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Harris, Barry

Barry Harris

1929—

Jazz pianist, music educator

A profile of pianist Barry Harris featured in a press release by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem called him "one of the quintessential keepers of the bebop piano flame." Born and raised in Detroit, Harris was one of the artists who came on the scene during the fertile years of jazz in that city in the late 1950s. In 1960 he moved to New York and was active as a solo recording artist and performer, as a sideman in others' bands, and as a composer and arranger, with a style that drew on those of bop pianist Bud Powell and quirky experimentalist Thelonious Monk, among others. Harris became interested in jazz education, a field in which he was in demand in Europe as well as in the United States. Although bebop is sometimes thought of as a difficult jazz style to understand and perform, Harris has approached teaching with a spirit of openness and generosity, welcoming professionals and amateurs alike to a busy schedule of classes held in New York and other cities.

Born on December 15, 1929, Harris was taught to play the piano by his mother, who played the instrument at her church. His mother made him choose between gospel music and jazz, but accepted his decision when he chose the latter. Harris attended Detroit's Northeastern High School, where one of his classmates was another talented pianist, future Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Harris entered his teenage years just as saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and their compatriots were making the first radical experiments in harmony and improvisation that led to bebop, and he learned to play the difficult solos of Powell with the help of a variable-speed record player lent to him by a girl he knew.

The teenager hung out at such jazz venues as downtown Detroit's Graystone Ballroom, hoping to get a chance to sit in with Parker and other traveling bebop players. By the early 1950s he was playing for dances, and in 1953 he landed a recurring gig as house pianist at one of the city's jazz clubs, the Blue Bird Inn. Harris gradually became a fixture in Detroit's jazz scene, which at the time served as a headquarters for nationally known talents such as trumpeter Miles Davis. He performed with Davis, saxophonist Lester Young, drummer Max Roach, and other established national stars while also nurturing younger players, and visiting jazz artists often headed for the apartment Harris shared with his mother, knowing that they would be among their peers there.

Harris recorded an album called Breakin' It Up for the Argo label in 1958. In 1960 he moved to New York City to take an open slot in the quintet of saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Harris found plenty of work in New York, partly because he was a flexible musician who could back older players such as saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, play solo, lead a duo or trio, or even work with a tap dancer, Jimmy Slyde. He often joined with a fellow Detroiter, the saxophonist and flutist Yusef Lateef, in performances and on recordings, and he enjoyed a successful recording career of his own, releasing albums on the Riverside, Original Jazz, and Prestige labels. In the 1970s Harris often backed saxophonist Sonny Stitt and appeared on his highly regarded 1972 Tune-Up! and Constellation LPs. Harris made friends with the European-born jazz backer Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who had supported the careers of Monk, Parker, and other musicians, and he eventually began to live at her estate in Weehawken, New Jersey.

As far back as the 1950s Harris had enjoyed teaching jazz piano to others, and many of the younger players who came to dominate Detroit jazz over the rest of the 20th century owed their careers partly to his example. In the mid-1970s he began to teach piano at the Jazz Interactions studio, and in 1982 he founded the Jazz Cultural Theater, on Manhattan's Eighth Avenue—a classroom, rehearsal space, and musicians' meeting place as well as a venue. In the words of Peter Watrous in the New York Times in 1988, "It was one of the most important jazz spots in the city; not only did the place feature great music at night, but Mr. Harris gave lessons—1,000 students went through his doors—and held big-band rehearsals."

The theater closed in 1988, forced out of existence by Manhattan's rising rents. But Harris's teaching career had gained enough momentum to continue independently. He served as a guest lecturer at the Dutch Royal Conservatory in The Hague, and that turned into an annual artist-in-residence slot. The conservatory's jazz department chair, Walter Turkenburg, told Michele Drayton writing in American Visions in 1999 that "I do not know of many people who are thinking music all the time—all the time, even if he is talking to you." A student, Manon Miessen, added that "in Europe people tend to be a little bit intellectual about jazz music. For Barry, it's just a thing you experience with everybody, whether they are extremely old or extremely young, very good or very bad. It's for everybody. You just have to be willing and eager to learn."

