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"Wail" sighting in Carteret County


By George Olsen


New Bern, NC – INTRO - The acoustic jazz quartet Harmonious Wail travels to eastern North Carolina this Monday for a Morehead City concert. Harmonious Wail hails from Madison, Wisconsin not known as a hotbed of jazz. They also feature a few more incongruities from a lead instrument not normally seen heading a jazz band to a percussion instrument more coveted by weekend movers than gigging musicians. George Olsen spoke with the husband-and-wife duo that front Harmonious Wail and has this which originally aired July 2003.

Harmonious Wail is essentially a solid trio with a flexible fourth part. Founder and mandolinist Sims Delaney-Pothoff, vocalist and percussionist Maggie Delaney-Pothoff and guitarist Tom Waselchuk are the stable trio, with the bassist of the moment filling out the quartet. Founder Sims Delaney-Pothoff says he's got about half-a-dozen people who can fill that slot, but when he has had to audition performers, two words lead off the job description.

40:42 Django Reinhardt. Do you know who Django Reinhardt is? Everybody knows who he is. Do you listen to him? They'll say oh, I've had some. So I burn CDs like crazy and say listen to these.

Reinhardt, best known for his guitar work with Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France, is the patron saint overlooking the work of Harmonious Wail. But as strong as that influence is, Sims doesn't intend his gypsy-jazz outfit to be an homage.

24:44 It's not a museum piece. We're not recreating. We're not a period band. We're taking this influence and making it current and trying to add our own artistry and musicianship and flow through the whole thing.

Besides, homage generally involves a bit of reverence, and too much reverence would put a crimp in the motivation for keeping Harmonious Wail on the road for the past 16 years. Maggie Delaney-Pothoff.

08:09 We play these festivals and concerts and people always say boy, you look like you're having so much fun, and my thought is if we're not having fun, why do it?

Sims chimes in with his wife on the good time notion, but at the same time is ardently aware of the history of the music he champions and its links between Django Reinhardt's distinctive guitar playing and Sims' use of the mandolin.

14:05 A fellow named Mario Machiferri built these big D-hole guitars that Django played early in his career, then Selmer hired him and he started making the smaller, oval holes and so they were referred to as Selmer style. Machiferri style, you talk about the big D-hole guitars. But he designed that style of guitar basically around a cittern, which is generally speaking more in the mandolin family, so the thin top and the way the bracing is put together, and there's more of a pop, a certain envelope of sound to each note, so its like a hybrid between a guitar and something out of the mandolin family, so the tonal quality of these Selmer guitars was familiar to me as a mandolinist.

As important as Django Reinhardt was to Sims in forming Harmonious Wail, the gypsy guitarist wasn't his sole inspiration. Sims started off playing in bluegrass bands before becoming a student of Jethro Burns, a talented jazz mandolinist who was best known as half of the comedy & music team of Homer and Jethro, who were posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Likewise, while Maggie sings jazz standards out of the American pop song repertoire with Harmonious Wail, she found her greatest inspiration elsewhere.

17:59 I didn't grow up listening to too much jazz. Some of my vocal idols were folk musicians, and mostly (something), so, for instance, I love the vocalist Sam Cowan of New Grass Revival. I listened to a lot of his stuff .. and so you know what, people come up to me and say oh, you sound just like Keely Smith or these great old jazz singers, but I never really took the time or heart to get into them, so the funny thing is I'm a singer of jazz standards but I don't consider myself a jazz singer. Just a wailer.

So Harmonious Wail is a jazz outfit with links outside the jazz world. They're also a jazz outfit whose instrumentation isn't always seen in a jazz setting. The guitar and bass, that you can expect. The mandolin, not so much. Maggie's choice for percussion, however, pretty much never the humble, available in stores everywhere, cardboard box.

11:22 It's very hard to find the right box. Wine boxes have a really glossy finish, and that doesn't do me any favors. I usually end up with vodka or bourbon. They're good and solid, and of course it can't have any nicks or dents or scratches in it. It's usually the last thing in the van and the first thing to come out. Actually, the last time we were down in the Carolinas we flew down and the cardboard box had its own seat with its own seat belt, so it can be fragile. I usually don't carry one with me but its fun. Sometimes the band will find me head down in the dumpster looking for the right box. It's pretty fun.

Harmonious Wail travels to eastern North Carolina for a Monday evening concert sponsored by the Down East Folk Arts. Show time is 7:30 at Joslyn Auditorium on the Carteret Community College campus in Morehead City. I'm George Olsen.