A great man, an excellent artist, a world-renowned teacher: Barry Harris, ‘The Keeper Of The Flame Of Bebop’


“When bebop crystallized into an identifiable style during the early 1940’s, one of its traits was a terrifying speed, which could make the music seem manic and impersonal. Barry Harris, the 64-year-old pianist who has spent a career playing this music with an almost religious regard for its rules and bylaws, changed that entirely. In his hands, bebop becomes gentle. He plays it slowly, with consideration; he lets each phrase linger, exposing a lyricism that with other artists is just a blur. He plays the music kindly. ‘Barry is basically a romantic person, both in the way he writes and plays and the way he leads his life,’ said the saxophonist Jimmy Heath, a contemporary of Mr. Harris’s. ‘His students pay very little because Barry is more concerned about spreading the music around than financial gain. When we started playing music, we didn’t expect we’d get rich. We started because we loved music and decided that this was what we were going to do for the rest of our life. That’s what kind of feeling Barry brings to his work.’ He spent years with Cannonball Adderley and Coleman Hawkins. It was clear that he was a special pianist, one who could make bebop profound. Mr. Heath calls him ‘the keeper of the flame of be-bop.’ ‘He continues to play the bebop language exclusively,’ Mr. Heath said. ‘He didn’t think that it was necessary to change anything. He is so enamored with that language that he wants to speak it for the rest of his life.’” (extract from “THE NEW YORK TIMES “Be-Bop’s Generous Romantic” by Peter Watrous, 28th May 1994).

Barry Doyle Harris, born in Detroit (Michigan) on 15th December 1929, one of the most world-renowned jazz pianists, composers and teachers, goes on keeping the “flame of bebop” alive. Since the second half of the 20th century the “flame” has risked to be put out by new music genres and new jazz styles, but it still burns thanks to his work. He is considered to be the foremost interpreter of the music of Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron and Thelonious Monk:

He prides himself on understanding and teaching bebop as it was played by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell; that was the music, as heard at dance halls in the 1940s in his native Detroit, that changed his life. He often talks about it, and not as an academic matter; he’s remembering falling in love. ‘When I first saw Charlie Parker, first he played every note on the horn, and then he really started playing. And – you know how this happens – the chill started in my feet.” (extract from “The New York Times”, written by Ben Ratliff, 29th April 2009).

In the 1970s Harris has lived with Monk in New Jersey, at the Weehawken, home of the jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Barry Harris has played with several jazz giants; Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and Coleman Hawkins are just some of them.
Barry Harris appreciates classical music and identifies its composers (in particular J.S.Bach and, as a romantic player, F.Chopin) very important to inspire jazz.

He has recorded 19 albums as a lead artist and played in other recordings with: Cannonball Adderley, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, Max Roach, Illinois Jacquet, Lee Morgan, Charles McPherson, Dave Allyn, Charlie Bird, Joshua Breakstone, Donald Byrd, Al Cohn, Sonny Criss, Ronnie Cube, Kenny Dorham, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Ted Harris, Louis Hayes, Jimmy Heath, Eddie Jefferson, Carmell Jones, Clifford Jordan, Sam Jones, Thad Jones, Sonny Red Kyner, Harold Land, Yusef Lateef, Warne Marsh, Howard McGree, Billy Mitchell, Hank Mobley, James Moody, Wild Bill Moore, Sal Nistico, Sam Noto, Akira Ohmori, Dave Pike, Red Rodney, Frank Rosolino, Eric Schneider, Don Wilkerson.

Suggested albums: Barry Harris At The Jazz Workshop (Riverside, 1960), Recorded live in San Francisco with Sam Jones, Louis Hayes ; Preminado (Riverside, 1961) Barry Harris Trio with Elvin Jones and Joe Benjamin  and Live In Rennes (Plus Loin Music, 2010), recorded live in France with Mathias Allamane and Philippe Soirat.
Complete discography on: www.barryharris.com and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Harris.

Harris appears in the documentary movie, produced by Clint Eastwood, “Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser” (1989) to tell his friend and pianist colleague’s life. He has performed duets with Tommy Flanagan. In 2000 Barry’s carrier was profiled in the movie “Barry Harris: Spirit of Bebop”.

He has devoted his life to the advancement of Jazz and in the 1980s founded the “Jazz Cultural Theatre”(08.14.1982 – 08.14.1987).

