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Eric Harland: Searching the Patterns in Life

John Patten By

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Drummer Eric Harland is between gigs, just back from a dates and clinics in Japan and getting ready to head to Europe. He's got new recordings out with several bands— including the Charles Lloyd, The Monterey Quartet with Dave Holland and Jason Moran—and a handful of compositions to get recorded with his own group.

But then, in a way, this was foretold by an eight year-old Harland to his mother.



"She said I told her I would travel the world, meet a lot of girls and play music," he laughs. "The funny thing is, I would say that has been my life for the last few years (except for the girls). It's all be fun; it's all been good.

"I will say that as a kid, I really had a focus about it," Harland adds. "I can't say I put things on the wall that said, 'Have a great day—you're going to be a great musician.' I just took it a day at a time, I just knew I loved music and I just wanted to be the best I could be at whatever I was doing. And all of a sudden, I woke up and it was happening."

That summary glosses over a few bumps along the way for Harland. Though he was a drumming prodigy as a teenager in Houston, Texas at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where Wynton Marsalis encouraged him to continue his education in New York in 1993, after hearing him play. Harland followed the advice, receiving a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music.

His special citation from the International Association of Jazz Educators for Outstanding Musicianship in 1994 further raised his visibility, making his childhood prediction look very prescient.

"Starting off, I was really fortunate to have a really, really good private drum instructor [Craig Green], who kind of got me between five and eight," Harland says. "And I went to this performing arts middle school and he was the instructor there.

"After that, he just kind of gave me guidance and in high school, it was kind of words of wisdom," he adds. "But he's always been a really, really good, really patient, really great instructor. He's very different, I would say, than any instructor I've come in contact with since then."

Harland notes Green's methods relied on cultivating his students' own skills as much as inculcating specific technical chops.

"But he's very patient," Harland says. "He doesn't have you do basic patterns, he just kind of patiently guides you so you can learn to do it correctly. It just really helped.

"If anyone doubts the skills he's taught ... you think about all the great drummers that have come out of Houston—you got Chris Dave, you got Kendrick Scott, you got Jamal Williams," Harland continues. "We all come from Mr. Green. It just shows what a phenomenal teacher he is—and if you thought it was just because of drums, his daughter happens to be a really, really tremendously excellent violinist.

"So, it just shows his teaching skills, his method of teaching actually works," Harland explains. "He is such a simple guy, he doesn't want anything, he just loves music, he loves the drums. He loves working with people."

After landing in Manhattan, Harland's professional career started out strongly but his first taste of independence led to a downfall.

"When I got to New York, and of course, as a young guy coming from Houston to New York, I kind of went crazy and I had a great time, I did everything I could do," Harland concludes. "And that was great. I didn't have any issues with what I was doing—but my mom did! My mom was, like, 'this isn't right.'"

Harland explains that his mother, firmly entrenched in the Baptist Church, would occasionally rebuke him, warning him that God was watching him.

"And that that kind of scared me when bad things started to happen," he says. "At first, good things were happening and then at a certain point bad things started to happen."

One of the most important things happening to Harland personally was a tremendous loss of weight. As a teenager in Houston, Harland was overweight and often left out of social circles in high school. During his first years in New York, he began losing weight, dropping from 380 pounds down to 160.

"I went through a point of being kind of malnourished, and when you're malnourished, your blood sugar is low and your body is very sensitive to everything," Harland explains. "I remember being at my wits end, coming back home after this one show in Milwaukee, and I passed out because I hadn't eaten.

"And my mom had to come get me from Milwaukee and she is like drama queen," he adds. "She thought on the plane, that I had died and that she prayed and I came back to life, and I was just like, 'Wow, OK.' So I got home and she said I got to give my life to Christ, blah-blah-blah, so I did it."

"And so I didn't really know what to think, and so at that particular time, that was the only kind of concrete thing that really spoke to me was Christianity, religion," concludes Harland.

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