Jazz Legend & NEA Jazz Master Barry Harris
Releases New Live Trio Album,
Live in Rennes (Plus Loin Music)
July 20, 2010
Live in Rennes Is Harris’ First New Recording Since 2006
And Features His Unique Audience Participation Techniques
Album Release Coincides With A Weeklong Engagement
At The Village Vanguard in New York City
JULY 20-25, 2010
With Harris' Working Trio
(John Webber - bass; Leroy Williams - drums)
(John Webber - bass; Leroy Williams - drums)
Jazz fans who want their listening experiences to provide a snapshot of the artist’s personality are in for a treat. On Live in Rennes, piano legend Barry Harris not only offers a rich view of his improvising expertise, but a good dose of his well-known charisma as well. It’s said that live recordings are the truest views of the jazz art, and here, the 80-year-old bandleader gives us a long glimpse into the way he does business – informally, engagingly, wisely.
“The producers told me, ‘Barry, this one’s got something special about it,’ and I think it does,” says Harris. The pianist is a master of the bop language, having studied and absorbed its particulars during his early professional days in Detroit. When he got to New York in the 1960s, he had a particularly inventive grasp on the lingo forged by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. A tireless educator – his Jazz Cultural Theater was home to innumerable sessions that took place in a variety of contexts – he believes that once an audience knows a bit about the subject at hand, its enjoyment level is enhanced.
That’s what happens during “6, 5, 7, 3,” a piece that includes the participation of the French listeners. In an impromptu move, he builds a song around numbers supplied by the crowd. The music is pretty and the process is charming. Having the audience on his side is key to a successful gig says Harris.
“I really want to connect with the people. [Some bandleaders] stopped doing that, but we have to go back, definitely. You’ve gotta help the listeners, man; they don’t’ always know what’s happening. I played in Spain, in this one little town, and nobody was clapping. During the intermission, I went in the back and said “These people don’t know one song we’re playing, what should we do?” We started playing something that they know. It was “Besame Mucho.” All of a sudden they were clapping, and clapped for everything after that. You have to connect to people before you can lead them on, and I’m happy to do it.”
Another aspect of this educational strategy is having audiences understand key elements of the music’s canon. On this date Harris tips the hat to Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and his dear friend, Thelonious Monk. He has wonderful focus when it comes to essaying gems such as “Off Minor” and “Light Blue,” and makes a point of stumping for the masters who came before him. His reasoning is direct.
“I do it because they were the greatest, and we should learn from the greatest. From Monk to Horowitz, they wrote beautiful things and gave us the opportunity to explore advanced technical ideas. “Ruby, My Dear” – that’s such a pretty thing. Oh, my. Monk wrote some of the most beautiful tunes. “Pannonica,” too. When he died I went to the Angry Squire, and played all Monk tunes.”
With the ability to make bop sound both scintillating and soothing, there’s always been a sensitive undercurrent in Harris’s work. It all goes back to the graceful quality that centers his music. He says that even when playing uptempo romps like “Tea For Two” – a tune he believes he still hasn’t mastered – a certain balance is needed to get the job done right. It’s something he learned from another of his teachers.
“We don’t believe, necessarily, in playing with our fingers. Look up a book called Indispensables of Piano Playing, by Abby Whiteside. She said “don’t play with your fingers, but with your butt, your feet, and your whole body.” If you play only with your fingers, you’ll get real tired, like a Detroit factory worker. Everyone has tricks to get the job done. That’s one of ours.”
On Live in Rennes, bassist Mathias Allamane and drummer Philippe Soirat help Harris establish that informal vibe mentioned above. The pianist has played with some superb rhythm sections during his six-decade career, and he believes pliability is essential to eloquence.
“Yes, I’ve played with some greats - George Duvivier and all the rest. The best rhythms sections are all about feeling. One of our finest young drummers told me ‘I wish I could feel what you feel. I just don’t feel it.” And it’s true that some of the older kinds of swing are slipping away. As a pianist, I’ve always leaned more towards syncopation – it’s a certain feeling that isn’t on everyone’s radar anymore. I hope it doesn’t go away. I don’t think it will. The ultimate idea is to connect. I had to show some people in my class about tempo – the joy of tempo, I call it. I stress that.”
Ultimately, Live in Rennes reveals the mechanics of entertaining a crowd with a deep knowledge of spontaneous music making, and as you hear Harris sing along with “Nascimento,” that spirited approach becomes unmistakable. He’s a fan of creating in the moment.
“When we go out there, we can’t stop if we make a mistake, and say, ‘Oh, I messed up.’ Whatever you do is what you do. If it was corny, it’s going to be corny. But that’s part of the fun, right?”
Videos:Barry Harris Profile - 1985
Barry Harris' Website: http://www.barryharris.com/sitemap.htm
dig the jazz? here's a couple more hits -
- Vijay Iyer is releasing Solo on ACT Music on Aug. 31. Get more info here
- The Revive Da Live Big Band feat. Nicholas Payton Sexxtet and Talib Kweli concert is happening Thursday in NYC, tix are still available
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