Listen to BARRY HARRIS
Barry Harris (p) solos
Recorded in New York City; July, 1961
The Londonderry Air (4:10) (traditional/ arr. Harris)
Mutattra (3:14) (Barry Harris)
Louis (4:10) (Robin – Whiting)
Body and Soul (4:10) (Heyman – Sour – Green)
Ascension (3:48) (Barry Harris)
Anachronism (4:51) (Barry Harris)
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (4:53) (Rodgers and Hart)
Teenie (3:42) (Barry Harris)
Sphere (4:01) (Barry Harris)
Dancing in the Dark (2:07) (Dietz – Schwartz)
This is an unusual recording because it presents a modern pianist without benefit of accompaniment by bass and drums. This is somewhat like a “naked” reverse in football, where a halfback is conspicuously alone, without anyone to block for him. The intrepid ball-carrier here is Barry Harris, who in the ‘60s migrated to New York from Detroit an d proved to everyone that the near-legendary buildup he had been receiving for years was no exaggeration.
Recently, Barry and I spent an enjoyable afternoon listening to this album and to some old 78s and talking about the current state of the piano in jazz. “First they modified the left hand,” he said. “Then they modified the right hand and sat around playing funky little phrases all day long. If we’re going to play Star Eyes, let’s not play Star Eyes Blues.” (For a graphic example of Star Eyes, listen to the album entitled “Barry Harris at the Jazz Workshop”.)
This concern for the piano in general was one of the important factors which led Harris into this set of solos. It isn’t the firs time he has recorded this way (I Should Care in his second Riverside album, “Preminado,” is unaccompanied) but it is his first complete album in this manner.
“There is an art to playing the left hand,” says Barry. That art” could be Tatum. Certainly, Art exerted an influence on they young Harris, although not to the strong degree that Bud Powell did. Of course, Powell, himself, stems from Tatum and therefore Harris comes by Tatum from two directions. Because these are solos, the Tatum, imprint is far more evident than before. Playing unaccompanied was strictly the property of the older pianists and their style of left hand became a kind of model for anyone doing it alone.
Anachronism, which opens the second side here, is an example of the young, modern pianist playing in an older style. But this blues is not the only approach to solo piano that Harris uses here. On Ascension, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and Dancing in the Dark, he is closer to the straight-ahead that Bud Powell employed in that album of solos he did for Verve in the early ‘50s.
Londonderry Air was suggested by Tatum’s recording of Danny Boy (the title which that old tune acquired when it was fitted with lyrics). Mutattra is dedicated to Tatum although it is not in his style. This was written during the period of several months when Harris was rehearsing for this album. It is a memorial with warmth and genuine nostalgia.
Barry did Louise because “not too many people have played it.” Heretofore it has been known more as Maurice Chevalier’s and will probably remain so despite Harris’ fine performance. Body and Soul, an inherently beautiful tune, has constantly renewed itself through the years by the many playings it has received, and Harris’ sensitive piano only adds to its glory.
In Ascension, Barry shows off the swift, long-lined, thoughtful work, representing his personal interpretation of the Powell tradition. The ending is a direct doff of the cap to Bud. This number might be subtitled: “How to Swing Without a Rhythm Section.” And, like each of the several originals included here, it is an individual statement with a specific melodic content – not just a set of chord changes.
Anachronism is a rich blues which, despite its older aspects, does not find an uncomfortable Harris. Though Barry is not quite 32 as I write this, the styles of the pre-bob eras are not foreign to him and, as a result, his own efforts in this direction are unforced even if they are unexpected. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was finds him pensive and out of tempo for a chorus and then straight ahead for two. Notice the Monkish runs at the beginning of the second swinging chorus. The out-chorus proceeds in a forward manner until the bridge, when it reverts to the opening setting. Teenie, named for Barry’s wife, really has a Tatum feel in the opening chorus. It is reflective of the Tatum that came from Fats Waller and as such, has a bright, sunny melody.
S phere (Monk’s middle name) was written for Thelonious, a pianist who, incidentally, has a way of playing alone that’s all his own. This has stride sections mixed in with the elements present on the other tracks. Finally, there is Dancing in the Dark, which has an out of tempo introduction but then gets quickly into a medium-tempo swing in its melody statement. Harris’ fluid lines connect logically and beautifully to make this relatively abbreviated version a gem.
Barry admits he hasn’t reached a final solution on solo playing but if this album is any indication, it would seem that his direction lies in a synthesis of old and modern. Perhaps it will produce a new way of attacking the keyboard alone, and lead to more solo recitals by our younger pianists. Wherever it goes, Barry Harris has provided us with a great many pleasurable minutes in traveling there. He states: “I want to be one of the few – not one of the many.”
Other Harris albums on Riverside include –
Barry Harris at The Jazz Workshop; with Sam Jones, Louis Hayes (RLP 326; Stereo 1177)
Preminado; with Elvin Jones, Joe Benjamin (RLP 354; Stereo 9354)
He can also be heard on –
Them Dirty Blues: Cannonball Adderley Quintet (RLP 322; Stereo 1170)
(This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RLP 9392) and Monaural (RLP 392) form.)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded and mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York