Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Barry Harris - Impressions - Part 3

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Harris is unquestionably the foremost exponent of the music of Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron and Thelonious Monk, and is one of the few Jazz musicians of the late 20th century [and early 21st century] who can teach and play the music with equal clarity.”

- Bill Dobbins, Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz

“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 - Harris is a noted teacher - hold him in higher esteem. One of the Detroit school of pianists which includes Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, Harris's style suggests Bud Powell as an original mentor, yet a slowed-down, considered version of Powell's tumultuous manner. Despite the tempos, Harris gets the same dark timbres from the keyboard.

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 now baek in the catalogue.” 

- Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz, 6th Ed.

“When Barry Harris recorded this album for Prestige in 1967, the controversy surrounding the jazz avant-garde and the emerging fusion of jazz and rock made the pianist's loyalty to the music of Bud Powell and Charlie Parker appear somewhat old-fashioned. Harris has always been true to his own muse and high musical standards, however, and time has proven that modern jazz of his stripe never goes out of date. For his first album as leader of a sextet, Harris spotlighted Slide Hampton, Junior Cook, and Pepper Adams, three power players who explode on the pianist's originals and two Powell classics. They also perform the richly concentrated arrangements with deep feeling, and provide a cushion for two brief ballad tracks that find Harris equally convincing in a romantic mood. This is one of the great overlooked sessions of the Sixties, proof that even during its commercial decline bebop lived.

- Luminescence! The Barry Harris Sextet Featuring Junior Cook, Slide Hampton, Pepper Adams, Bob Cranshaw, Lenny McBrowne. [Prestige P-7498; OJCCD 924-2].

In the 1960s after he moved to New York from Detroit, Barry Harris made five albums for Riverside as a leader under the auspices of Orrin Keepnews and three for Prestige Records which were produced by Don Schlitten.

Here’s a closer look at two of my favorites from this grouping as we continue the JazzProfiles tribute to Barry who died on December 8, 2021.

Barry Harris at the Jazz Workshop [Riverside RLP-1177; OJCCD-208-2 - “recorded ‘live’ in San Francisco with Sam Jones and Louis Hayes, May 1960].

“To any observer of the current jazz scene, two facts about Detroit musicians stand out sharply. One is that in recent years there has been a remarkably heavy and steady flow of jazz talent surging out of that city (a quick and undoubtedly incomplete list would include Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, the Jones brothers — Hank, Thad and Elvin; and so on). The second fact is that just about every such Detroiter will, on the slightest provocation or even with no real excuse at all, rave on at length about the very considerable abilities and strong influence, both musical and personal, of a pianist named BARRY HARRIS.

After a while, Barry Harris began to take on the qualities of a myth, and since he only rarely and fleetingly left Detroit, most people had no opportunity to check legend against facts. So one could be pardoned for a growing belief that either (a) there was no Barry Harris, or (b) he was at least middle-aged and © couldn't possibly live up to his verbal reputation.

Then, early in 1960, Cannonball Adderley made a telephone call to Detroit. He was in need of a replacement for his quintet's original pianist, Bobby Timmons. Barry accepted the job, and the myth was blown away. Harris stood revealed as a small, somewhat graying (but quite prematurely: he was barely thirty years old!) human being. But one key fact remained — he had every bit as much to say on the piano as had been claimed for him.

This album offers quite a bit of testimony to that effect. It was recorded after Barry had had about three months in which to succeed in meshing fully with his two superb colleagues in the Adderley rhythm section, SAM JONES and LOUIS HAYES (the latter, incidentally, being still another young comer from Detroit), who provide his backing here. It was also, by deliberate choice, recorded as a 'live' performance during the Adderley band's return engagement at The Jazz Workshop, scene of their triumphantly best-selling first album  — The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco. And the enthusiastic response to the pianist's work on the part of the very hip Workshop audience, which can be heard on these grooves, suggests strongly that this club will be something of a lucky-piece for Barry, too.

