Donald Harrison announces new music, honorary doctorate, interviews, live concerts and more


As the jazz world slowly emerges from the more than a year old pandemic, New Orleans-born alto saxophonist Donald Harrison – the critically acclaimed innovative musician with four decades of experience as an instrumentalist, Sideman and frontman who worked with everyone from The Jazz Messengers to Art Blakey and salsa legend Eddie Palmieri, to legendary rapper Notorious BIG – sparked a flurry of new projects, along with some big news.

On May 8, Harrison received an honorary doctorate in music from his Alma Mater, Berklee College of Music, as part of the virtual re-entry of 2021. As President Roger Brown has stated, Harrison received his doctorate for “his creativity, innovation and lasting impact on jazz ”. Accepting his award, Harrison said how heartwarming it was to “receive an honorary doctorate and have the opportunity to share my experiences with our students, their parents, guardians and advocates of music.”

Harrison is featured in the New Orleans R&B standard’s new global video production, “Iko Iko,” produced by the Playing for Change Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit dedicated to creating music and art schools for children around the world, and to create hope and inspiration for the future of our planet. The video features musicians from Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama, Costa Rica, Italy, Japan, Los Angeles and New Orleans, with Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann (both from The Grateful Dead), Ivan Neville, the late Dr. John and Harrison, singing and playing the saxophone in his beautiful Congo Nation costume, inspired by New Orleans. Watch the video on

“I’m an Afro-New Orleans cultural participant,” Harrison says. “I know the secrets that go back to Africa, and how they were used in jazz, and I’m probably the only jazz musician who does.” Harrison formed Congo Nation, an Afro-New Orleans cultural group in 1999, and learned these songs from his father, Donald Sr.

Harrison is also set to release his first single of the year, titled “Upper Stratus”, his rendition of John Coltrane’s intricate and supersonic 1959 composition, “Countdown”, from Harrison’s last two-disc CD, The Eclectic Jazz Revolution of Unity. “What I noticed about John Coltrane was he was basically playing eight notes on ‘Giant Steps’ and ‘Countdown’, … said Harrison,” so I figured out how to add all those other ones. little spaces where you double up, play through time and put shapes inside the shapes, and to my surprise the musicians say I took Trane to another perspective. “

Harrison’s latest CD also includes “Stepper’s Paradise,” a groovy track composed for the Chicago-based urban dance genre called Steppin, “which features his daughter Victoria Harrison on vocals. The compilation also includes” Congo Square, “an opus. three-part symphony composed and recorded with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in 2015. “The first movement is a song with drums and percussion,” says Harrison. “The second movement features the orchestra using these actual songs from Congo Square, and the third movement presents the jazz group with the symphony orchestra. “

The saxophonist’s other recent releases include his multi-genre single, “The Magic Touch,” which combines two versions of the composition – an acoustic version from 2007 with pianist Victor Gould and a 2005 smooth jazz track with trumpeter Chris Botti. , guitarist Chuck Loeb and members of the soul band Maze. In 2019, Harrison released his swing, straightforward version of Lil Nas X’s hit single, “Old Town Road.”

During his four decades on the scene, Harrison has contributed to three genres on the jazz continuum. He created an Upsouth version of his hometown parade rhythms called New York Second Line, which was the title of the 1983 album he co-directed with Terence Blanchard. In the 90s, he launched his concept of Nouveau Swing: his mixture of jazz accents of soul, jazz, Afro-Caribbean, soul and hip-hop, which can be heard on the albums Nouveau Swing and Free to Be. At the start of the 21st century, he unveiled his concept of quantum jazz on his 2010 CD, Quantum Leap, where “African drums had a connection to quantum physics, as West African drummers are connected to the ‘universe,’ says Harrison, ‘which led me to understand that we think of music in two dimensions, and through Quantum Jazz, I can hear music in four dimensions, with new ideas in time in all directions. “

Harrison is on TV and the big screen. He featured in Christopher Wallace / Notorious BIG Netflix’s recent documentary Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell as the rapper’s early music teacher. “Initially, I was trying to prepare Chris to be a jazz artist because he was so talented,” Harrison explains in the documentary. “One of the things we worked on was putting what a snare drum was doing in the bebop to the beat of a rhyme. We listened to Max Roach with Clifford Brown… Max has a very melodic way of playing. drums … Notorious BIG emphasized those notes in a way that exudes all the qualities of a bebop drummer. ” Harrison has also mentored numerous musicians, including his nephew, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty and Jon Batiste.

“I remember trying to figure things out musically, trying to figure out how to lead a band, how to be a performer, how to play my instrument to the highest level possible. Donald Harrison is considered one of the most great educators over the past 50 years for anyone, in any style of music, ”Batiste said of his mentor.

In the HBO series Treme, Emmy-winning director David Simon created two characters to describe how Harrison broke new ground in new styles of music, and he appeared in nine episodes. Harrison has also appeared in Oscar-winning director Johnathon Demme’s film Rachel Getting Married, Spike Lee’s documentary When The Levees Broke, Marvel’s Netflix series Luke Cage, and he made an appearance in the 1973 James Bond film, Live and Let Die. .

Picking up where he left off before the pandemic closed theaters around the world, Donald has a busy performance schedule, including:

  • July 8-9 – Baltimore, Keystone Korner (with headhunters)
  • July 24 – Chicago, Super Chill Backyard Festival (with Mike Clark, Fred Wesley, Robert Walter, Will Bernard)
  • July 25 – Indianapolis, The Jazz Kitchen (Mike Clark + Donald Harrison Organ Quartet with Kendall “Keyz” Carter)
  • August 7 – New Orleans, Snug Harbor (Donald Harrison Quartet Tribute to Bird)
  • August 12-15 – Chicago, Jazz Showcase (Donald Harrison Quartet Tribute to Bird)
  • August 19-21 – New York City, Birdland (Donald Harrison Quartet Tribute to Bird)
  • August 25 – Baltimore, Keystone Korner (Donald Harrison Quartet Tribute to Bird)
  • August 28 – Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (Donald Harrison Quintet & The Harlem Symphony Orchestra play Charlie Parker with Strings)

Harrison continues to tour in September and October with performances in Long Island, Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and several dates at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

An eloquent spokesperson for jazz, Harrison is often quoted and featured in newspapers and magazines. In a February 22, 2021 USA Today article on New Orleans music, Harrison noted how modern musicians channel the spirit of New Orleans music, “even though musicians today are unaware of … some of these things are still at the origin of what we call jazz music. ” Harrison has also been featured in Hot House, Jazziz, JazzTimes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

New Orleans is the source of Harrison’s multifaceted musicality. Born there on June 23, 1960, Harrison grew up playing with the same broad approach to music as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and all of his ancestors, playing jazz, funk, R&B, Latin, blues, gospel and traditional New Orleans music. Harrison graduated from the famous New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (/ NOCCA), which also included Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr. and future partner Terence Blanchard. He attended the University of the South before transferring to Berklee.

Harrison has recorded 17 recordings as a leader and has performed and recorded with over 250 musicians including Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Dr. John, Lena Horne, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham , Chuck Loeb, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Digable Planets, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, The Headhunters and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He is a long-time member of Latin pianist Eddie Palmieri’s ensembles and a member of the jazz collective The Cookers. “The lessons of all these great masters gave me the real deal, not out of a book,” says Harrison.

A true multidimensional musician, Donald Harrison continues to move forward and boldly goes where no jazz musician has gone before. “I try to learn as much as possible from the masters and see where the music takes me.”


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