It's one thing to admire and study the music of the bebop era. But Barry Harris lived it, becoming one of Detroit's best jazz pianists in the 1950s before relocating to the New York area — and eventually moving into the New Jersey estate where Thelonious Monk himself resided. At 80, Harris still speaks bebop as his musical language, though it's transformed in his hands into something supple, round, warm. And he got to showcase it live at the Village Vanguard this week, when NPR Music and WBGO broadcast and webcasted the Barry Harris trio live from the legendary New York club.
A trio was with Harris on his new recording, made live at a jazz festival in France. Live in Rennes spotlights Harris' friendly demeanor, introducing and even singing a series of standards, plenty of Monk tunes among them. On that disc, he plays with a pick-up rhythm section.
But Harris was with old friends here; drummer Leroy Williams has been a collaborator since the 1970s, and bassist Ray Drummond is a regular sight at the Village Vanguard. He certainly seemed comfortable in familiar surroundings: he was warm and effusive, greeting the audience after nearly every song with jovial banter, and even organizing a singalong at one point. And he treated all to a classy performance on the piano, beginning with deceptively simple takes on standards, and winding up with a series of originals. He also called pianist Michael Weiss to the stage to accompany him as he sang an original lyric, and invited one of his teenage students to guest star on a signature tune, "Nascimento."
Harris came of musical age in a Detroit jazz scene that produced fellow legends such as Thad Jones, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers and Yusef Lateef. His move to New York enabled him to record frequently with the top hard-bop musicians of the day, as well as giants of a previous generation like Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet. He's been on the scene ever since; in the 1980s, he even ran a rehearsal and performance space called the Jazz Cultural Theater.
These days, Harris is also highly regarded as a teacher, having guided thousands of students on many different instruments. But this week, he has a weeklong run at the Village Vanguard to demonstrate his performing side.
- "Heart And Soul" (Carmichael)
- "I Want To Be Happy" (Youmans)
- "These Foolish Things" (Strachey)
- "A Night In Tunisia" (Gillespie)
- "I'll Keep Loving You" (Powell)
- "Em-Barry-Harris-Able You" (Barry Harris)
- "3, 4, 6, 5" (Barry Harris)
- "Nascimento" (Barry Harris)
- "Pannonica" (Monk)
- Barry Harris, piano/vocals
- Ray Drummond, bass
- Leroy Williams, drums
- Michael Weiss, piano
- Andrew Andron, piano
- Josh Jackson, producer and host
- David Tallacksen, mix engineer
- Michael Downes, recording assistant