Take Five With Lafayette Harris, Jr.
Meet Lafayette Harris, Jr.: Lafayette Harris accomplishments speak for themselves. Known as the go to pianist by other musicians and band leaders, in the last year alone, Lafayette has performed on Broadway with the The Color Purple, toured Europe with Ernestine Anderson, played the wedding for the daughter of ABC World News Tonight host, Charlie Gibson, and helped raise money for children with cancer in Columbus, OH.
Alongside these have been Lafayettes regular appearances at New Yorks Blue Note and weekly open mic sessions that he hosts at the historic Lenox Lounge in Harlem, widely regarded as the best vocal jam session in the city by New Yorks weekly listing guides. In between all this, Lafayette has managed to record two new albums in the last year Trio Talk, a jazz trio outing; and a contemporary funk/fusion project, In the Middle of the Night.
However, before the A-list musician lifestyle, Lafayettes formative years were spent in Baltimore, laying the foundation to his craft at church and in private tutelage. By the time he hit his teens Lafayette was a regular on the local Top 40 scene, playing in bands that covered all the classic R&B and funk of the day by acts such as the Ohio Players, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Gap Band and more. However, Lafayettes heart was very much rooted in jazz and his real hero was fellow Baltimore native Eubie Blake. After hearing Blake play Scott Joplins Maple Leaf Rag, Lafayette was determined to perfect it. He augmented his live work with hard study, receiving a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory and then going on to study with master pianist Kenny Barron at Rutgers University in NJ, where he earned a Masters in Jazz Performance.
Moving to New York in the mid-80s Lafayette was swept into the intense musical whirlpool that was the Big Apple live scene at that time. Working in well-established clubs like the Blue Note, Sweet Basil, and Fat Tuesdays, the young musician soon garnered a reputation for himself as a name to watch. That reputation earned Lafayette a record deal with Muse Records, resulting in his debut album, aptly titled Lafayette Is Here, featuring then young lions, Terell Stafford (trumpet), Don Braden (tenor saxophone) and rhythm section-mates Lonnie Plaxico (bass) and Cindy Blackman (drums). A second Muse recording, Happy Together, starred The Lafayette Harris Trio plus Melba Moore.
By the early 90s Lafayette had also become a regular on the European jazz festival circuit, playing alongside the likes of trombonists Slide Hampton and John Gordon and vocalist Barbara Morrison. Also during this period his former teacher Kenny Barron referred him to master drummer Max Roach. This new relationship resulted in almost ten years of touring and collaborating with the legendary drummer, prompting him to describe Lafayette as a phenomenal new voice on the music scene today.
During the Bring In 'Da Noise period, Lafayette was invited to play at a fundraiser for underprivileged children at the home of the late news anchor, Peter Jennings. The band comprised Illinois Jacquet, Percy Heath, Max Roach and Wynton Marsalis. Lafayettes debut release on his own label, Airmen Records, Lafayette Is Here: Solo, was voted one of the best recordings of 1998 by Cadence Magazine.
By the new millennium Lafayette was recruited by guitarist Mark Whitfield to form the group Soul Conversation for Herbie Hancocks label. Other names Lafayette has played with in recent years include R&B/Broadway diva Jennifer Holliday, jazz legend Billy Taylor and Grammy nominee Ernestine Anderson.
Says Lafayette with trademark modesty of his long, illustrious career: For me its definitely great to do something you love and make a living at it. To be able to have a family and a roof over my head because of my success in music is a blessing. If I can keep contributing to the worlds musical sound palette Ill be satisfied as a musician. When I look at the successes of past and present greats from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis to Herbie Hancock and others, I am amazed at their ability to continue being creative and significant and Im instantly inspired.
Teachers and/or influences? Charles Covington, Barry Harris, Kenny Barron, Frances Walker, Walter Bishop, Jr. were all people I took formal lessons with.
Influences: Oscar Peterson, Nat King Cole, Monk, Fats Waller, Ahmad Jamal.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... My brother heard me playing once and said, "You're going to be a professional musician one day.
Your sound and approach to music: Just love for making a good sound and feeling while I'm playing. It's got to have some feeling. You almost play anything and if you feel people will dig it!
Your teaching approach: Try to get them to swing. I try to get them to get into the feeling first. It's more important then being able to sing or play the right notes. Of course then you've got to get some good notes going!
Your dream band: I'd love to have Christina Aguilera out front singing and lighting up the stage with her beauty and Kenny Davis laying down the groove on bass. Then I'd love to have Jeff Watts giving me that fire on drums! And how about a horn section with Sonny Rollins.
Anecdote from the road: When I was in Brazil in 1985, I got the runs from the food and the water. One time I just had to "go," so I ran off stage in the middle of the show. I could hear the band continue to play upstairs (there were two keyboard players in this band). I could hear my solo coming up in this number as I was finishing up in the john. I got back up to the stage just in time to walk on and play my solo.
Favorite venue: I always like playing at Sweet Basil. Great treatment and great food too.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why? My newest record, In the Middle of the Night.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I really got what I wanted on that record from the sound to the playing of the musicians.
Did you know... That I was incredibly afraid of spiders until I bought my house in Brooklyn in 1997. After seeing a spider in the house I felt, it's OK, that's my spider just like this house is.
How you use the internet to help your career? It's a lot to keep up with. I have to really put forth a lot of energy to keep things updated. My website took me years to get where I wanted it and have the proper control over it. I was with one of those controlled group cluster jazz sites and I didn't dig the conformity.