List of recognition awards for outstanding devotion to music and education:

10.22.2000 – Dr. Harris inducted into the American Jazz Hall of Fame for lifetime achievements & contributions to the world of Jazz – NJ Jazz Society Institute of Jazz Studies
The State University of New Jersey-Rutgers

04.24.1999 – 
1999 Mentor Award – Manhattan Country School

09.19.1998 – Lifetime Achievements Award For Contributions To The Music World from the National Association of Negro Musicians – The High Cs of Westchester, Inc Branch, Tarrytown, NY

09.15.1998 – Congratulatory Letter as a Jazz Musician and Educator – U.S. White House

05.24.1998 – Flo-Bert Award – NY Community Celebrates National Tap Dance Day at Town Hall

10.26.1997 – Dizzy Gillespie Achievement Award – The Bloomingdale Area Coalition

09.27.1997 – Recognition of Excellence in Jazz Music and Education – The World Stage and Leimert Park, California

11.13.1996 – Living Legacy Jazz Award presentato al John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing a Washington D.C. – The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Presented by Alan W. Cooper – Executive Director

12.14.1995 – Doctor of Arts – Honorary Degree – Northwestern University (board of Trustees)

Nov. 1995 – Special Presidential Award Recognition of Dedication and Commitment to the Pursuance of Artistic Excellence in Jazz Performance and Education – International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE)

09.19.1995 – Honorary Jazz Award – House of Representatives

07.08.1995 – Acknowledgment for Past and Present Contribution to Jazz – The Greater Jamaica Development Corp

05.15.1995 – Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education – International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) – Tokyo, Japan

11.29.1994 – NY University SCE Jazz Fellow Award – New York University

1993 – Jazz Camp – Jazz Masters Award – City Stages – Birmingham Festival

10.24.1993 – The Heritage Award – Cultural Crossroads Inc. Brooklyn, NY

04.25.1993 – Musician & Humanitarian Award – Harlem School of the Arts

02.21.1993 – The John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie Memorial – Transfiguration Lutheran Church, Harlem, NY

12.05.1992 – Family Award for Musical Excellence (FAME) – Manna House Workshops, Inc.

02.24.1992 – Contributions to Dance Award – T. Pratt & NY Dance Association

1991 – North Sea “Bird” Award – Jazz Musician of the Year Jazz Festival Congress Centre, The Hague Holland

June 1991 – Certificate of Appreciation Award for Devotion to Children and Education – P.S. 289 Chorus

03.24.1990 – Recognition of Devotion to the Growth of Children – District 17 Choir – Brooklyn, NY

1989 – Award For Excellence In The Arts – Manhattan Borough President: David N. Dinkins

10.12.1984 – 
A Tribute to Independent and Progressive Educators – NY Institute for Social Therapy and Research

12.02.1983 – Jazz Master Award – The Afro-American Museum, Philadelphia, PA

04.30.1982 – For the Preservation and Proliferation of “The Jazz Heritage” – The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

He continues to perform and teach as a guest lecturer at the Universities and at various musical venues all over the world. When he is not travelling, he holds weekly music workshop sessions in New York City for vocalists, students of piano and other instruments. Barry Harris personifies the ideal “music teacher”: modest, willing and with extraordinary communicative skills. A great teacher who immediately establishes a certain connection with each student. Harris is the teacher that everybody should have: he is able to alternate moments of intense concentration on practical and theoretical aspects and moments of joy playing all together and listening to the events of his life.

His lectures and interactive instrument and vocal workshops focus on the complete aspects of music including improvisation, harmonic movement and theory and allow professionals and students of different levels to take inspiration from them (just to mention some: Roni Ben Hur, Vahagn Hayrapetyan, Luigi Grasso and Pasquale Grasso).

Maybe you are wondering how can I judge him from a teaching point of view. Well, I simply write about what I saw and lived in first person as a student at the workshops (in June 2012 and in June 2013) organized by the “Accademia di Alta Formazione Musicale” in Verona (www.formazionemusicale.it Roberto Cetoli board of education of instrumental modern and jazz branch, Karin Mensah board of education of the vocal one).
Learning directly by the person who created the jazz and left a mark in didactics and in music history is a unique, fantastic and unforgettable experience. I remember as if it were yesterday the magnificent “Barry Harris Trio” concert (Luca Pisani – double bass; Oreste Soldano – drums) in Verona. It looked to be in the ‘40s and ‘50s,  at the bebop and hardbop time, in a party scene and shared cheerfulness.

In my head resounds the tune of Nascimento (written by Harris), sung and danced by the audience to wish ‘goodbye and see ya all at the next Barry Harris Jazz Workshop’. ’Cause each workshop is different, there is always something new and surprising to learn by the great teacher.

Music Wall advises you the imminent and unmissable BARRY HARRIS JAZZ WORKSHOP inROME (Italy):


FROM MON 17 TO FRI 21 MARCH2014 @“Felt Music club & school”



Anna Pantuso +39-339 3383139 annapantuso@hotmail.com

Luciano Fabris +39-328 6748724 lucianofabris@hotmail.com


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pianist and singer-songwriter "The Rovers" acoustic trio #pop #folk http://theroversband.wix.com/the-rovers /// jazz singer "Liza & The Brothers" #jazz trio http://lizathebrothers.wix.com/liza-and-thebrothers /// classical piano /// foreign languages