© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Drummer Roy Brooks, in talking of Barry Harris in a recent Down Beat article (8/10/67), described the pianist as "an excellent musician, teacher and philosopher. He's one of the few musicians who has really captured the essence of Bird's message— not only the rhythmic quality but the expression."
Brooks is not the only musician to speak of Harris this way. All the Detroiters, like Brooks, who learned from Barry as they were coming up in the jazz world, echo this in one way or another. The New Yorkers who have become aware of his great knowledge and musicianship have added their praise.”
- Ira Gitler, insert notes to Barry Harris - Luminescence! [Prestige OJCCD - 924-2]
“Luminescence” means the emission of light and that’s what pianist Barry Harris [b. 1929] has been doing throughout his career - throwing light on how to play the music of bebop.
One of the Detroit school of pianists which include Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, Harris subsequently arrived in New York in the late 1950s and has remained there ever since. He was the preferred accompanist of both Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Stitt. I first heard him during his stint as a member of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s quintet.
Barry Harris’s approach to bebop is similar to both Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, but his style is characterized by what some have termed more “gentler persuasions:” unfussy, unpretentious, but carried off with a distilled intensity that keeps the attention of the listener.
Over the years, Barry has become revered as one of the great teachers in the music; shedding light on the mysteries of bebop to the generations of musicians who did not have the opportunity to experience the music firsthand.
“The career of Barry Harris suggests a self-effacing man for, although he is among the most accomplished and authentic of second-generation bebop pianists, his name has never excited much more than quiet respect among followers of the music. Musicians and students hold him in higher esteem.
His records are perhaps unjustly little known. There is no singleton masterpiece among them, just a sequence of graceful, satisfying sessions which suggest that Harris has been less interested in posterity via recordings and more in what he can give to jazz by example and study. Nevertheless, he cut several records for Prestige and Riverside in the 1960s, and most are still available as CD’s.” [Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD].
My favorite is Luminescence! [Prestige OJCCD - 924-2] on which Harris brings together a fine group that includes Slide Hampton on trombone, Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone, Bob Cranshaw on bass and Lenny McBrowne on drums. Adams, Cook and Hampton solo with a taut assertiveness that makes a 1967 bebop date seem entirely relevant, despite its time and place.
See what you think as Barry’s sextet works out on Bud Powell’s Webb City on the following video.