History will likely remember pianist and educator Barry Harris as the foremost follower of the preternaturally brilliant Bud Powell, who all but invented bebop piano, proving himself the equal of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie before he'd turned 21. The fact that Harris has spent a career honing his idol's unreconstructed vision of bop speaks volumes about the Herculean magnitude of the task, as well as the singularity of his accomplishment--more than any of the myriad pianists Powell influenced, Harris "sounds like Bud," conjuring the master's jackhammer attack, unexpected harmonic pastels, and superhuman ability to sculpt even the fastest, most complex passages by varying the weight of practically every note. But I think history would do well to note what he's brought to the table himself. Harris, who turned 72 earlier this month, came of age in postwar Detroit--a hotbed of jazz activity that produced a distinctive regional sound, represented by such artists as guitarist Kenny Burrell, trumpeter Donald Byrd, trombonist Curtis Fuller, and reedist Yusef Lateef; they combined bebop's edge with the smooth muscularity of urban soul in a way that both foreshadowed and influenced the soul-jazz movement. This Detroit connection gave Harris an extra cachet in the 50s and 60s, a period that found him relocating to New York to work with Cannonball Adderley and soul-jazz icon Lee Morgan. More importantly, it also gave him the means to transcend mere imitation: even Powell's most lyrical melodies retained the cavernously angular contours innate to bebop, but over the years, drawing on his background in the Detroit jazz scene, Harris has found ways to round off the corners without altering their angles. Has he lost a step at top tempos? Of course. Does it matter? Not to me. Thursday, January 3, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, January 4 and 5, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, January 6, 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 Abbott.