That same philosophy applied to Harris's classes back in New York, which were held at such venues as the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Community Center. They were open to players of any ability—even those with little experience on the piano—and there were no auditions. "Dr. Barry Harris conducts the workshops in a very unique fashion that allows everyone to participate and learn," Harris's Web site explained. "Generally, Dr. Harris will pick a tune and explain the harmonic chord movements and have the students play through the various scales. He also teaches you how to improvise over those various chord changes." Harris himself continued to perform in New York at such clubs as the Village Vanguard.

At a Glance …

Born Barry Doyle Harris on December 15, 1929, in Detroit, MI.

Career: Performed at Blue Bird Inn and other clubs, Detroit, MI, late 1950s; moved to New York, 1960; Cannonball Adderley Quintet, member performing with Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, and others; recorded with Sonny Stitt and others, 1970s; began teaching formally, mid-1970s; has recorded more than sixty-five albums with others and as a leader.

Awards: Award for the Preservation and Proliferation of the Jazz Heritage, Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, 1982; Jazz Master Award, Afro-American Museum, Philadelphia, 1983; American Jazz Masters Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1989; Honorary Jazz Award, U.S. House of Representatives, 1995; Special Presidential Award, International Association of Jazz Education, 1995; honorary doctorate, Northwestern University, 1995; inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame, New Jersey Jazz Society, 2000; Jazz Award, Jazz Journalists Association, 2003.

Addresses: Record label—Concord Music Group, 100 N. Crescent Dr., Ste. 275, Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5412. Web—http://www.barryharris.com.

A virtual institution of jazz in his later years, Harris won a long series of awards, beginning with an Institute of Jazz Studies Award for the Preservation and Proliferation of the Jazz Heritage in 1982, continuing through induction into the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 2000, and beyond. It was in a way typical of his generous personality, however, that he was not content simply to receive awards. In 1988 he inaugurated the Barry Harris Jazz Achievement Award, known as the "Barry." He financed an awards ceremony out of his own pocket, taking on European teaching jobs to come up with the money. The first year's recipients included octogenarian trumpeter Doc Cheatham. "I wanted to give the cats something, especially since many of the great figures in jazz get forgotten," Harris explained to Watrous in 1988. "One's supposed to do something, and it's the least I could do."

Selected discography

Breakin' It Up, Argo, 1958.

Barry Harris at the Jazz Workshop, Riverside, 1960.

Listen to Barry Harris, Riverside, 1960.

Preminado, Riverside, 1961.

Newer Than New, Riverside, 1961.

Chasin' the Bird, Riverside, 1962.

Luminescence! Prestige, 1967.

Bull's Eye! Prestige, 1968.

Magnificent! Prestige, 1969.

Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron, Xanadu, 1975.

Barry Harris/Tokyo: 1976, Xanadu, 1976.

Barry Harris Plays Barry Harris, Xanadu, 1978.

Stay Right with It, Milestone, 1978.

Beautiful Africa, Soul Note, 1979.

For the Moment (recorded live at the Jazz Cultural Theatre), Uptown, 1985.

The Bird of Red and Gold, Xanadu, 1989.

Barry Harris in Spain, Nuba, 1991.

Live at Dug, Enja, 1996.

First Time Ever, Alfa Music, 1997.

I'm Old Fashioned, Pony Canyon, 2004.

Live from New York, Vol. 1, Lineage, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

American Visions, February 1999, p. 36.

New York Times, May 27, 1988; May 28, 1994; May 10, 2003, p. B16.

Online

"Discography," "NYC Workshops," "Profile," and "Workshops Q & A," Barry Harris's official Web site, http://www.barryharris.com (accessed March 14, 2008).

