mike first found the harmonica and gravitated to the sounds of Chicago Blues music, Rhythm & Blues and even the Folk Blues that was surging from the depths of New York’s Greenwich Village night clubs at that time.
He was profoundly influenced by the playing of Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Little Walter Jacobs.
By the early 1970’s he had developed his technique on the “blues” or diatonic harmonica and found his way to Boston where he soon became a local figure in the vibrant music scene that was happening there.
Turk performed or “sat in” with performers such as Bonnie Raitt, Lowel Fulsom, Hound Dog Taylor, Charlie Musselwhite Band and even Dave Van Ronk and Steve Goodman.
Eventually, Turk landed in the prominent New England Country & Western band of John Lincoln Wright & The Sourmash Boys. It was this period in the 70’s that Turk began to explore the possibilities of the chromatic or “Jazz” harmonica. He left Wright’s band after about 1 year, after which, he spent the period from 1978 –1980 at the Berklee College of Music. This, then, afforded Mike the “tools” so to speak to understanding the technique and musical approach of the great jazz phenomenon Jean “Toots” Thielemans.
Although Toots is European, Belgian born, the fire in his playing comes from the profound influences and inspirations of the great American Jazz players such as Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Zoot Sims. Toots’ early albums are American productions accompanied by some of the heaviest Jazz & Bebop players at that time.…” I’ll always think of the music on Thielemans” Columbia and Riverside recordings as amazing American Jazz experiences!” Turk remarks.
As Tony Mowad, the Pittsburgh jazz radio host and journalist often emphasized,… “ Jazz is the gift that America gave to the world”.
With all this in mind Turk began to formulate his ideas on the Harmonica with an almost purely “American” approach using the technique established by Toots Thielemans. Eventually, Turk’s influences would come from a virtual textbook of Bebop and Modern Jazz written by the likes of Charlie Parker, Sonny Stiit, Dizzy Gillespie, Dextor Gordon, Cannonball Adderly, Lee Morgan, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Lucky Thompson, Hank Mobley…many more, East Coast Bop & West Coast Cool!
In the 1980’s & 1990’s Turk remained in Boston as a working Jazz harmonicist performing in concerts, clubs and as an “on call” studio musician. Turk traveled to New York City during this period to work on various TV & Radio commercial soundtracks ( see Anthology CD)
In this period Turk performed and collaborated with great Boston players such as Gray Sargent and Marshall Wood ( presently with Tony Bennett) and had the great honor to play with Dave McKenna from time to time. Other somewhat unsung, top-notch Boston players include Jeff Stout, Dick Johnson, Jon Wheatley, Lou Columbo, Ray Santisi, Paul Schmelling, Paul Broadnax, John Lockwood, Bob Guilloti, the great Joe Hunt and also Alan Dawson…..many more great players not mentioned here!
Recently, Turk had the great pleasure of sharing the Scullers Jazz Club concert stage with jazz vocalist Rebecca Parris and her band consisting of Brad Hatfield, Peter Kontrimus and Jim Lattini.
Mike Turk’s American jazz influences played on the chromatic harmonica are exemplified throughout his recording career.
“Harmonica Salad” includes jazz tunes such as ” Lament” ( J.J. Johnson), “Half Nelson” (Miles Davis), “The Mooch” ( Ellington).
“ Turk’s Works” a total homage to Lester Young includes his arrangement of “Lover/ Diggin’ For Diz” ( D. Gillespie), “Three Little Words”, “Crazyology” ( Bud powell), “Peace” ( Horace Silver), “Prey Loot” ( Lucky Thompson).
“ The Nature Of Things” Cd title inspired from the recording by Bill Evans, also includes “I want To Live” ( comp Johnny Mandel from the 1955 Hollywood movie), “Con Alma” ( D. Gillespie) and shows Turk returning back to his Blues Harp roots on “Pickle in The Bank”.
Turk’s foray into the history of Bossa Nova with The Bossa 5 has a classic Bossa Nova band featuring the piano and arranging of Brazilian pianist Alfredo Cardim who came up through the original Bossa Nova scene in Rio de Janeiro & Ipanema. The similarities and influences of bebop and cool jazz in Bossa Nova tunes is clearly pointed out and explained by Toots Thielemans himself!
The most recent CD release “ The Italian Job” is a collage of jazz tunes arranged for an Italian Jazz ensemble and recorded in Italy.
Mike pays tribute to Bill Evans in ” Pavane” (comp. Faure), Gerry Mulligan’s arrangement of with “Django’s Castle” (D. Reinhardt), Chet Baker & George Shearing on “Conception”. Alessandro Fabbri, Mike’s Italian drummer, wrote 2 tunes on this album. Fabbri’s tunes are a seemingly European/American interpretation. However, once again, Turk settles back to the American ‘textbook’ with “Old Man River” ( J. Kern), “All My Tomorrows” ( Cahn/Van Heusen), “Funk In Deep freeze” ( H. mobley) and an anomalous vocal tribute back to Turk’s blues roots with his vocals and composition “Maxwell Street” … the very street where Urban/Chicago Blues was born.
Turk’s most recent release “ Bluesin’ Around” is available on internet download only from CDbaby and Itunes. It is a retrospective compilation of Blues and Bluesy Jazz.
Turk reflects thoughtfully…” I don’t have the life of a thriving, successful jazz musician, nor have I been chosen as anyone’s successor but…..damn,if it ain’t for lack of tryin’!”…
Mike’s longtime friend, bluesman Paul Rishell once stated, “ if the blues isn’t enough for the music, then the music just sounds like something else that is not blues”. Turk’s sentiment is cut from the same philosophy….” If the Jazz form and vocabulary in this American expressive art form doesn’t provide enough for any player….then that music stops being jazz and becomes something else that is not jazz….!”