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Take Five with Filip Jers

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Filip Jers - Photo by Viktor Jers
Harmonica Player Filip Jers - Photo: Viktor Jers

My first exposure to Filip Jers was through my association with Jason Ricci, a phenomenal harmonica player. I  take online lessons with Ricci, and at some point, he mentioned Filip Jers as one of the best harmonica players in the world and someone to take lessons with if you want a deep dive into all facets of harmonica.

Full disclosure: I have taken that deep dive. I am a student of Filip Jers. The lessons are great, easy to understand, a pleasure to listen to and they provide a wealth of musical knowledge.

Jers is a multiple award winner for harmonica competitions, including the 2023 SPAH —the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica, the award for best harmonica player of the year. Past winners include Jean Toots Thielemans, Antonio Serrano, Howard Levy, Stevie Wonder, and Jason Ricci, just to name a few.

Filip Jers has a recent album release, In the Spirit of Toots. It was released in 2023 and features The Carl Bagge Trio, a tight, melodious jazz trio made of Carl Bagge on piano, Martin Höper on bass, and Chris Montgomery on drums. A tribute to chromatic harmonica maestro Toot Thielemans. This album has been my mainstay musical meditation since its release.

Filip Jers with Carl Bagge Trio: In The Spirit of Toots
Filip Jers with Carl Bagge Trio: In The Spirit of Toots

TCM: Filip, thank you for taking the time to participate in the interview. We have all just recently come through one of the strangest periods: a global pandemic, with some countries enforcing long lockdowns and social distancing. I ask the question to musical artists about any life-altering experiences or epiphanies during that period. 

The pandemic was, of course, very terrible and sad. But as a musician and artist, it was beneficial in a way — I got a break from constant touring.

I had been saying yes to everything and touring and working extensively for fifteen years. So, the pandemic gave me time and an opportunity for artistic reflection.

Out of the pandemic, my Patreon page also emerged as an online harmonica club where harmonica players from around the world come together to benefit from my teaching and access my sheet music library.

TCM: I consider you a multi-instrumentalist; however, you don’t seem to mention that. Is there a reason you are only performing on harmonica? 

Thank you. What a fun question! I’ve probably always seen myself as a multi-instrumentalist, even though the harmonica is my main instrument. I started playing the cello when I was 8, the guitar when I was 13, and the harmonica when I was 14.

After that, I added piano, electric bass, accordion, flute, saxophone, bassoon… In my teens, I could practice five instruments a day. At the same time, I felt that I was a harmonica player at heart and that it was my sound.

But it’s not always easy or obvious to find a place in an ensemble as a harmonica player. When I started at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden, I became a harmonica player full-time. There, I also had some piano and guitar lessons.

I’ve learned an incredible amount about music by playing so many instruments. And playing different roles in a band, being able to understand and create bass lines, play soft, long keyboard chords, or a tenor voice from the bassoon.

These days, I mostly play guitar and piano in addition to the harmonica. I’ve also bought a clarinet and a good flute and played a bit on those. You learn a lot about tone, breath, and intonation by playing different wind instruments — then I translate that experience and knowledge to the harmonica.

The nice thing is that I feel like a happy amateur on secondary instruments; I’ve let go of the prestige of being super good at them – it’s about having fun and discovering music.

TCM: I have heard and seen you play in many different genres. Classical, European folk music, jazz, and blues. Do you have a favorite? And if so, the reason it is your favorite? 

I identify myself as a jazz musician and improviser. It’s the music I’ve practiced and listened to the most in my life. Before I started with jazz, I listened a lot to blues.

And jazz comes from the blues – so it feels like a natural connection. Folk music is something I’ve always loved and had great respect for. It sounds and appears differently in every country. Absolutely wonderful!

I’ve delved mostly into Swedish and Portuguese music myself.

Classical music is something I love to listen to. I’ve practiced it to some extent and played classical music on the harmonica, but I don’t feel that I have all the tools that a classical musician develops.

I have the tools of a jazz and improvisational musician.

TCM: I believe you are a great teacher. Do you have a particular teacher who inspired you? What do you get out of teaching other than the obvious, steady gig? 

I’ve taken a lot of music lessons in my life. I studied for 5 years at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, where I met teachers in ensemble, improvisation, theory, ear training, arrangement, composition, and music history. All these lessons with different teachers over the years have given me incredible inspiration and various pedagogical tools.

I like to be open and see the big picture in music, not just focusing on the technical aspects of the instrument but also concentrating on music as a whole and its expression. At the same time, I can appreciate delving into technical details and truly understanding what happens within myself and my instrument when I play.

I had a yoga teacher who said that to go deeper into yoga, one must start teaching yoga. I feel the same way about music and the harmonica; I’ve gone deeper into my playing by teaching it.

TCM: Do you have any new projects in the works? When will you do a tour of North America? I would love to see you live with a jazz trio. 

I’m planning a new record with a guitarist I collaborate with, Emil Ernebro. We will be recording some Swedish folk music, jazz standards, and a few original compositions.

I also plan to record an album of ballads. The harmonica suits this kind of music very well. The tone and resonance of the instrument truly get to flourish, and the lyrical possibilities are endless.

I would love to come to North America and perform! I’m open to guest appearances with local musicians; I adore encountering different traditions and cultures.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing scheduled in North America at the moment; I mostly perform in Europe these days.

TCM: If you have any ideas, please reach out—I’ll be there! Thanks again, Filip, for taking time out of your busy schedule. I look forward to getting to see you in a live performance at some point in the near future.

Playlist – Filip Jers w Carl Bagge Trio: In The Spirit of Toots

An independent journalist, based in Toronto, Canada. A professional musician and a fan of music, dance and the arts. I have written short stories, lyrics, poetry and reviews. I have been published in numerous online webzines. I’ve taught drumming and played in bands; I have felt the passion to create. I enjoy expressing that passion, the artistic experience, in words, reporting on the shows and musical experiences that I have witnessed.

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