For over 20 years Ansel Barnum has sucked at the harmonica--and blown too. Breaking its conventions and constraints, he has undertaken this common instrument with uncommon finesse to show how underestimated the little mouth organ is. His tone and chromatic techniques unlock a range of expression that crosses diverse musical borders, from blues to baroque, folk to funk, Celtic to classical, and traditions in between.
For an instrument that usually falls in the shadows, Ansel has managed to bring its rich sound into the spotlight. In 2008 and again in 2010 he earned the rare distinction of twice winning Godfrey Daniels' annual Best of Open Mic contest, awarding him performance slots at Musikfest, one of the largest music festivals in the country. In 2012 he was invited to play one of the oldest in the country, Philly Folk Fest, which he has since returned many times to perform and teach harmonica workshops. In 2013 he was chosen as the emerging artist for Spring Gulch Folk Fest which also invited him back the following year. In October 2015 he was named the first ever Artist In Residence of Front Street Concerts, a celebrated house concert series of New England.
Ansel's musical versatility has made him a welcomed feature in bands of all stripes. In addition to being a ubiquitous sideman, he has also started a number of his own ensembles. During his residence in Philadelphia he co-founded The Downtown Shimmy with whom he recorded an album and traveled around the U.S. and Canada on tours. While living in Bethlehem PA, he began an instrumental duo featuring advanced playing techniques of guitar and harmonica. In Boston Ansel teamed up with students at Berklee College and the New England Conservatory to start a choro ensemble specializing in traditional Brazilian music. These and other musical projects have lead him to performed on major festival stages in NYC, Memphis, Denver, Montreal, Philadelphia, and many others around the country.
From performing solo to playing with bands of all sizes, Ansel has brought audiences a new love for this underrated instrument. It may just be a child's "toy," but inside it he finds a mature voice to the humble diatonic harmonica.