Chicago’s South Side is where Harry Hmura was born and raised. It’s also where he became the musician he is today.
It all began when he took his first guitar lesson at age 7. But the fire was lit in his 13 year old soul when he saw B. B. King perform live and then met him after the show. A circle having been opened, he was inspired to follow the musician’s path. P3) As Harry grew a little older, he realized that his own neighborhood was the center of the blues world, and his guitar lessons moved from the scales and exercises of his childhood and on to the bent notes, expressiveness, and power coming out of the Checkerboard, Theresa’s and other fabled clubs, where he first sat at the feet of and then sat in with a who’s who of blues guitar masters, from Lonnie Brooks to Jimmy Johnson to Buddy Guy.
It was during these years that he found his own musical voice, developing a unique blues/rock style deeply influenced by his experience with those Chicago giants.
This did not go unnoticed by Harry’s blues mentors and, at 20 years of age, he received the call from James Cotton – the Grammy winning “Mr. Superharp Himself” and former Muddy Waters stalwart – to join his high powered band. Accepting Cotton’s offer brought Harry out of Chicago and across North America while providing him the opportunity to further polish his sound and to play alongside a long list of blues and rock legends including Johnny Winter, Elvin Bishop, Dickey Betts, Roy Buchanan, Hendrix’s drummer Buddy Miles, Jeff Healey, and Jr. Wells.
Soon after joining Cotton’s band – at the Montreal Blues Festival and at Radio City Music Hall in NY City, a dream was able to come true for Harry as he played on the same bill with Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter and the man who had lit the fire in his heart seven years earlier: B. B. King.
After touring with Cotton extensively, a new circle opened for Harry, as he began touring with Sugar Blue, another Grammy winning, Chicago based harmonica ace. Blue – who had gained a following as an expat in Paris recording on a couple of Rolling Stones albums – frequently returned to Europe to perform and, in so doing, exposed blues loving audiences and critics there to Harry’s now fully formed guitar playing style. “Harry Hmura, the 22 year old guitarist, has been described by the American press as a Chicago phenomenon and had played in James Cotton’s band before coming to France with Sugar Blue. And – after witnessing his performance with Blue – nobody can deny this assertion: “Hmura is a young prodigy the likes of which there aren’t many.”
-Le Nouveau de l’Yonne, Auxerre, France
It was in Europe that Blue and Harry began playing their boundary pushing music at the major jazz festivals, Montreaux, North Sea/Hague, Madrid Jazz Festival, Paris Fontainebleau, Middleheim – as the only blues band – and sharing bills with artists as diverse as Dexter Gordon, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie.
But Harry found himself moving in a still more expansive musical direction: fusion rock. Guitarists Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Lee Ritenour, Mike Stern and others had opened yet another circle, inspiring Harry with their challenging sound: a sound he felt compelled to play. Making this ambition real, Harry went out on his own, forming a band – Countdown – that combined the electric edge of rock with the improvisatory freeness of jazz. This new direction led to Harry touring and collaborating with smooth jazz artist Brian Culbertson, whose first three albums he played on, co-wrote, and co-produced.
It was at this time that he began visiting Mexico on a regular basis, and soaking up the music he heard there. Befriending the owner of the Copenhagen Club in Guadalajara and offered a standing invitation to play there whenever he was in town, he began fronting a quartet, and moving in yet another new direction.
This can be heard on his first two solo albums, Passion (2002) and Face To The Sun (2006). His original smooth Latin jazz compositions subtly marked not only where he was in his musical journey, but also of where he had been, and where he would be going next.
Harry has a way of transmitting his emotion from his heart, out of his arm, into his guitar, and out of his amplifier. On “Passion,” he expertly fuses rocking blues.
-Ray Arsenbault, Ray’s Reviews
And that next destination as Harry described it, would be a familiar one: “I’ve always had the blues inside me, in my heart and soul, even through it all, all the years and the growing and the changing of life’s path,” he said of his return to the fire.
And so, picking up where he had left off more than 30 years earlier, Harry again hit the road with Cotton and Blue, older, wiser, musically changed. Yet still very much the same.
“The blues is where I started, I’ll never let that go,” he continued, thinking back to those early days when he discovered his own musical voice and soul. “I’ve embraced it ever since the day I met B. B. and still do.”
And, for Harry, it comes down to just that: circles opening and linking to other circles, but always there to be re-entered… New and exciting all over again.
In addition to maintaining a very busy live schedule in Chicago and abroad, Harry’s session guitar can be heard on any number of albums and TV shows, including Dancing with the Stars, Oprah, and The Late Late Show with James Corden. It can also be heard framing the action on the world-renowned video game series, Halo: Combat Evolved, ODST3, and Reach. Harry also teaches guitar at Columbia College, where he is a part-time faculty member.
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