In the 1950s, no homegrown jazz scene could top Detroit’s, which sent New York the likes of Kenny Burrell, Betty Carter, Elvin Jones, and Yusef Lateef–as well as the particularly inspired and influential pianists Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, and Barry Harris. Of the three, Harris is the one whose playing remained closest to its original model: the pure, sculpted bebop of Bud Powell. His mastery of Powell’s style–the spring-loaded attack, the shrouded harmonies, the individually weighted notes in even the fastest runs–is impressive enough in itself. But Harris is more than an acolyte: his sound has always been his own, with an unmistakable strain of soulful Detroit. You can hear it on classic 60s recordings like Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Dexter Gordon’s Gettin’ Around (from the period when Harris shared the house-pianist job at Blue Note with Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner) and on his own discs, including the most recent, a quintet date called Live in New York (Reservoir, 2003). Though Harris has over the years developed a sure feel for calypso rhythms, and his ballad work can break your heart, it’s bebop’s sense of infinite melodic possibility that continues to drive his playing. He turns 75 this year, and his age shows in his choice of tempos. But it shows too in the lyrical quality of his improvising: measured, reflective, and madly alive. Friday and Saturday, January 2 and 3, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, January 4, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Abbot.