Biography

About Frédéric Yonnet

Urban jazz harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet plays an instrument many have owned, but few have mastered. Originally from France, Yonnet is regarded as one of the most talented and innovative harmonica players on the international music scene today. With each performance, stereotypical walls come tumbling down as Yonnet presents the harmonica in a refreshing and modern context. It’s stylish. It’s cool. It’s brilliant. His impressive style and electrifying stage presence has led to recordings, tours and performances with a wide range of musicians including Grammy Award winners and music icons Stevie Wonder and Prince, pop-idols the Jonas Brothers, soul singers John Legend, Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton and India.Aire, as well as The National Symphony Orchestra and The Dayton Philharmonics. Rolling Stone magazine referred to Yonnet as “Prince’s killer harmonica player” and praise from other influencers affirm his mission to change the way music enthusiasts and the industry regard the “pocket” instrument.

Using an instrument many have owned but few have mastered, urban jazz harmonicist, Frédéric Yonnet’s musical skills and stage presence crush every preconceived notion you’ve ever had about the harmonica.

Regarded for decades as the choice instrument of street musicians and loners who wanted to express themselves through country music or the blues, in Yonnet’s hands the harmonica becomes something altogether different; a lead voice in urban jazz, R&B and hip-hop. With each performance, stereotypical walls come tumbling down as Yonnet presents the harmonica in a refreshing and modern context that is boldly stylish, enchantingly cool and absorbingly brilliant.

Just listen to his sound. It funks. It rocks. It hips and hops. It grooves. It sways. It testifies. It prays. It has a reverence for gospel, blues and jazz while appealing to a generation bred on pop rock and hip-hop.

His impressive style has led to performances, tours and recordings with some of the heaviest hitters in the music business including the legendary Stevie Wonder, the iconic Prince, award-winning songwriter David Foster, game-changing instrumentalist Kenny G, American Idol’s Randy Jackson and R&B artists Erykah Badu, Wyclef, India.Arie, Anthony Hamilton and John Legend. Rolling Stone magazine referred to Yonnet as “Prince’s killer harmonica player” and praise from comedian Dave Chappelle, contemporary jazzman Bob James, songstress Patti Austin and producer Pharrell Williams have affirmed his mission to change the way the music industry, musicians and enthusiasts regard the pocket-size reed instrument.

Born in Normandy, France to a Parisian father and French Guyanese Creole mother, Yonnet lived in and around Paris most of his life. As a child, he and his dad performed comedy routines in theaters throughout France and by 14, he decided to literally march to the beat of his own drum. After a short stint as a drummer, Yonnet revisited an instrument he had received as a child, the harmonica. “I got kicked out of bands because I kept trying to play the melody on the drums,” says Yonnet. “On the harmonica, I can play both the melody and the rhythm. Plus they’re lighter to carry.”

These days, the U.S.-based Yonnet travels with pedal boards, mixers, amps, microphones and more than 50 diatonic harmonicas. “I’m pretty intense on the harmonica and I like to have the ‘sharpest ax’ at all times.” To be sure, he’s not afraid to wield it. There aren’t many musicians who would go tête-à-tête with Stevie Wonder on the harmonica, but Yonnet has proved himself more than capable. “Frédéric Yonnet — a Wonder disciple — had a crazy harmonica duel that almost sent Stevie flying off the stage in a frenzy,” said Fox News following their performance at Madison Square Garden. Without a doubt, Yonnet’s friendship with Wonder has been his biggest musical inspiration.

At the same show in 2007, Prince first witnessed Yonnet’s expert musicianship, exhilarating panache and inexhaustible stage presence. It would be months before their paths crossed again, but when they did, Prince seized the opportunity to have Yonnet jam with him and his band at a house party. “Genius recognizes genius,” said saxophonist Mike Phillips, who performed with them that night and witnessed the energy that Yonnet brought to the band. Since then, Yonnet has recorded with Prince and performed with him as a featured guest at numerous shows, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on Prince’s 20Ten European tour.

While Yonnet enjoys the excitement of performing with some of the world’s greatest music legends, he knows that it’s the technical mastery of his instrument — along with innovative collaborations and solo projects — that will earn him recognition as one of the greatest harmonica players in the world.

