Winard Harper: Multicultural Ambassador
AAJ: Considering all the strife in the Middle East now, how has that impacted you? Has it been difficult for you as a Muslim American?
WH: It makes you more cautions. You understand that there are some crazy people out there who you have to be careful, of who you are dealing with. It makes you want to be cautions and careful because people don't always know the right way to think through things. They might be inclined to group everyone together. But that's not the way life really is. You'd think in the 21st Century we would have learned by now to coexist and find some other groove to work through our problems and remember to show each other respect and love. To want for our brothers what we want for ourselves.
AAJ: I think to too many Americans Islam remains very much a mystery. We have so much exposure to Christianity in all its forms, to Judaism to a lesser extent, there is still a basic lack of awareness regarding Islam and at the same time so much rising tension surrounding our relationship to it. Is there anything you would like to express about Islam to our readers?
WH: The basic thing is that it's a mission to the all powerful, to God. One of the most beautiful and powerful things to run through it is to want for your brother what you want for yourself. I think a lot of times and in a lot of situations people get politics mixed up with religion. Sometimes they can be thinking of some strife that is over one thing and its not.
AAJ: On that note, let's turn to the new album. It's another killer release with a whole new band. How did that band come together?
WH: It's been evolving. Which has been a good thing. It's really been evolving. It's just like life. Sometimes there's struggle and there's hardship, and you don't want them to happen, but sometimes something good comes out of it. And that is what's happening with the band. Some things have been switched and moved around. Guys that were here for a long time and you had strong relationships with move on to do something else. And somebody new comes along and brings something totally new to the table.
AAJ: What are the key ingredients to putting together a band like this that is full of such individual talents but able to function fluidly as a whole?
AAJ: Is that your role, to guide that and be patient?
WH: That's where those skills as a band leader come in. And I can say that I have been around some of the greatest. [Singer] Betty [Carter]. Dr. Billy Taylor. Jimmy Heath. And I've studied some good ones. [Pianist] Duke Ellington. [Saxophonist] Cannonball [Adderley]. And you try to make use of all of it. Sometimes being a band leader is being a big brother, sometimes a coach, sometimes a friend. Sometimes it's being a task master.
AAJ: You mentioned Duke Ellington as an example. What I've always found interesting about your approach is that you really seem to be composing and giving a lot of space for the individual musician.
WH: It's a team. It's like trying to put together a really great basketball team or football team. You want each player to be strong. I get guys that are talented or I see the potential in them and try to give them that room to grow into that potential. That's the kind of player I like to be as well. In many ways drums are a supporting instrument so I need those other ingredients to be good so I can have something to be supporting.
AAJ: This album is similar to the previous album in that it also presents a mix of genres. You have traditional jazz, blues, funk, and several multi-cultural compositions that incorporate things from all over. Why do you choose to make your albums so eclectic instead of focusing on one genre at a time?
WH: You know like I told a lady the other night that came to one of the gigs and wanted to buy an album. I told her what you see the band do is what we do on the CDs. If you come to one of our shows, that's what you get. That's what the people have come to love. We have some traditional. We have some standards. We get into the African or Caribbean things. Everybody has a wonderful time, feels moved. I take that concept and go straight into the studio and say, "Lets record that.
AAJ: What's next for you now that the album is out?