Barry Harris: 'Last Master' Of Bebop

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These days, Barry Harris gives a lot of pointers to students. Yann Peucat hide caption

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Barry Harris

These days, Barry Harris gives a lot of pointers to students.

Yann Peucat
"One thing — we've got to develop a young audience, because everything being against us, the average youngster knows nothing about jazz, and doesn't care to know anything about it, and is quite prejudiced against it without ever hearing it, or anything like that. ... They don't like us, and they haven't heard us. And that's really a drag."
Barry Harris, 1985

That epigraph was recorded for a film 25 years ago, and its message is awfully familiar to jazz lovers today. That makes it even more important that Barry Harris is still around. As a musician, he became fascinated with bebop when it arrived, and never stopped playing it. As a teacher, he's become fascinated with passing on those lessons, teaching and mentoring thousands of students.

This Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET, NPR Music and WBGO are live broadcasting/webcasting the first set of the Barry Harris trio from the Village Vanguard. Josh Jackson of WBGO and I will be in the chat room during the show; we'll also have a recording and photos the next day if you miss the live experience. (UPDATE: Josh Jackson interviews him here.)

In preparing for that, I've become fascinated by a few video clips about and featuring Harris. The quotation above, for instance, was captured in a 1985 film, and excerpted in the following profile made by Jazz Legacy Films. A lot of his peers weigh in with stories, and there's even video from his appearance on The Joe Franklin Show.


Here's an interesting clip, ostensibly aired on NBC News, profiling Harris in 1985. Among the highlights is a look inside his Jazz Cultural Theater, a small New York storefront club/rehearsal space open in the mid-'80s. It's also where the camera captures him telling (off) some modern jazz musicians, "If you're going to call this music, I'm going to insist that it's not jazz." Harris is a bebop devotee — this '85 piece calls him "the last master" of the style — and, might I say, he's got plenty of gravitas where that comes from.


And here's a bit of him playing solo piano on "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Personally speaking, I remember that the recording of Harris' solo piano concert at Maybeck Recital Hall got me interested in this man's playing in the first place. I must have been 16 or 17, and a piano instructor of mine told me to check him out. So I looked for what the Milwaukee County Federated Library System had on file, and found that disc. I remember being stunned at what he could do in the hyperspeed vein of Bud Powell — but listening to this clip, I need to find that CD again to listen to the ballads.


Related At NPR Music: Once again, the Barry Harris Trio live at the Village Vanguard, July 21, 9 p.m. ET.



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