Current Project: Reed My Lips

CURRENT PROJECT: REED MY LIPS THE ROUGH CUT & THE FINAL MIX

There aren’t many recording artists who will expose their creative process to fans and critics alike, prior to completing their work. However, that is exactly what urban jazz harmonicist, Frédéric Yonnet does in his current project, REED MY LIPS, a smart blend of contemporary jazz, blues and hip-hop.

In a pioneering effort that leverages technology, art and reality, Yonnet halts all aspects of production – recording, packaging and video – to give fans a snapshot of his work at that very moment in the creative process. The work in progress, subtitled THE ROUGH CUT, is available exclusively to fans purchasing digital download cards at live concerts or online at www.fredyonnet.com. A unique code gives users access to REED MY LIPS: THE ROUGH CUT files and ultimately REED MY LIPS: THE FINAL MIX. Email alerts will announce to purchasers when new materials (i.e. music, art and videos) are available for download. Listeners posting productive comments to the website will have their suggestions considered in the subsequent REED MY LIPS: THE FINAL MIX, (release date 2013) which will be available on iTunes and in a physical CD format.

Yonnet coined the term “Reality CD” to describe the bold concept of allowing fans to observe key phases of the production. “People are curious about the creative process so I decided to make them a part of it at a point when they could actually make a difference,” said Yonnet. While many of the tracks have been recorded and a packaging concept developed, Yonnet still has to make decisions about other elements such as artwork, guests, background vocals and song titles.

Because fans were constantly asking about the status of the new album and in order to give them an early listen, Yonnet decided to release the draft artwork and music tracks in their evolutionary state, despite that it might open a floodgate of comments. “I realize it’s risky to expose drafts outside of musical circles and even more risky to encourage feedback, but I welcome it,” said Yonnet. “I’m confident in my work and view all comments as constructive.”

The objective of Yonnet’s sonically adventurous third album is two-fold. First, it establishes the harmonica as an instrument for the savvy and hip, a revived musical apparatus with a broad palette that can hold its own in any genre of music. Just as the phrase “reed my lips” is a homophone, Yonnet takes the harmonica out of its traditional context – blues, country and folk music – and incorporates it into a more fresh sound. As the modern-day “pied piper” of the harmonica, he intends to lead a new generation of harmonica players into previously unchartered musical territory.

The second breakthrough of REED MY LIPS is more of a technological feat that offers an innovative way for fans to experience the music and become a part of the creative process. Available via digital download card, REED MY LIPS: THE ROUGH CUT encourages listeners to contribute to decisions regarding the CD’s artwork, background vocals, special guests, lyrics, track listing, song titles and album length. In the end, it’s Yonnet who will decide whether to incorporate their comments into THE ROUGH CUT “I want to turn the people who have been looking forward to this album into active listeners,” says Yonnet.Now, when they listen to the music, particularly the rough cuts, they’ll listen more closely knowing that they can make a difference.”

Yonnet collaborates on REED MY LIPS with New York production team nVMe and Washington, DC-based producer Sean Miles to feature the harmonica as the lead voice on beats laced with jazz, hip-hop and R&B. “Yonnet’s sound is stunning,” said nVMe’s Mesta Bish. “Neither he nor the harmonica can be contained in a box.” The album’s bold, aggressive and head-bobbing rhythms signal not only that Yonnet wants to play; with REED MY LIPS, he clearly has something to say.

This daring experiment follows the tradition of great Blues harmonicists like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter, all of whom incorporated the harmonica sound into the music of their era. “The range of sounds that you get from the harmonica is deep and wide. It can sound like a saxophone, a violin, a guitar, or piano. It can make people smile, laugh and cry. Most importantly, it can inspire people to revisit the way they think about the harmonica and perhaps even play,” says Yonnet.

Discography

Albums:

  • Reed My Lips: The Final Mix, TBD
  • Reed My Lips: The Rough Cut, May 4, 2010 – New Music & Content Recently Added!!
  • Front & Center, 2005
  • Blowing Your Mind In Every Key of the Harp, 2001


Recordings with Others:

  • w/ India.Arie and Idan Raichel, Open Door, Release TBD
  • w/ Vieux Farka Touré and Idan Raichel, Touré-Raichel Collective, March 27, 2012
  • w/ Anthony Hamilton, Back to Love, “Mad” Dec 13, 2011
  • w/ Kindred the Family Soul, Love Has No Recession, July 28, 2011
  • w/ Prince, All Day – All Night – All Week, 4CD’s Live in Paris, November 2009
  • w/ Jonas Brothers, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, “What Did I Do To Your Heart,” released June 16, 2009
  • w/ Randy Jackson, Randy Jackson’s Music Club, Vol. 1, “Wang, Dang, Doodle,” released March 11, 2008
  • w/ David Dyson, Unleashed, “Southern Fried Go Go,” 2008
  • Unwrapped the Ultimate Box Set, “Tainted,” 2006
  • Middle C Music, Jazz All Stars, “Blues on Middle C;” “Jessie’s Blues,” “Peter’s Rhythm,” “Little Wing” and “Prelude and Samba,” April 5, 2005
  • Borders Jazz You Must Own, Volume 1, “Amazing Grace,” Bethlehem Archives/Avenue Jazz, 2001

Live Performances:

  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Stevie Wonder’s House Full of Toys, Los Angeles, CA, Dec 17, 2011
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, MLK Memorial Dedication, Washington, DC, August 28, 2011
  • w/ Grand Corps Malade, Casino de Paris, Paris, France, March 28-30, 2011
  • w/ Prince, Welcome to America Tour, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, February 2011
  • w/ Prince, European Tour, July 4-25, 2010
  • w/ Erykah Badu, Olympia, Paris, France, July 23, 2010
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Bercy, Paris, France, July 4, 2010
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Verizon Center, Washington, DC, May 26, 2010
  • w/ David Foster, Child Help Benefit, Warner Theater, Washington, DC, aired April 13, 2010 on BET/Centric
  • w/ Prince, The Sporting, Monte Carlo, Monaco, August 16, 2009
  • w/ Prince, Nokia Theater, Los Angeles, CA, March 28, 2009
  • w/ Prince, Conga Room, Los Angeles, CA, March 28, 2009,
  • w/ Prince, The Avalon, Los Angeles, CA, February 22, 2009
  • w/ Prince, Hotel Gansevoort, New York, NY, October 13, 2008
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, New Orleans Jazz Festival, New Orleans, LA, May 2, 2008
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Verizon Center, Washington, DC, October 30, 2007
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, November 17, 2007
  • w/ Stevie Wonder, Bank of America Pavilion, Boston, MA, September 20, 2007
  • w/ John Legend, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia PA, July 26, 2007
  • w/ India.Arie, Strathmore, Bethesda, MD, October 6, 2007
  • w/ Erykah Badu, Kanawha Plaza, Richmond, VA, August 17, 2007
  • w/ Dave Chappelle, Bluesfest, Yellow Springs, OH, 2006
  • w/ Dave Chappelle, Block Party 10-City Tour, 2006

Reviews & Notable Quotes

Yonnet wants to expanded the way you think about the harmonica! Here’s what others have to say:

  • “I didn’t know you could do that with that,” – Stephen Hill, BET
  • “I didn’t even know I liked the harmonica until I heard this guy.” Dave Chappelle
  • “He brought fire to the stage,” Valery Zeitoun, Universal France
  • “Turn the harmonica up in the house.” Prince
  • “If you didn’t have so much control over your body, you would disintegrate from the joy of playing.”
  • “He’s too good to ignore.” – Charlie Fishman, former manager, Dizzy Gillespie, Director of DC Jazz Festival

“The show is magic, and it’s not static by any means. Stevie doesn’t spend the whole night seated behind the piano, either. At one point, standing, he and guest artist Frederic Yonnet — a Wonder disciple — had a crazy harmonica duel that almost sent Stevie flying off the stage in a frenzy.” 
Roger Friedman, Fox.com

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“Many of us picture Stevie sitting in front of a piano, but his first instrument was the harmonica, and it shows. During “Boogie On Reggae Woman” he stood up from the piano and tore into an intense dueling harmonica jam with virtuoso Frederic Yonnet. Awesome.”
Dan Pashman, NPR

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“Mr. Wonder performed a comical but impressive harmonica-solo showdown with Frederic Yonnet, another exceptional musician.”
Ben Ratliff, New York Times

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“Harmonica has played a monumental role in the blues idiom but in jazz it has been employed successfully by only several musicians, Toots Thielemans, Howard Levy and Frédéric Yonnet coming to mind as three who have made significant contributions in the instrument.”
W. Royal Stokes – Jazz Times

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“Fred has an extraordinary ability for wringing torrents of emotion out of that tiny instrument, the harmonica.”
Rhome Anderson, mp3.Washingpost.com

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“A true virtuoso.”
Eric Brace, Washington Post