A 50-50 mixture of straight-ahead jazz and ethnic Scotch music makes for something rare and unusual. Rufus Harley was already clearly accomplished as a jazz tenor saxophonist in the early 1960s. Growing up in Philadelphia can do that to you. His tenor and flute work on The Pied Piper Of Jazz leave a favorable impression. The televised wake of President John F. Kennedy led to his learning the bagpipes. All those who watched were, no doubt, affected in some way. Harley’s decision to take up the instrument came from the heart of a man who continues today, at 64, to astonish audiences with his philosophy and his jazz bagpipes. Because of his strong beliefs and eccentric lifestyle, Harley has been compared to post-bop, avant-garde jazz artists who veer away from the mainstream. His music, despite the odd instrument, is much closer to dead center. It was Sonny Rollins who gave Harley his first big break in mid-1960’s jazz. Improvising over chord changes, the woodwind multi-instrumentalist has produced an interesting discography.
Represented on Label M’s compilation are several Atlantic albums from 1966-70. Besides his own handful of recordings, Harley has also appeared on albums by Herbie Mann, Sonny Stitt and others. He plays flute on “More,” soprano saxophone on “Kerry Dancers,” tenor on “Taurus the 20th” and bagpipes on the others. With Sonny Stitt on “Pipin’ the Blues,” Harley wails on both tenor and ‘pipes. Similarly, “Flute Bag,” with Herbie Mann, cooks before a live audience to Mann’s inspired improvisation. Harley’s perfomances through the compilation range from so-so to excellent: an uneven recording career. His interesting persona, however, and his rare jazz instrument create enthusiasm among jazz devotees. Harley has been featured on Bill Cosby’s television series, The Cosby Show, honored as a guest of President Bill Clinton, appeared as a headliner at the Ford Jazz Festival in Montreux just this past year, and continues to impress nightclub audiences with his free spirit.