Jan Dutler busks and livens up Montreal streets

The musician performs solo by looping harmonica, beatboxing, percussion, ukulele, trombone and vocals

Walk down Ste-Catherine St. on almost any day and you’ll see someone playing guitar, their case open, asking for change in exchange for a melody to brighten your day. Climb the stairs out of Guy-Concordia metro or pass by Place Jacques-Cartier and you’ll probably see something similar, maybe with a different face or instrument.

While we’re all guilty of ignoring some of these music makers at one point or another, some buskers are too talented to pass-up; buskers like Jan Dutler. His act, called Caravonica, is a one-man band. Using a looper, Dutler combines harmonica, beatboxing, percussion, ukulele, trombone and vocals to create his music live on the street corner or stage.

The 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist, who sings in multiple languages, is from a small town in Switzerland called Hütten, which has “more cows than people,” according to Dutler. His music career started when he joined a marching band as a percussionist in 1996 at the age of 10.

“I nearly stopped playing music when I was 15, but then a friend handed me an AC/DC tape and I thought, ‘Drums are actually a cool instrument,’” Dutler said. After spending a few years playing covers of metal songs with his friends, he shifted his focus entirely in his early 20s.

“I got into Blues and played in other bands, that’s when I started to play harmonica,” Dutler said, “ I’m a bit of a fanatic about harmonicas. I think I have about 30.”

Not simply a collector, Dutler explained that “every song is in a different key and what most people don’t know that there are different tunings than just the Blues Harmonica,” said the musician. “The different harmonicas open whole other dimensions.”

Shortly after discovering the harmonica, Dutler was introduced to the artist who inspires his current performance. “A friend showed me the music of a guy called Son Of Dave,” Dutler said, “I was blown away by just one person with his harmonica, boxing beats with his mouth, shaking a tambourine or a rattle, and stamping his foot. Recording everything in a loop pedal.”

From there, Dutler built a specialized suitcase, which doubles as his drum kit, and hit the road as a performer. Most recently, he passed through New Zealand, Australia, Massachusetts and even played at this year’s Halifax International Busker Festival in July, and Prince Edward Island’s Busker Festival in August.

“While traveling in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and P.E.I, people kept telling me how awesome Montreal and Quebec is,” Dutler said. “This, and the fact that I want to learn more about performing, [is what] brought me here.”

Caravonica will be in Montreal for the foreseeable future, as Dutler is currently taking classes at Francine Côté’s Clown and Comedy School. “I like the idea of one-man entertaining. It’s fascinating and challenging,” he said.

Dutler hopes that his music inspires others to “play music in the streets, share art in public spaces and try different instruments.” Anyone wishing to try different instruments can contact him in person or through Facebook for ukulele and harmonica lesson or to just “meet up and have a jam.”

If you want to see Dutler in action you can catch him at Le Dépanneur Café at 206 Rue Bernard Ouest, every Saturday at 11 a.m., or at Marché Jean-Talon on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

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