Hot, swingin, smooth, original, clean, lyrical, faster than a speeding bullet, diatonically chromatic, one of a kind, masterful, the swingingest, Oh yeah, like what? Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Ben Webster, Sweets Edison. Thats What. Dig It!
PT Gazell has earned his position as a master of the diatonic harmonica by taking the long way around from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin to Nashville, Tennessee…
First picking up the instrument in his late teens, the Wisconsin-born, self-taught player honed his craft by taking on all manner of musical styles and traveled a circuit that included bluegrass, folk, pop festivals and gigs. His instinctive musicality allowed him to explore and expand his repertoire and achieve a lofty level of mastery very quickly.
Still early in his musical evolution, Gazell found his way to Lexington, Kentucky in the mid-seventies. At the time Lexington was a hotbed of young bluegrass musicians and PT fell right in with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and others… “There were great places to play and appreciative audiences. If you were not playing out, you could always sit in at a hot jam session. David Grisman, Tony Rice and Keith Whitley were regular visitors and only added to the buzz.”
While in Lexington, PT recorded his first album for Sugar Hill Records, “Pace Yourself...” Recorded with an all-star lineup it is this recording that announced PT Gazell’s genius to the world. PT was the first harmonica player, and the second artist, to be honored with a recording contract with famed Sugar Hill Records. His total and complete mastery of the diatonic harmonica can be heard on this seminal recording, which set the bar for all other players who followed.
Gazell soon became a sought after side man and session player for some of Nashville’s biggest stars and spent the next part of his career playing and recording all over the world along side the stars of the day. “As exciting and fun as that period was, I also began to get somewhat frustrated
Tired by the road and frustrated by the musical limitations presented by the standard diatonic harmonica, Gazell put his instrument down and disappeared for a while.
When he finally reemerged it was with a newfound enthusiasm in part created by his introduction to valved harmonicas. Using self-valved harps, Gazell’s music literally soared to new heights as this new approach allowed him access to musical possibilities hidden on standard diatonic harmonicas. “Suddenly I was able to play exactly what I had always heard. The valves unlocked the door.”
And PT came out swinging… His first recording using the valved diatonic is a masterful swing record entitled, “Swingin’ Easy… Hittin’ Hard” that PT released in 2005. Gazell’s playing on this record begs comparisons to jazz greats Benny Goodman and Ben Webster. The record spurred a brand new interest in PT and soon he was back on the road, only this time fronting various combinations of jazz and swing musicians. Critics and fans alike hailed Gazell’s return to live performing and “Swingin’ Easy… Hittin’ Hard” quickly became a favorite at NPR stations across the United States.
In 2008 Gazell and New Zealand chromatic harmonica wizard, Brendan Power, teamed up for a swinging, soaring, dynamic sonic masterpiece CD entitled, “Back To Back.” Gazell’s work on this once-in-a-lifetime masterwork shows a man at the top of his game. The CD features standards and jazz classics reinterpreted by two of the world’s most gifted instrumentalists.
PT likes to think of his projects as “an on going musical conversation between myself and my fans.” Judging by the music he delivers, he’s quite a compelling and articulate speaker.
No other player combines his phrasing, his melodic style, his song choices and his improvisational abilities… his singular style may draw comparisons to others, but in the end, it is a style all his own.
While pioneering new roads for the humble little wind instrument, PT has certainly not forgotten those that went before him. Recently asked to play at Charlie McCoy’s induction ceremony into the Country Music Hall Of Fame PT reflected, “I consider this to be a huge honor given the fact that Charlie has inspired so many other harmonica players, including me.”
PT Gazell has spent his life on a self-styled musical journey. His continuing search means years of joy to come for fans of great music and great musicians. If the past is any indication one thing is for sure, this humble harmonica magician will continue to surprise and amaze us on stage and in recordings, and he will continue to spread joy every time he lifts his harp and plays.