This debut album for Riverside showcases his basically lyrical and thoroughly swinging style in an impressively varied repertoire. There are three Harris originals: Curtain Call, a catchily-Latinish Lolita, and Morning Coffee (the latter a blues titled in honor of what is about the only available beverage in San Francisco after the two-in-the-morning closing time). There is a highly funky version of Louis Jordan's one-time pop hit, Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t. . . (one of several tunes to feature brilliant Sam Jones bass solos) ; a rich ballad treatment of Don't Blame Me; another effective touch of Latin rhythms on Star Eyes; and two notable tunes by modern jazz giants: Gillespie's Woody'n You and Parker's Moose the Mooche.

Barry was born in Detroit in December of 1929; his mother was a church pianist from whom he learned his first piano piece (a church tune) at the age of four. After this early start came private study and then the high school band, with a growing interest in jazz dating from about 1944. Not too long thereafter he won first prize in an amateur show at the local Paradise Theater, solidifying his decision to turn pro. Over the next several years Barry developed into the city's top piano man, working with such native talent as Thad Jones and Billy Mitchell, and playing on the Detroit engagements of such passers-through as Lester Young, Lee Konitz and Sonny Stilt. In the early '50s he worked locally with Miles Davis for about three months. And for one memorable set one night he sat in with Charlie Parker — whom Harris names, along with piano greats Art Tatum and Bud Powell, as the most important formative influences on his style.

It was during these same years that Barry also became a focal point for the Motor City's younger-set jazz activity. As he explains it, his very sympathetic mother had a lot to do with making it possible for musicians like Adams, Chambers, Doug Watkins and such, all of whom had grown up with Barry, to come to the Harris house to play at almost any hour. (This would also seem a good place for me to heed Barry's request to clear up a rather widespread misconception that he "taught" pianist Tommy Flanagan. Pointing out that Flanagan and he are almost the same age, Barry adds that "Tommy was wailing at 14 or 15, way ahead of me.")

Harris left Detroit only once — for three months on the road with Max Roach in '56 — before Adderley's call. When asked why he had suddenly broken his anti-travel pattern, Barry noted that he had long admired Cannonball and the others and had known Lou Hayes in Detroit, but then just shrugged and added: "I don't really know why, except that I just figured it was time." On listening to this album, I think a lot of people are going to agree that it certainly is time for Barry Harris!”


Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

Luminescence! The Barry Harris Sextet Featuring Junior Cook, Slide Hampton, Pepper Adams, Bob Cranshaw, Lenny McBrowne. [Prestige P-7498; OJCCD 924-2].

Drummer Roy Brooks, in talking of Barry Harris in a recent Downbeat 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.

Players fortunate enough to work with Harris receive the full benefit of his subtly inspirational guidance. Barry is a perfectionist who demands much of himself. While he is not a martinet with others, he manages to elicit performances of a very high caliber from any group he heads. This album is a case in point. Certainly, the work of the hornmen, Junior Cook, Pepper Adams, and Slide Hampton, has never flowed with more ease, and the great spirit that pervaded the studio on the afternoon of the recording comes right through the grooves. The latter accomplishment is due in no small part to the empathic engineering of Richard Alderson, who has brought some new conceptions to jazz recording.

In recent years many advances have been made in recorded sound, but for some strange reason jazz recording techniques have remained static since the Fifties. With this album producer Don Schlitten begins a series of collaborations with Richard Alderson which they feel will remedy this situation. If there be something called the "jazz sound" Mr. Alderson has captured its essence and brought the immediacy of each performance into every-man's speaker.

This is Barry Harris's debut as a leader for Prestige. He has recorded before for this label as a sideman. This is the first time, however, that he has ever headed a sextet in the studio. Not only are four of his songs included but

all seven numbers are his arrangements. The two originals which are not his come from the pen of Bud Powell, one of the most fertile minds ever to grace jazz and, along with Charlie Parker (the "Bird" in Roy Brooks's statement), Harris's strongest inspiration.

"Luminescence," which opens the set, is Barry's construction based on the song that was virtually the anthem of 52nd Street in the 1940s, "How High the Moon." The punching, stop-and-go theme leads into a direct, big-toned solo by Junior Cook, reminiscent of early Sonny Rollins. Cook, best known for his work with the Horace Silver quintet and, more recently, with Blue Mitchell's group, reveals a new maturity in this album. His phrases, spun out with such assurance, connect in a manner that lets you know that not a note has been wasted. Rhythmically, melodically, harmonically — everything melds perfectly.

