Support All About Jazz

All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.


I want to help
71

Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard

Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard
Bob Kenselaar By

Sign in to view read count Views
Barry Harris
Village Vanguard
New York, NY
January 15, 2012

Ambling in from the back of the room, Barry Harris introduced his trio to the crowd at the Village Vanguard as the musicians filed in ahead of him: Ray Drummond on bass, Leroy Williams on drums, and then he announced, with a wink, "I'm Barry Johnson." Of course, everybody in the audience was well familiar with the name of the living legend they were there to see.

One of the great early disciples of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk—the latter a close friend—Harris isn't simply a keeper of the flame of bebop; he's one of the great exponents of classic jazz. He's toured or recorded with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Morgan, and a host of others, in addition to leading his own groups for decades. And he's been one of the great teachers in jazz, too—from the time he was a young man in Detroit, when a slew of his contemporaries studied with him, including Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson, and Kirk Lightsey. In recent years, he's lectured at colleges and universities around the world, and he continues his teaching today in weekly workshops at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Community Center in Manhattan.

Six weeks past his 84th birthday, Harris was making another of his occasional extended visits to the Vanguard, playing two sets nightly from Tuesday through Saturday, drawing a full room for the early show on Wednesday night.

The set kicked off with a bit of a surprise: not an old bebop chestnut, American songbook classic, or even a Barry Harris original, but "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder. Harris added some new dimensions to the tune, alternating choruses of rich, dense chords and quiet, spare playing. "That's just to show you that we can play those songs, too," he said.

A medium up tempo "Somebody Loves Me" was a particular highlight of the set, Harris taking a three-chorus improvisation that almost seemed like a lesson on how to build a solo, with speedy, long-phrased turn-around sections at the end of each chorus, clearly displaying his Bud Powell influences. Ray Drummond followed with an especially facile two-chorus bass solo, almost never taking his eyes off the leader, and Leroy Williams was featured to good degree, too, trading fours with Harris before the trio closed out the tune. An up tempo rendering of "Sweet Georgia Brown" was another special moment, a feature for Williams that included a very Monk-like intro by Harris and which was followed by a nicely contrasting slow blues.

Three of the tunes in the set were dedications: "I Want to Be Happy," for his doctor, who was in the house, "I'll Keep Loving You," for everybody in the audience, and "To Duke with Love," a Harris tune played very rubato with lots of chromatic movement, which also incorporated Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."

For the penultimate number, Harris started suggesting that the audience join him in making up a tune—a nice novelty he often features in live performances, based on random numbers—but a friend called to him to play a Latin tune, so he jumped into "All the Things You Are," first playing a new variation on the standard bebop intro before launching into a very Latin first chorus, ultimately followed by a wide-ranging bass solo that showed off Drummond's exceptional musicianship. The set ended with another Harris original, featuring vocals and hand-clapping from members of the audience well familiar with the tune—students from Harris's weekly workshops, no doubt.

Throughout the set, Harris's playing reflecting a good deal of humor, nostalgia, and romanticism, along with reverence for the other masters who've come before him. For those who can't make his next live show, there are plenty of recordings available. For some vintage trio work, one place to start is Barry Harris Live at the Jazz Workshop (OJC, 1969). Recent live recordings include Barry Harris Live at Rennes (Plus Loin, 2010) and NPR's webcast from his 2009 appearance at the Village Vanguard. And, of course, there's the disc on many jazz fans' "desert island" lists that prominently features Harris in a sideman role, Lee Morgan's 1964 Blue Note classic, The Sidewinder.

Photo Credit: Herb Scher

Shop For Jazz

Interviews
Live Reviews
CD/LP/Track Review
Live Reviews
DVD/Video/Film Reviews
Profiles
Read more articles
Live In Rennes
Live In Rennes
Plus Loin Music
2010
buy
Live in New York
Live in New York
Reservoir Music
2004
buy
Live in New York
Live in New York
Reservoir Music
2003
buy
Newer Than New
Newer Than New
Fantasy Jazz
2001
buy
Miles Davis Miles Davis
trumpet
Charlie Parker Charlie Parker
sax, alto
Sonny Rollins Sonny Rollins
saxophone
Art Blakey Art Blakey
drums
Sonny Stitt Sonny Stitt
saxophone
Red Garland Red Garland
piano
Bud Powell Bud Powell
piano
Charlie Christian Charlie Christian
guitar, electric

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.