Arthur Moore’s Harmonia Parties offer pros, amateurs safe place to jam

It’s 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Duff’s Garage, 2530 N.E. 82nd Ave., and time for another weekly Harmonica Party hosted by Arthur Moore.

Players from all over Portland walk into the joint, ready to jam with Moore and his bass playing buddy, Bernard Keough. Moore advises players to bring harps in the song keys of G, A, B, D and E. The two gentlemen set the pace, playing mostly blues tunes, on which Moore displays his considerable chops, moving the harmonica back and forth with his hands as he blows melodic lines and righteous riffs.

Every fourth song, Moore invites all the harp players in the bar to stand on the dance floor to his left and right, passing microphones for the players to solo on two verses apiece. Some are clearly novices, bending a few notes here and there, while others are seasoned pros, blowing complex lines right on the spot. Moore shouts out the name of each player from the stage, or simply yells, “We’ve got a newbie!” Every harp player draws applause.

More than a few so-called open mics are characterized by a small clique of musician friends who know one another and who may or may not let newcomers sit in. But Moore’s jam really is an open microphone night — no one plays because they know Moore, they get to know Moore because they play.

At the end of the two-hour session, 18 harmonica players stand up to join Moore and Keough on a “Juke Ellingtone” jam, as they call it, trading licks on the Albert Collins’ number “Don’t Lose Your Cool.” After the show, Moore, who also has taught harmonica, explains his welcoming ways.

“I started doing Harmonica Parties in 1995,” he says. “I wanted my harp students to have a safe, encouraging place to play harps in a live band situation.”

Moore likes to hear the progress harmonica players make on the licking stick.

“Especially hearing, week to week, the incredible growth of their harp chops.”

The parties have become so popular that Moore plans to start a second weekly one Feb. 12, from 6-9 p.m. Sundays at the Vinyl Tap Bar & Grill, 2099 S.E. Oak Grove Blvd., Oak Grove. You can learn more at

A place for us

Everyone in the music world knows there is no more potentially problematic nor show-stealing performer than a harmonica player. A clueless player can singlehandedly anger a band by stepping on other people’s solos and playing over a singer's lines. Then again, a harpist who can play nice with others can turn a pedestrian blues into a raucous rockin’ rug-cutter. The trick is getting from being the player no one wants to hear to becoming the player no one wants to miss.

Moore is well aware that novice players, especially, need a safe space to grow and develop.

“With regular jams the harp players are sometimes lost with volume problems and being considered an irritant,” he says. “At the Harmonica Parties, harp is king. It is a safe, encouraging environment to learn how to play harp and also to work on advanced harp practices. We have an army of harp friends who share the love of blues harp at whatever level they're at.”

That notion is seconded by Bob Leach, an old pro who has shared the stage with the Muddy Waters All Star Band, Richie Havens and Savoy Brown.

“I have never experienced a jam that is specifically geared to harmonica players in the manner Arthur has put together," he says. "Harmonica players are at best tolerated and often the brunt of derision. … Arthur Moore's Harmonica Party is an inviting, dare I say, nurturing environment for the blues harmonica players of all levels or no level to come play, flourish, exchange licks and laughs, and enjoy camaraderie.”

Interestingly, the amateur friendly parties also have hosted some of the finest harmonica players in the world. For those unfamiliar with some of these names, just imagine Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page suddenly walking into your local open mic and jamming.

Moore’s guests have included: Joe Powers, one of the world’s best tango harmonica players; blues-rock king Curtis Salgado; Bill Rhoades, one of Portland's best-known bluesmen; and a host of other greats, including Mitch Kashmar, Dave Mathis, Mike Moothart and Cliff Ashmon.

“My all-time favorite was, and is, the late Paul deLay,” Moore says, referring to the legendary Portland reed-bender and singer who died in 2007. “With Paul, it was like he'd put us in a spaceship and take us to the stars.”

Reed 'em and meet

Ben Yates, who plays locally with the Garry Meziere & No Tomorrow Blues Band, loves to jam with Moore, who he calls a "national treasure," as well as the party crowd.

“I enjoy the camaraderie, the honesty of the efforts being put forth, a chance to play, get out on the tightrope with no net, get some jollies,” he says.

Jen Coleman has played at Moore’s parties for four years now.

“I find there's no better way to learn and appreciate the blues tradition than by playing it,” she says. “Hearing the range of interpretations through other players is an amazing education.”

Like the other harmonica players, she is effusive in her praise for Moore.

“As a woman and a beginner, having a welcoming and supportive place to play with live music is really special,” she says.

“Arthur ‘Fresh Air’ Moore is a local legend,” Mike Van Ditti adds. “I have learned so much from him over the years.”

Moore also has introduced a number of harp players to other musicians in town, and one of those grateful for Moore’s efforts is Mark Harper, a disabled veteran who has helped Moore promote the parties via Facebook. Harper notes Moore has been willing to go out of his way to ensure he can jam.

“For a solid seven years I rode TriMet, and I even went in my wheelchair on the TriMet lift to a Harmonica Party many years ago when I was having trouble walking but wanted to get out and play,” he says. “Arthur ended up eventually calling me to ask me to come play and driving me to many of the parties in the past couple years.”

As for Moore, he plans to continue hosting the parties until he can’t, and Leach hopes Moore continues his hosting even in the afterlife.

“When I die, if there is a Harmonica Party available I will breathe a sigh of relief knowing I must have done OK in this life,” Leach says.