Theatre

Barry Harris is not exactly a household name unless you are a Jazz musician. He is a gifted piano player who goes back far enough to have played with Charlie Parker. However, I think his personal greatest achievements are actually as an educator. Barry Harris is the authority from which to learn Jazz.

I was able to attend the Straight Ahead Jazz Camp at Jazz Institute of Chicago located within Columbia College. They day I attended, I sat through four different classes. Three featured Mr. Harris.

The first session of the day was appropriately called “The Truth About Jazz”. Barry lays down the law concerning music profoundly citing, “Jazz is the continuation of Classical.” I say Jazz is just The Blues with an education - the education coming from Classical music. Harris spoke of how much of the rules of music are not taught correctly. I agree with that. He even joked around a bit saying, “I shouldn’t teach students, only teachers.” Most music teachers I have met in my years as a growing musician could certainly learn a thing or two from Barry Harris.

“The Truth About Jazz” was followed with story time between Harris and Joe Segal, the owner of Jazz Showcase. The two musicians, aged eighty-eight and ninety-one years old, offered captivating accounts from there many years in the industry, as well as some really strong opinions about Jazz. One would be fortunate to learn from a great such as Harris and Segal. It’s also fascinating from a historical standpoint when you realize that these gentlemen are some of the last links to the era. With only a handful left in Chicago, I was amazed to hear about how many Jazz clubs there were at one time. Hearing the two Jazz great talk was not only eye-opening, it could easily make one long to have lived and participated in the days when Jazz was still so fresh and widespread.

After the highly stimulating two-man panel had ended, I sat in on a Jazz Improvisation class. That was interesting. It is always nice to be reminded that there still are people out there studying music. It’s so easy to let machines make music these days. I’m sure Mr. Harris would agree with me when I say art and music classes are very important. It is beneficial to learn things in school other than the basics. Fact is, kids who learn music do better in their other subjects. I am very appreciative that there are centers like the Jazz Institute of Chicago out there for people to hone their musical ability and where creativity is encouraged.

The last class I attended was a jam session hosted by Mr. Harris. I had hoped Mr. Harris would be playing but such was not the case. Rather, it was a mix of students and attendees performing with Mr. Harris directing traffic. It was a thrill to see the renowned keeper of the flame of bebop pianism leading such fine musicianship!

I would like to thank the people there running the workshop. It was an awesome experience that got better and better as the day progressed. Jazz Institute of Chicago is a wonderful environment for all musicians alike. Some of the students were “scary” good if you understand what I mean. It kind of blows my mind seeing young people who like Jazz. It’s unlikely the genre of music fell into their lap. No. These are people that had to look for it, which somehow adds a greater appreciation for its students. And the fact that Barry Harris is still teaching helps keep the form alive. Hopefully, some of these talented young people will continue and master the practice so that years from now they become the next teachers.

Barry Harris was recognized as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989.

For more information on the Jazz Institute of Chicago or to see their upcoming list of events, visit www.jazzinchicago.org. You can also learn more about Barry Harris at www.barryharris.com.

Published in BCS Spotlight

 

 

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