During the decades since rising to fame with the Three Sounds in the early 1960's, pianist Gene Harris always stuck true to his singular musical vision…the blues. A masterful pianist with a titanic technique, Harris' every chorus radiated the blues. His solos were melodic, accessible and swinging yet quite sophisticated and full of personal ideas, his own chord voicings, flavored with the church. While the listener has a good idea what to expect from a Gene Harris record, the pianist never fails to surprise.
Gene Harris was born September 1, 1933 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he was first attracted to music when he was four. Locally, Harris was attracted to the music of bandleader Charles Metcalf's group and was inspired to try to pick out songs on the piano. Harris also enjoyed the music he heard in church and the boogie- woogie records of his parents (one can detect Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons all over Harris' playing). Swing, gospel and blues combined in a humid eutectoid to form the rue of his piano style.
Harris quickly developed as a pianist, having many opportunities to play music while serving in the Army (1951 - 54). Following his discharge he originally formed the Four Sounds, who by 1956 abandoned their original plan to include a tenor-saxophonist and renamed themselves the Three Sounds. Joining Harris in the original line up of the band was bassist Andy Simpkins (1932 - 1999) and drummer Bill Dowdy (b. 1933).
For the next 15 years, the trio made many notable recordings for Blue Note and other labels as well as supporting such musicians as Lester Young, Lou Donaldson, Nat Adderley, Johnny Griffin, Anita O'Day, Stanley Turrentine and Sonny Stitt, among others. In 1973, the Three Sounds disbanded, leaving Harris to pursue a solo career from which he retired to Boise, Idaho in 1977 where he continued to perform locally.
Harris' retirement was short lived, coming to an end when the pianist was asked by vibraphonist Milt Jackson to join him on the recording Soul Route (Pablo, 1984/2002). This led to Harris' fruitful collaboration with bassist Ray Brown, leading to Harris' association with Concord Records and the release of a string of well- received recordings as leader.
In 1996 Boise, Idaho business leaders, educators and musicians lead by Gene Harris the Gene Harris Endowment, providing scholarships for jazz music students at Boise State University. In 1998, this group continued their commitment by forming the Gene Harris Jazz Festival. Gene brought together the best jazz artists to perform in public concerts at night and work with aspiring young musicians during the day. Entering its eleventh season the Gene Harris Jazz Festival remains a major focus of the Gene Harris Endowment.