The passing of Gene Harris in early 2000 affected enthusiasts around the world with yet another sense of profound loss. The word “yet” is used because unfortunately it seems that hardly a month goes by without the passing of another jazz artist who has touched listeners with a sense of joy and inspiration.
Concord Jazz helped to resurrect Harris’ recording careeras the label did with other legendary performers like Tito Puente, Mel Tormé or Rosemary Clooneyafter Harris moved to Idaho, where he became a local legend. Fortunately for us, Harris left a long string of buoyant recordings that continued to uplift listeners around the world. With a personal style that couldn’t be imitated, anymore than Stanley Turrentine’s could (who died in September at approximately the same age and who performs on the first track, “Uptown Sop”), Harris’s aggressive and yet spiritual style commanded the feel of any session he joined.
To celebrate Harris’ long career and his many legendary performances on the label, Concord Jazz has compiled a sort of “the best of Gene Harris,” combing through many tracks and albums to find those that represent his work the most comprehensively.
Concord has done a fine job of that. Reportedly, Carl Jefferson was extremely pleased with Harris’ unaffected and powerful performance on his Maybeck solo piano album, and that CD is represented by Harris’ interpretation of “Blues For Rhonda.” The “Captain Bill” track features Harris’ Grammy-nominated big band tribute to Count Basie, their basic blues similarities in inspiration, if not in style, being illuminated. Harris’ long association with the Philip Morris Superband resulted in the tracks “Crème De Menthe” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Many of the tracks recall Harris’ quartet work with Ron Escheté on guitar, Luther Hughes on bass and Paul Humphrey on drums. And the compilation includes Harris’ final recordings with his daughter Nikki on Down Home Blues
and live at Seattle’s Jazz Alley with Red Holloway, Ernie Watts and Frank Potenza.
Throughout the 22 tracks of Gene Harris: The Best Of The Concord Years,
it’s obvious that Harris was irrepressible: He couldn’t help but project his positive personality through his music. Just by listening to him, the listener knew that Harris’ playing was honest and that he was as approachable in person as his music was on CD.