Gene Harris had no peer as a blues pianist. Just as Fred Hersch is the king of ballads, Harris was the king of the blues. But let’s consider his ballad prowess: he recorded many, and some of his best are collected on Concord Jazz’s newest addition to the Ballad Essentials series.
Harris manages to infuse all of his ballad performances with enough blue notes to endow the pieces with his unmistakable personality. That is not such a challenge with pieces like "Nobody Knows When You're Down and Out" while "When You Wish Upon a Star" might be a bit tricky in less talented hands. But his are not less talented hands. Mr. Harris has recorded copiously for Concord Jazz, providing a large library of songs from which to choose. His performance with Scott Hamilton on "At Last" is telepathic and with Brother Jack McDuff on "You Don’t Know What Love Is" Harris meets a blues soulmate.
But, in the end, it is all Gene Harris. Mr. Harris remains one of the most accessible jazz pianists ever; and we, the listeners, are fortunate that he has left such a broad recorded legacy for us to enjoy. Ballad Essentials is a sensitively assembled collection revealing an under-appreciated site of Gene Harris.
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.