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Joel Harrison

As guitarist, composer and vocalist, Washington D.C. native Joel Harrison resists categorization: jazz, African and Indian, contemporary classical, blues and rock all have a place in his unique approach. Remarking on his eclectic approach All About Jazz concluded that “Harrison’s ability to integrate renders irrelevant the identification of his sources in compositions that range from edgy angularity to sheer beauty…he dispenses with boundaries and creates his own mélange that’s as timeless as it is thoroughly modern."

Harrison graduated from Bard College with a BA in composition and performance in 1980 studying with Joan Tower; in the ensuing years he worked privately with Allaudin Mathieu, Charlie Banacos, Ali Akbar Khan and others. While living in the San Francisco area in the 1990’s Harrison released two cd’s of original works for jazz octet and sextet, Range of Motion and Transience, as well as 3+3=7, works for three guitars and three percussionists featuring Nels Cline. After moving to New York City in 1999, he continued his headlong rush into ever-inventive bands and projects including: Free Country (radical renditions of old country and Appalachian music); Passing Train (pop/world/Americana songs); Harrison on Harrison (re-composed improvisations of the music of George Harrision featuring Dave Liebman), String Choir (string quartet and two guitars play music of Paul Motian), and The Wheel, an extended work for String quartet and jazz quartet plus guitar. He released a cd for Highnote Records entitled Harbor with renowned guitarist Nguyen Le, David Binney, and Jamey Haddad in 2007 and just released two new cds; The Wheel (jazz /classical) and Passing Train (songs)

Harrison is best known for his composing and arranging skills. He has twice been selected as the winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Julius Hemphill Composition Competition, and has been the recipient of grants from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Cary Trust, NYSCA, and others. His recent chamber works include solos for marimba, violin, and cello as well as a two movement work for four percussion and piano. Harrison has been a guest of the MacDowell and VCCA artist colonies. His allies in his various projects have included Dave Liebman, Mark Feldman, Marty Ehrlich, David Binney, Dan Weiss, Dewey Redman, Norah Jones, Uri Caine, Todd Reynolds, Wendy Sutter, Christian Howes, and Caleb Burhans.


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To underscore the sense of loss moving into something affirming, the suite closes with a memorial to an old friend of Harrison’s. In loss, he has learned to celebrate life, no matter how briefly it shines. Harrison wails a euology and the piece explodes in a frenzy of invention. His friend is alive in the music and all the players take part in the joyous wake. Never for a minute is the loss forgotten but the music offers promise and hope. What more can we expect? — Donald Elfman, All About Jazz

“Guitarist, composer and occasional vocalist, Joel Harrison, never ceases to surprise me with the amount and diversity of projects that he is involved in. Over ten or so discs, Joel has continually evolved. The Wheel might just be his best effort yet, it is one this year’s best discs.” — Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

"The Wheel’s greatest success is its absolute avoidance of division. This isn’t "jazz with strings," or "classical music with improvising musicians;” this is fully integrated music that has elements of both but feels like neither. That Harrison has written a suite of music that denies all borders and views music as one large continuum alone deserves attention. The remarkable group of players who can effortlessly navigate this challenging and ground-breaking music only makes it an even more essential listen." — John Kelman, All About Jazz

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Primary Instrument

Guitar, electric


New York City

Willing to teach

Advanced only


I have taught for many years all over composition, guitar, arranging, songwriting $75 to $100 an hour

Clinic/Workshop Information

I enjoy doing clinics in jazz pedagogy, composition, overall musicianship, guitar, incorporating many different streams of music into a singular voice, etc.



Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

The Great Mirage

ASG Recordings


Honoring Pat Martino,...

HighNote Records


Guitar Talk

AGS Recordings


America at War

Sunnyside Records


Resonant Bodies

Meta Records


Angel Band: Free...

HighNote Records



From: Resonant Bodies
By Joel Harrison

You Bring the Rain

From: Harbor
By Joel Harrison



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