Barry Harris | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Barry Harris 

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BARRY HARRIS

As a teenager, even before he met the man, Barry Harris had heard and absorbed the music of Bud Powell, who all but invented bebop piano and who had proved himself the equal of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie by the time he could vote. Powell's brilliance would illuminate Harris's path, both as a player and as a widely respected teacher, for the next 55 years. In jazz, a musical idiom that emphasizes the new and original, this compliment might seem a bit backhanded but for two salient points. First, the ability to "play like Bud Powell"--to really capture the spring-loaded attack, the shrouded pastels of the harmonies, the varying weight between individual notes of even the fastest runs, and the Byronic command of bebop's poetry--transcends mere imitation. Second, from the beginning Harris has tempered his devotion with the soulful sound that distinguished the jazz of his native Detroit in the 50s, both on his own records and on the Blue Note recordings that featured him as a sideman in the 60s (most notably Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder). Hearing Harris play bebop is like having Suzette herself serve the crepes: he effortlessly evokes the music's first flower, and this does more than just speed us back to the era celebrated during Charlie Parker Month (August at the Jazz Showcase). It also reminds us how fresh bebop can sound when presented not by callow copycats, but by the people who created it as a relevant response to the world around them. Harris's trio includes a contemporary, drummer Wilbur Campbell, and bassist extraordinaire Larry Gray. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by James Gudeman.

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