"NEA Jazz Master Barry Harris Honored by Jazz Museum," The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, April 12, 2007, http://www.jazzmuseuminharlem.org/PR_040907.html (accessed March 14, 2008).

Rupp, Carla and Jason, "Dr. Barry Harris: Beloved Jazz Teacher Speaks," Jazz Review, October 2003, http://www.jazzreview.com/articledetails.cfm?ID=2348 (accessed March 14, 2008).

—James M. Manheim

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Harris, Barry

Barry Harris

Pianist, composer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Barry Harris is one of the worlds greatest living jazz pianists. With a sound often compared to Bud Powell and an ability to interpret the compositions of Thelonius Monk, Harris, who developed his own unique bebop style as well, played an important role in Detroits jazz scene in the 1950s. His hometown peerswho, along with Harris, all flourished during the eraincluded pianists Tommy Flanagan, Terry Pollard, and Roland Hanna; trumpeters Thad Jones and Donald Byrd; saxophonists Billy Mitchell, Frank Foster, Yusef Lateef, Sonny Red, and Pepper Adams; trombonist Frank Rosolino; guitarist Kenny Burrell; harpist Dorothy Ashby; bassists Doug Watkins and Paul Chambers; and drummers Elvin Jones and Frank Gant. Aside from leading his own groups and composing music, Harris has recorded with the likes of Can-nonball Adderley, Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef, Hank Mobley, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, and Lee Morgan.

One of Harris greatest pleasures, though, remains his work as an educator. Teaching and holding workshops in cities all over the United States at inexpensive rates, he enjoys sharing his knowledge and passion for the jazz idiom with young and old, amateurs as well as seasoned professionals. Barrys the whole reason

For the Record

Born on December 15, 1929, in Detroit, MI.Education: Studied with Neptune Holloway, Gladys Wade Dillard, and Sophia Rosoff.

Began playing piano in church before switching to jazz; moved to New York, where he played with Thelonius Monk, Coleman Hawkins, and others; recorded with Sonny Stitt and others, 1970s; began teaching formally, mid 1970s; has recorded over 65 albums with others and as a leader.

Awards: Award for the Preservation and Proliferation of the Jazz Heritage, Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 1982; Award for Excellence In the Arts, Manhattan Borough, NY, 1989; American Jazz Masters Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1989; North Sea Bird Award Jazz Musician of the Year, Jazz Festival Congress Centre, The Hague, Holland, 1991; Jazz CampJazz Master Award, City Stages, Birmingham Festival, 1993; New York University SCE Jazz Fellow Award, New York University, 1994; Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education, International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE), Tokyo, Japan, 1995; Honorary Jazz Award, House of Representatives, 1995; Special Presidential Award: Recognition of Dedication and Commitment to the Pursuance of Artistic Excellence in Jazz Performance and Education, International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE), 1995; Living Legacy Jazz Award, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, 1996; Life time Achievement Award for Contributions to the Music World from the National Association of Negro Musicians, High Cs of Westchester, Inc., Branch, Tarry town, NY, 1998; inducted into American Jazz Hall of Fame, New Jersey Jazz Society Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, 2000.

Addresses: Record company Fantasy Jazz, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710, phone: (510) 549-2500, fax: (510) 486-2015, website: http://www.fantasyjazz.com. Website Barry Harris Official Website for Education and Information:http://www.barryharris.com.

why I really started playing, said one of Harriss prize pupils, saxophonist Charles McPherson, as quoted by Dirk Sutro for the Los Angeles Times. Barry was my mentor, I started studying with him when I was about 15. At that time, I knew some scales, but I had no idea of harmony or theory, some of the technical things involved with music. Hes the guy who showed me how to think about improvising.

