sexta-feira, 2 de setembro de 2011

Eddie Harris - a multi-talented genius of music

Eddie Harris - a multi-talented genius of music
     Eddie Harris - saxophonist, vocalist, pianist, trumpeter, composer, and instrument
inventor, was one of the underrated heroes of jazz. Born in 1934 in Chicago, he started
his musical life as a singer in a Baptist church. Although he had a million seller
record with his version of the movie theme Exodus on the album “Exodus to Jazz”, he 
never really “cashed in” as a major touring artist.  Another key record was “Swiss
 Movement”, recorded live at the Montreux Festival with pianist Les McCann. This and 
Eddie’s band in the 60’s featuring electric piano, electric saxophone (one of Eddie’s 
many musical and electronic inventions) were the seeds of what became known as 
“jazz rock” and “jazz fusion”. One piece of evidence for this was that Eddie shared a bill 
with Miles Davis’ (then acoustic) band and very shortly afterwards Miles incorporated 
both the  electric piano and electronic effects into his concept, made famous worldwide 
with Miles’ Bitches Brew double album.
    I toured Europe for one memorable week with Eddie and long-time Thelonious Monk
bassist Larry Gales. Aside from many great stories about jazz artists, Eddie showed 
himself to be a warm and caring individual. Eddie told me that he was the person that
John Coltrane called for help with the mysteries of Nicolas Slonimsky’s monumental
music treatise, “A Thesaurus of Musical Scales and Patterns”. And Eddie said that
Coltrane liked to practice together with Eddie because “he liked my time”. He revealed
that the smash hit “Swiss Movement” concert was totally improvised on stage - Eddie, 
being a more than competent pianist, played looking at Les McCann’s hands and thus 
followed and anticipated the chord changes! Ever curious about all musical styles, 
Eddie went to Paris to study at the National Conservatory. His command of the tenor 

sax was so unusual that some professors at the school knocked on the door of the
room where he was practicing to ask Eddie what fingering he used to be able to play
5 B flats on the horn. Eddie replied, “If you don’t know how to do that, then maybe I 
should be teaching here!”.  When we met for the first rehearsal, he asked me “what do 
you want to play?” I replied, “whatever you want, but we got to play Freedom Jazz Dance."
Eddie told me, "Aw, I'm tired of playing that tune". I told him, "I don't care!" -
and we played it every night.
Eddie’s classic and eternally modern tune, covered by Miles on the 
“Miles Smiles” album and on Miroslav Vitous’ “Mountain in the Sky” session, among 
countless others, is a study in intervallic composition - coupled with an infectious funk 

beat. I found out on the tour that not only could Eddie sing everything that he played on 
the sax, but that he could imitate many instruments with his voice - a technique used
by Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau. In one of his vocal improvisations, he sang an entire 
drum solo, complete  with low, medium, and high toms! And when he felt like it, he could
make the tenor sound like an entire sax section by using all of its registers simultaneously
to create polyphonic textures without overdubs.
    Modern masters such as John Scofield acknowledged Eddie’s mastery by calling him 
as featured sideman on his “Hand Jive” album. And he is one of the most widely sam-

pled of jazzmen - by the likes of Jamiroquai and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Eddie was stylistically 
unclassifiable - recording funk, rhythm’n blues, bebop, bossa nova, latin jazz, avant 
garde, vocal numbers, and modern jazz. I will never forget him turning on the audiences
with his humorous vocal tune “Eddie Who?” as well as the endless creative ideas which
poured out of his sax night after night.
    Eddie’s discography is wide - including over 70 titles as a leader. Standouts include:
“The Electrifying Eddie Harris”, “Mean Greens”, “The Best of Eddie Harris”, “The Genius 
of Eddie Harris”, “Step Up with the Eddie Harris Quartet”, and co-leader sessions with
 Ellis Marsalis and John Klemmer. And he patented numerous musical inventions includ-
ing the Varitone, which enabled the sax to play with a second octave doubling the line 
and a device which enabled the sax to sound like a 5 part sax section, as well as reed 
trumpets and saxophones, all of which he handcrafted at his home. Eddie revealed to 
me that he ghost wrote many Hollywood film scores (signed by other composers). He 
also published seven books of his musical ideas and compositions. Always independ-
ent, always honest, always a trendsetter, Eddie Harris summed up his musical philoso
phy - “I’m not hung up on fads, for the simple reason that they stunt my growth”.

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