Friday, November 20, 2009

BE BOP FOREVER

I've always wanted to interview you, Mr. Harris. There're so many questions I would ask you. For example, which do you love more playing be bop or teaching it? What be bop album changed your life? Who exposed you to the music? Was your teacher a taskmaster like saxophonist Donald Walden, and pianist Teddy Harris said you were? I heard you were a stickler. Walden told me that you gave be bop lessons to musicians who wanted to learn, but you would not allow any foolishness. Once you gave him a practice exercise. At the next lesson,the following day, you chewed him out because Walden did not have the assignment mastered. You dogged him so badly the saxophonist nearly cried, but after that he became a model pupil.

Before I go any further, I should tell you about myself. I'm Charles L. Latimer, a jazz journalist. I’ve written stories for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, about some of the Detroit born jazz musicians you taught. Mr. Harris, I don't own all your albums, but I do have three classics "Preminado", "Chasin' the Bird" and "Listen to Barry Harris...Solo". The latter I purchased Friday. I also have some recordings you graced. Do you remember making the album? It was your first solo album. You recorded it on December 7, 1960, and jazz critic Ira Gitler wrote the liner notes. Nowadays, few musicians and bands albums have liner notes.

Back in the day, liner notes were important. I used to read them while I listened to albums. I considered it part of the overall listening experience. Jazz critics such as Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, and Leonard Feather wrote informative liner notes. I felt as though I knew the musicians they wrote about personally. Today, Mr. Harris, all you get with an album is a bunch of photos. If you want information about a musician or a band, you have to consult myspace.com.

I enjoyed "Listen to Barry Harris...Solo". Your chops were on display. Pianists Art Tatum and Bud Powell, your boyhood idols, would have loved this album. I heard their influence when you played on "Louise", "Teenie", and "Anachronism". Like Tatum, you have an adventurous left hand, and you have Powell's sophistication. Listening to this album, I wondered if you locked yourself up in your practice room on a gloomy day and played the compositions on this album over and over. It appeared as if you had a special relationship with each song you selected.

Mr. Harris, I admire you a great deal. You love be bop unconditionally, and you haven’t stopped playing it. When hard-bop, free jazz, and fusion were fashionable,and many of your colleagues jump ship, you held tight to your be bop roots. The next time you are in Detroit, maybe we could have coffee, and talk about your career.
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