Despite his expertise, Harris, too, continues to take lessons, including studying with classical pianist Sophia Rosoff in New York. I dont think theres one musician who has worked enough to know what he can do, his real abilities, noted Harris.Ive got tapes of Monk practicing. He didnt just practice, he played. He played one piece for 90 minutes by himself. The whole thing is we really dont play enough. Besides keeping in practice, Harris also feels that jazz musicians must look within themselves, rather than concentrating solely on technique, for inspiration.Most people, when they approach the piano, their fingers are the first to react. I believe more in the body playing the piano than the fingers, he explained to Sutro.This method puts you into your body, right below your navel, where you really play and feel everything.

Harris was born on December 15, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan, and began playing the piano in church under the guidance of his mother. Later, he studied the classics with Neptune Holloway, a preacher, as well as Gladys Wade Dillard. As a teen, Harris arrived at a crossroads when his mother asked him whether he wanted to stick with church music or switch to jazz. Harris opted for the latter, a decision that his mother fully supported.At Northeastern High School, he recalled in an interview withDown Beats Ted Panken,the two boogie-woogie piano players were Berry Gordy (of Motown fame) and Barry Harris. We might have got messed up when Theodore Shieldy came to town from Georgia and went to the school; he not only played better boogie-woogie, but he could improvise. So could a cat named Will Davis.

Now, I could chord when I was a teenager, maybe 13-14-15, but I didnt solo too well, he continued.I lived on the east side of Detroit, and I started going over to the west side where the cats maybe couldnt chord as well as me, but they could solo. When I was 17, a girl named Bess Bonnier loaned me a record player that had a device that allowed you to play the record in any key you wanted all the way through. The first thing I learned to play was Webb City with Fats Navarro, Bud Powell and Sonny Stitt!

Bitten by the bebop bug, Harris next step involved absorbing and analyzing records by Powell, as well as the music of Charlie Parker.We were beboppers, Harris recalled.Bebop was a real musical revelation for uslike a renaissance. I was born in 1929, and I became a teenager in the 40s. So while someone like Jaki Byard, who was a teenager in the 30s, learned more about the stride, Art Tatum and Earl Hines, we heard Al Haig, Bud Powell and George Shearing.

Already displaying a dynamic playing technique and a confidence about his abilities, Harris would wait for Charlie Parker to come to town and sit in with the legendary saxophonist.I sat in with Bird at least three or four time, Harris told Panken.His band was late once for a dance at the Graystone Ballroom, so we played just one song with him during the first seta blues in C. He was beautiful to us. The best experience that I always tell people is a time when he was playing a dance with strings at a roller rink called the Forrest Ballroom. We stood in front, and the strings started, and when he started playing chills started at your toes, and went on through your body . Its really a spoiler. I dont like to go listen to people because Im expecting somebody to make me feel like that. Bud Powell is important to me; Im more a Charlie Parker disciple, even more so now.

Initiating his own career, Harris started out playing high school dances and various other functions around Detroit. And during parts of 1953 and 1954, he worked as the house pianist at the Bluebird Lounge in the heart of the citys west side. While here, he enjoyed a brief stint in 1953 with Miles Davis, at the time a Detroit resident, as well as an extended engagement with Yusef Lateef and Elvin Jones. Subsequently, he toured with Max Roach for a few months after Clifford Brown and Richie Powell died in 1956. Also that year, Harris landed gigs on recordings by Thad Jones and Hank Mobley. Previously, in 1950, he recorded his first album as a sideman with Detroit tenor saxophonist Wild Bill Moore.

Harris spent the remainder of the 1950s in Detroit, working as the house pianist for established clubs like the Rouge Lounge and Bakers Keyboard Lounge. Some of the solo acts he played with included Lester Young, Flip Phillips, and Nancy Wilson. By now, Harris was known as a sort of piano guru in his hometown, and younger players such as Joe Henderson, Louis Hayes, Roy Brooks, Paul Chambers, Lonnie Hillyer, and Charles McPherson began to seek him out for information. His mothers flat, where she allowed Harris and others to practice all day, became a music mecca. Likewise, when traveling players came through Detroit, they always knew to go to Harris house. On one occasion, John Coltrane stopped by when he was in town with Davis and Cannonball Adderley.

