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Mike Turk

Professional Jazz and Blues Harmonica player living in the Boston area

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excerpts from Ira Gitler's liner notes for up coming release “THE ITALIAN JOB” from MIKE TURK

In the May issue of Jazz Improv NY (before it morphed into Jazz Inside NY) I wrote about Mike Turk’s The Nature of Things, naming it CD of the month and recognizing Turk as “someone who has flown under my radar--and apparently a lot of other people’s, except perhaps in his home city of Boston...Mike Turk makes the harmonica sing and swing like a masterful saxophonist...”

I was also taken by his choice of material that included songs by Jimmy Raney, Elmo Hope, Johnny Mandel and Irv Rochlin that don’t show up that often, and material from Ellington, Gillespie and one of his own. It isn’t every day, especially these days that the real deal comes along seemingly out of the blue.

I got in touch with Mike with the intention of helping to make more people aware of him.......... .....It’s titled “The Italian Job” but before we get there, here is some back history on Mike and his cohorts. Turk was born in the Bronx, NY in 1951, son of a bassist/vocalist. In 1967 he took up harmonica and was soon influenced by the Chicago bluesicians--first Paul Butterfield into James Cotton, Little Walter and John Mayall. In the summer of 1971 he headed up to Boston with a folk guitarist, living and sleeping on the stage of George Papapdopolis’ Unicorn Coffee House. “After that,” he says, “Boston and New England was my ‘oyster’ as a folk and blues player. All that ended when I first heard Toots’ (Thielemans) 1957 Riverside recording of Man Bites Harmonica. I knew then I had to go to Berklee (Berklee College of Music) and study jazz on the chromatic harmonica. I lost a lot of gigs and contacts because I switched ‘bags’.” While at Berklee he was awarded two National Endowment Jazz Fellowships. One was to study with Thielemans but Toots, due to his heavy performing obligations couldn’t follow through. Mike wound up studying saxophone and harmonica with noted saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. Mike’s second Fellowship was awarded by the NEA because they were impressed by his progress. It gave him a chance to continue with Bergonzi, who says of him: “Mike Turk has applied the language of the saxophone to the harmonica in a very impressive fashion...it amazes me.” Thielemans was no less impressed and chimed in with “Mike Turk is a no-nonsense musician and the harmonica is his life...his home base is bebop with a healthy swinging approach. He shows familiarity with some interesting melodic scales...he makes a harmonica statement that should reach out beyond the harmonica audience...Turk is a fiery player who came out of the bluesharp and assimilated the chromatic quite fluently... knows his changes and aims for swing. Go for it Mike!” In the late ‘90s Turk began to visit Italy and interact with its musicians. In 1998, 1999 and 2000 he toured backed by a group called the Alkaline Trio, eventually recording a CD,..... ... my project is strictly from an American perspective and jazz approach.” From 1983 ( I. Gitler writes), I have been visiting Italy very often for various festivals and have heard and been in contact with a great many Italian jazz musicians but even today I am encountering the names of players whom I have not heard or even heard their names. I was familiar with only one of the quartet who collaborated with Turk in this CD. That would be pianist Paolo Birro. .... The group’s repertory is not your usual roster of tunes (American Songbook or jazz standards) but a varied mixture that ranges from “Old Man River” to Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” and Hank Mobley’s “Funk in Deep Freeze.” ................ Mike reaches back to the earlier part of his career for the story of an itinerant musician. It’s a blues with his lyrics and vocal. The “Maxwell Street” of the title refers to the location that was the heart of where the great Chicago blues men were situated, Muddy Waters et al. His unpretentious singing has a tang to go along with the narrative of the deep blues pouring out of his “tin sandwich.” Between those two happenings Birro and Di Puccio get down with Fabbri chomping on the backbeat. After his passionate solo Mike reprises his vocal and closes it out instrumentally.

......The Italian Job was a film with Michael Caine about some Brits pulling off a gold heist in Italy. In Turk’s version he and the Italians deliver the gold, in notes, to you.

Ira Gitler (July 2010)

My Jazz Story

I love jazz because...it contaminates you! I was first exposed to jazz...by my father who was a jazz bassist and singer I met [Toots Thielemans]...numerous times, we shared lunch, lobster madness and many laughs. The best show I ever attended has not yet occured. There is always one better........ The first jazz records I heard were Cal Tjader "Soul Sauce" & Donald Byrd " A New Perspective". My advice to new listeners... is...listen to musicians who have good opinions ....more to come!

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