Barry Harris

This week at our Black Lotus Jam, we present a set of music featuring the compositions of pianist Barry Harris.  Mr. Harris is one of jazz's most prolific educators having mentored thousands of students and hosting weekly workshops for decades.  He has always been a Detroit icon, revered by the Detroit jazz community because when so many Detroit musicians were headed to New York, Mr. Harris stayed here to cultivate the scene.  Even after finally transitioning to New York, Detroiters still consider him their own.

His playing style is well documented - the tremendous influence Bud Powell and Charlie Parker had on him.  His tunes are less recognized however, and that is what we will be looking at this week.  His compositions are rooted in the bebop tradition, full of ii-V-I progressions that often snake through by half or whole steps, and lots of melodic sequences.  But there is a churning rhythmic sense behind all of them that reveal his "Detroit-ness." Each melodic statement is almost always answered with a rhythmic statement and each melody has a lilt to it, even the straight-eighth tunes.  All of his tunes, and there are a lot of them, are terrific solo vehicles, too.  Logical and easy chord changes, but still very original and singular, make them a blast to play over.

On a personal note, I got to play the Detroit Jazz Festival with Mr. Harris two years ago with the festival's jazz orchestra.  In rehearsal, he was so casual, genuine and warm. He didn't say much, but he was very present in the moment.  At one point in the rehearsal, he stopped and looked around the band and honed in on me. I could see his wheels turning, and then he opened his eyes wide and asked, "would like to solo on this one?"  Of course I jumped at the opportunity! I think he was looking for the youngest guy in the band. Always the teacher, mentor, helper.
I have had such a good time listening, transcribing and practicing these tunes the past few weeks! Here is our set list for Wednesday: Barengo, Like This, High Step, Luminescence, Even Steven, and of course, Nascimento.  We love you Barry Harris!


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