After recording his first album as a leader in 1958, Harris left Detroit in 1960 to join Adderleys quintet in New York City. After a brief period his the group, Harris landed performing and recording stints with musicians like Yusef Lateef and Lee Morgan, followed by work with Wes Montgomery and McPherson. During the 1960s, Harris also discovered mentors of his own in Thelonious Monk and Coleman Hawkins.A lot of people assume that Monk didnt have technique, said Harris to Panken.I can tell them that theyre lying on that issue, because he really did. I saw him play a run, and I tried to play it and I couldnt. Monk danced a lot. He would sit behind the piano, and suddenly throw his hand out of the way at the top of the piano to hit a note. The way he would play a whole tone scale coming down. I dont know if anybody ever played like that before!

Hawkins, with whom Harris played extensively from 1962 until the saxophone legends death in 1969, also greatly inspired Harris.He would play a phrase, laugh his butt off because he knew I was trying to get the phrase,said Harris.I wasnt chording. I was trying to steal his phrases! It let me know that theres a lot more to be played than what weve heard. We were the bebop boys. That was out music. But playing with Coleman Hawkins sort of showed one that there was a lot more to play than bebop, than what Bird and them played. So one had to work at trying to reach this other level.

During the early- to mid-1960s, Harris also recorded four strong sessions for the Riverside label, including his personal favorite, 1960s Live At the Jazz Workshop. When the label folded in 1964, he continued to record with A&R man Don Schlitten on various labels throughout the remainder of his career. He also worked as a sideman with numerous others, and in the 1970s appeared on two of Sonny Stitts finest recordings:Tune Up andConstellation.

In the mid 1970s, Harris began teaching in a formal setting with Jazz Interactions, a non-profit organization run by Joe and Rigmore Newman. After a while, his classes became so popular that he founded his own school called the Jazz Cultural Theater, which he used between 1982 and 1988 as a New York platform for creating and articulating his unorthodox teaching methodology. Harris continued to instruct others in the 1990s and into the next century. In addition to teaching at Manhattans Lincoln community center, he spends around 15 weeks out of the year as an artist-in-residence at various academic institutions. He teaches others not only how to play music, but also how to experience it.Jazz is about feeling, says Harris, as quoted by Los Angeles Times writer Don Heckman.Its about beauty. Its about expression. Jazz is a beautiful way of expressing yourself.

Selected discography

Breakin It Up, Argo, 1958.

Barry Harris At the Jazz Workshop (recorded live in San Francisco), Riverside, 1960.

Preminado, Riverside, 1960.

Listen to Barry Harris, Riverside, 1961.

Newer Than New, Riverside, 1961.

Chasin the Bird, Original Jazz, 1962.

Luminescence, Prestige, 1967.

Bulls Eye, Prestige, 1968.

Magnificent, Prestige, 1969.

Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron, Xanadu, 1975.

Barry Harris/Tokyo: 1976, Xanadu, 1976.

Barry Harris Plays Barry Harris, Xanadu, 1978.

Stay Right With It, Milestone, 1978.

Beautiful Africa, Soul Note, 1979.

For the Moment (recorded live at the Jazz Cultural Theatre), Uptown, 1985.

The Bird of Red and Gold, Xanadu, 1989.

Live At Maybeck Recital HallVolume Twelve, Concord Jazz, 1991.

Barry Harris In Spain, Nuba, 1992.

Live At Dug, Enja, 1996.

First Time Ever, Alfa Music, 1997.

Sources

Periodicals

American Visions, February/March 1999.

Down Beat, October 2000.

Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1991; July 8, 1997.

Online

All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 2, 2001).

Barry Harris Official Website for Education and Information, http://www.barryharris.com (February 2, 2001).

Laura Hightower

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"Harris, Barry." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/harris-barry