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Video: Joe Powers on Harmonica & Tango

Joe Powers is an award-winning harmonica virtuoso. He has traveled the world playing everything from jazz-fusion, classical and blues to pop-rock, hip-hop, Latin, New Age and World Traditions.

“My passion is exploring new possibilities on the harmonica,” says Powers. In recent years, he has directed that passion toward the sultry, romantic sounds of the tango.

Powers first got the idea to play tango music on the harmonica while living in Argentina. He heard about a harmonica player named Hugo Diaz who had recorded a couple of tango albums in the ‘70s. “I went around to all of the different disquerias, the CD shops, looking for a Hugo Diaz recording. I couldn’t find anything. Finally I found a cassette tape… I listened to his playing, and it clicked. I was like, “Wow, I think I can do that.

Powers returned to Portland in 2002 and was surprised to find a burgeoning tango scene. He started a band with bandoneón player Alex Krebs and some friends and began playing tango music for local dances and events.

Powers loves to challenge people’s expectations about what his instrument can do. For tango, Powers plays a chromatic harmonica. With its versatility and the distinctive sound he gets by doubling the notes of the octave, Powers describes the chromatic harmonica as the perfect instrument for playing tango music. 

You can hear more of of Joe Powers’ music this week on Oregon Art Beat.

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