"Harris has worked to refine the creative push and pull of a music that demands it." - The Boston Globe
Pianist/composer Kevin Harris thrives on interaction and collaboration; "participation," he says, "is what keeps our souls alive." This attitude, not to mention his immense talent, has led to prolific sideman work with the likes of trumpeter Avishai Cohen, Steve Langone, Eddie Gomez Marco Pignataro, Carlos Averhoff Jr., Richie Barshay, Duane Eubanks, Ben Street, Ralph Peterson, Ralph Bowen, Jason Palmer, Jerry Bergonzi, Cecil McBee, Francisco Mela, Bob Moses, Warren Wolf, George Garzone and Terri Lyne Carrington.
Most recently, Harris has been invited by Danilo Perez for the second year to participate as a performer and clinician at The Panama Jazz Festival. Harris will also be in Europe, where he has toured since 2008, where he is scheduled to conduct clinics and concerts. He will also be performing at the Cambridge River Jazz Festival with Terri Lyne Carrington on June 1, 2013. Harris has released three albums under his own leadership, The Butterfly Chronicles (2007), Freedom Doxology (2008) and Chapters (2010). On February 26, 2013, Harris proudly releases his new recording, Museum Vol. 1, a collection of original compositions, or "exhibits", plus songs by Bob Marley and Wayne Shorter, featuring Richie Barshay, Steve Langone (drums), Kendall Eddy (acoustic bass), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Rick DiMuzio (tenor saxophone) and himself on piano, Fender Rhodes and vocals.
Kevin Harris' life and music are lessons in duality, in the idea of having your cake and eating it too. The pianist/composer simultaneously embraces and expresses the influence of Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker and Danilo Perez, alongside J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Scott Joplin, and the folkloric rhythms of Cuba. Harris' playing, his very being, also presents a contrast informed by geography: the understated elegance, soulfulness and deep personal family history of his native Kentucky coalesces with the elevated energy and hustle and bustle of his adopted home town, Boston, Massachusetts (and New York City, where he is spending part of his time these days), to form a highly unique person and musician. Harris has also garnered praise and recognition for his distinctive combination of traditional and contemporary music, within which he consistently, and naturally, explores these various elements of his life.
With the upcoming release of Museum Vol. 1, Harris introduces us to another side of his artistry, the influence and "collaboration" with visual art, specifically its presentation, inspired by his wife's, and now his, love and passion for art. The album is, "a personal collection of concepts in song form, with each piece an exhibition for you to experience," explains Harris. He elaborated, "imagine a museum occupied with exhibits of your most courageous dreams and your most challenging fears. In each room, hang collections and recollections of continually changing architecture that perfectly frame your greatest adventures past, present, and future."
Museum Vol. 1 opens majestically with Exhibit 1, "The Nile", a song about our similarities with the great river, and about embracing the changing tides of our daily lives to find the flow and patterns that make us stronger. It is followed by "Pinched Nerve", a contemporary blues celebration about a painful pinched nerve that Harris battled with and won. Up next is Wayne Shorter's "Prince of Darkness", that for Harris is, "one of the many compositions that invokes the courageous spirit that art is fluid, powerful and cannot be measured."
"Darkness" is followed by sunshine, as in, "You Are My Sunshine"; a brilliant, adventurous arrangement dedicated to Harris' wife Luisa. "She is a sincere and joyful mirror never afraid to express her thoughts. My newfound appreciation and perspective for museums pretty much rests as a result of her honest and unapologetic passion for art that challenges complacency. Her perspective on our friendship is equally honest. One of her favorite works of art is an oil canvas by the surrealist Salvador Dali titled "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus." Infatuated with his own image in a pool of water, Narcissus passed the days fixated on his image unable to break away. It's easy to become fixated on what we label important but there's nothing better than a friend in life to keep you honest and changing. Luisa is without question, that very special friend for me. Not only should she receive the credit for inspiring this arrangement but she also gets credit for the title of this album," said Harris.
Museum Vol. 1 continues with Exhibit 5, "The Dinosaur Suite", an eerily evocative tune that Harris explains straightforwardly, "enjoy the exhibit and try to stay alive". Harris is an artist that is comfortable taking on social issues, and is a pianist that is more than comfortable singing, as we hear in his heartfelt vocals on Bob Marley's masterpiece, "Redemption Song." In the liner notes to this album, Harris poses some very important questions in relation to this song, such as, "what forms of slavery still exist in our times and what are we doing about it?", and "how do we assist the meek amongst our social and economic ranks to move forward triumphantly?".
Mr. Kevin Harris eloquently explains the last two "exhibits" on the recording, which both display a profound personal meaning for him: Exhibit 7, Bluegrass. Description: A tulip poplar tree in the center of the room with a northern cardinal perched at its top and a viceroy butterfly at its base. I hope that when you enter this room, the first thing you'll feel is a soft summer breeze across your face, a breeze that carries a peaceful melody. Yes, this melody conveys the depth of my Kentucky roots. Roots that are an immovable strength that stem from my mother, father, brothers, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandmothers, and grandfathers. Roots that spring forth from the unwavering faith of my teachers and the steadfast promise of my ancestors who did not toil in vain. There is an indescribable beauty, strength, and pain that flow from the history of my home state. A beauty that is rich and courageous in its landscape. A beauty that is also dark and haunting that has taught me to hold my head high.
Exhibit 8, BBBB - (Brown Bean Barnyard Boogie). Description: A boombox in the middle of the room with a mixing spoon on top). If one could manage to capture the soulful articulations of Aretha Franklin and James Brown and put them in a huge wooden pot, mix them with the intricate dialogue of Los Munequitos de Matanzas, add the wonderfully seasoned aroma of my mothers green beans and Charles Little's peach cobbler, add two tablespoons of my fathers strong embrace, pour 1/2 cup of my 2011 family reunion joyfulness, thoroughly mix this jubilant combination briskly while pouring its contents into a dual cassette boombox and this song is what you'd get! Side A, press play . . .
JazzTimes Magazine says, "Harris possesses a spare style and gentle touch", and The Boston Globe states that "Harris has worked to refine the creative push and pull of a music that demands it." One of the captivating elements of his group is the level of comfort and understanding they have with one another as they dive into passionate music conversations as well as playful exchanges. Both his live performances and his recordings reflect Harris's determination to capture his audience through thoughtful music interactions and soaring solo sections.
Harris performs at renowned national and international venues such as The Blue Note (NYC and Milan), Scullers Jazz Club, The Regatta Bar, Wang Theatre, Jordan Hall, Berklee Performance Center, Wally's Jazz Café and many others. He has also participated at Jazz Festivals in Panama, Havana, and Boston.
Kevin holds a master's degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory and an undergraduate degree in music education (Morehead State University, KY). At The NEC, he studied with Fred Hersch, Mike Cain, Cecil McBee, George Garzone, and Danilo Perez, and performed with George Russell, Benny Golson and Bob Brookmeyer. After graduation, Harris worked at defining himself and his music through partnerships with key musicians and also studying and arranging the music of masters in the jazz and classical realms. The perpetual search for growth and new expression is clearly evident on his recorded works.
Harris is currently on the faculty at Berklee College of Music where he teaches piano, jazz ensembles, and summer theory classes; in previous years he has also taught classes at the Boston Arts Academy, and collaborated with the North Eastern University Fusion Art's Program teaching students from Brazil, India, and South Africa. Committed to the community and to getting youth involved in music, Kevin has conducted clinics and master classes in both public and private schools throughout the USA and abroad. In 2000 he started five separate band programs with help from "Arts In Progress," a Boston based arts organization.