Slide Hampton has had his own bands, served as musical director for Lloyd Price, and is well respected for his arranging, but for some reason people seem to sleep on him as a trombone soloist. I know he woke me up in a set he played with a quartet at the Village Gate in the midst of a marathon benefit for radio station WBAI in December 1965. Now he is with Art Blakey, helping to power the Messengers. His solo on "Luminescence" finds him in complete command of his instrument, drawing forth the fluidity and tonal quality we used to associate with JJ. Johnson. Slide gets a French horn effect which can be described as a fist wrapped in velvet, although in reality it is a felt beanie hanging over the bell of his horn.

Speaking of tone, a friend of mine once called Pepper Adams "Carborundum" and not unkindly. Pepper, an old Detroit confrere of Barry's, has been one of the mainstays of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band from its inception, and has graced many a recording session on the New York scene. On "Luminescence" he rolls right along, gathering no moss and strewing a few petals (from a

Devil's Paintbrush) as he gets into high gear.

Harris picks up the surge in Adams's choruses and carries it straight ahead. Barry's playing always has marvelous vitality (energy) and a lift that carries you along with it. Through the 1960s, Barry has sporadically led a quintet. In 1967, however, he has divided his time between Coleman Hawkins's quartet and his own duo, the latter most often in residence at the lower West Side soul food emporium known as West Boondock. In this album the sextet format and surroundings have inspired him to achieve some of his best solos. The solid support of the rhythm team of Bob Cranshaw and Lenny McBrowne, quite obvious from the opening bars of "Luminescence," but most pronounced behind Barry's solo, is a great aid throughout all the tracks.

The horns are utilized only in stating the theme on "Like This!" but they are wisely used by Barry, their textures setting off his short, wistful gem of a solo perfectly. "Like This!," an adhesive melody, is Harris's theme song.

The closer on side A is the third of the four Harris originals, "Nicaragua." A Latinate line with shifting accents, it puts one in mind of Charlie Parker, vintage mid-1940s. Slide has the bridge as the rhythm goes into 4/4. The Latin lope is also abandoned when the main body of solos begins with Barry's thoroughly relaxed inventions. After Junior, Slide, and Pepper have had their say, the theme returns with the rolling Latin beat. Harris has the final bridge.

Bud Powell's "Dance of the Infidels" opens side B. This version is slower than the way Bud used to play it. Barry has gotten into an early-morning groove on the song and limned its inherent character of lament. His solo helps solidify the mood, and each hornman carries the spirit in his featured spot. Adams cues the band back into the line with some furious double-timing.

The tempo goes up for the second Powell original, "Webb City," first recorded by Bud with a group called the BeBop Boys in 1946. It is a line like the Green Bay Packers offensive unit [American professional football team], sweeping everything before it. Everyone steps out on this one with the rhythm section especially strong. Listen to Cranshaw and McBrowne behind Harris's high voltage solo. The two then contribute some short solo bits before the theme.

Next follows a lovely exposition of Richard Whiting's "My Ideal." It is a feature for Barry with the horns playing organ in the background and introducing pieces of the melody. Harris wouldn't record this number until his sometime leader, Coleman Hawkins, arrived at the studio. (Hawk recorded this ballad in 1943.) After it was done, Hawk and everyone else nodded their approval. Although there were three equally good takes of "My Ideal," Barry was partial to one with a Charlie Parker quote but settled for the one you hear with its misterioso quality. Harris insists on complete takes and will not allow splicing, another testimony to his integrity.

The last of Harris's compositions, "Even Steven," is a question and answer affair with Barry doing the asking and the band telling it to him like it is. The solos are a pattern in tonal contrasts but each one has the joyous pulse going that is one of the most rewarding experiences in jazz. I'm one of those people who believe that if music can make you feel better it is doing something very essential. I come away from listening to this album feeling good every time.

Barry Harris has learned well from Parker, Powell, and Monk. Long ago he proved that he is an accomplished, exciting soloist. Now he shows that he is an excellent composer-arranger and organizer as well. Luminescence pertains to the emission of light. This particular Luminescence sheds much light on the astral talents of Berry Harris.”


These notes appeared on the original album liner.

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