Kemp Harris: Edenton
AAJ: Yes, I have been told that since I was old enough to remember. On this CD, you play the piano. What other instruments do you play?
KH: I play a mean tambourine. I know three songs on guitar and I once filled in as a drummer for a session, but piano and vocals are my main expressions.
AAJ: Edenton is not your first CD. Tell us about your first release.
KH: It's called Sometimes In Bad Weather (Almost Famous, 2002). It was a collection of songs that had many different origins. It's a very different album, but I like it a lot. It doesn't have a "concept" to it as Edenton does, but the music is as much me as this new album is. I got to work with some great musicians/friends.
AAJ: Over the years you have performed with a number of musicians of note, both in blues and jazz. Who have they been?
KH: I got to sing with Koko Taylor once in Boston. I also opened for Taj Mahal and Gil Scott-Heron.
AAJ: You have also worked with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Tell us about this experience.
KH: I have two friends, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, who were in that company. Dwight gave me some of his prose to write from. The piece "If Loneliness Was Black" was part of a ballet called Frames. Desmond danced the role. I saw it at City Center in New York. I got to go on stage with the company. It was one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. They now have a new company called Complexions. Amazing.
AAJ: On this newest CD, you worked with the Holmes Brothers. What was the experience like?
KH: It was great working with them. I knew that they would bring a sound that was authentic and seasoned to the pieces. It was like hanging out with your coolest uncles in the world. They were easy going and made me feel that way too. I have great respect for them and was honored that they agreed to perform on the disc.
AAJ: Of the musicians with whom you have worked, who has been your favorite?
KH: I must say, all of the people I've worked with on these projects, I got to give them a shout out. Hey Jim, Josh, Adam, Brian, Scotty, Lydia, Theo, Adrian....the family.
AAJ: How has Edenton been received?
KH: It's getting really good reviews in music magazines, radio, blogs. I'm really glad that people are getting to hear it and appreciate the effort. The whole Internet thing is pretty crazy and I'm being heard a lot
AAJ: Today you maintain a songwriting residency at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts in Boston in conjunction with the Berklee College of Music, assisting talented young artists with composition and performance. How did this start for you?
KH: I'm a teacher at heart, and I was offered the chance to work with high school students in a song writing course at the Wang. We partnered with Berklee to record the original songs and present each writer with a copy. We also had a culminating performance at the end of each of the sessions. It was inspiring to hear what these young people had inside. I was glad to be a part of it.
AAJ: As well as working in this capacity with young people, you have authored children's books. How many such books have you written?
KH: I wrote a children's book called Snow (Big Song Books, 1993). It was a picture book with an accompanying song. I travel as a storyteller and have written many other stories for children and parents alike. I still do this, and it's a nice balance for me. It's cool to have a room full of kids hanging on your every word. It's an art that should be maintained and explored. It keeps you spontaneous, on your feet in front of the audience.
AAJ: What projects are you presently working on?
KH: I've begun writing again. I don't know where it will all end up, but I like what I'm doing. I plan to be in New York working on a new piece with the dance company Complexions in the fall. I wrote the closing credit music for the documentary on Ralph Nader An Unreasonable Man (2006), which is now in theaters. There is a lot to do around the promotion of the Edenton disc, so I've been busy. Also, teaching Kindergarten takes a lot of energy. Got to keep up with the kids.
Kemp Harris, Edenton (Righteous Music, 2006)
Melvin Couch & Company, I Made a Step (Nu Sounds, 2004)
Kemp Harris, Sometimes In Bad Weather (Almost Famous, 2002)