Harper, Billy (R.)

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Harper, Billy (R.)

Harper, Billy (R.), tenor saxophonist, flutist; b. Houston, Tex., Jan. 17, 1943. At age five he was singing at sacred and secular functions and participating in choral and solo singing events. By age 14, he formed his first Billy Harper Quintet. He performed as saxophonist and singer, played with R&B bands, and with saxophonists James Clay and Fred Smith. Graduating cum laude, he went on to study saxophone and music theory at North Tex. State Univ. and received his bachelor’s degree in music. He continued graduate studies at NTSU and became a member of their big band. That year, 1965, the band won first prize at the Kans. Jazz Festival. After moving to N.Y. in 1966, Harper toured Calif, with Gil Evans, played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for two years, and worked with Elvin Jones in 1970. Later came periods with Max Roach, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orch., and Lee Morgan. He performed, recorded and toured Europe, Japan, Africa and throughout the U.S. from 1966-79 with these groups, as well as his own Billy Harper Quintet. He has primarily led his own groups since 1973, but worked on occasion with Roach until 1978, and Evans into the 1980s. He has taught at Livingston Coll. of Rutgers Univ. since 1975. He has received a grant from the N.J. State Council for the Arts to teach improvisation at 15 high schools. Awards and honors included three music composition grants; two from the National Endowment of the Arts, and one from the Creative Arts Program. He received the Down Beat International Critics Award for Tenor Saxophone for two years consecutively. During the 1990s, he toured for the U.S. Information Service.


Capra Black (1973); Black Saint (1975); In Europe (1979); Trying to Make Heaven My Home (1979); Destiny Is Yours (1989); Somalia (1995).

—Lewis Porter

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Harper, Billy (R.)

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