Q&A with outstanding jazzman Allan Harris - sums up his personal perspective on music in clear and straightforward terms

"Jazz has always been political and I feel that it needs to continue to be a platform for artists to express their beliefs and their support for the kinds of political policies they believe in."

Allan Harris: A Protean Jazzman

The outstanding and internationally renowned vocalist, guitarist and composer Allan Harris sums up his personal perspective on music in clear and straightforward terms. "There is nothing that I have found that defines and gives credence to my place in this wild and mysterious universe than this thing called music." Harris exemplifies that statement perfectly with his stunning new album Nobody's Gonna Love You Better (Black Bar Jukebox Redux), his eleventh album following on the heels of his highly acclaimed 2015 release Black Bar Jukebox. Back from the previous album are the GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Brian Bacchus and Harris' longtime keyboard cohort Pascal Le Boeuf (on acoustic and electric pianos, and Hammond B3 organ), whose deep understanding and empathy for Harris' music creates a marvelous sense of intimacy and shared joy of expression.

The delightful repertoire includes four Harris originals, a couple of American Songbook gems, a pair of jazz classics, and re-imaginations of hit songs from Hendrix, Steely Dan and Spiral Staircase. As he does with every lyric, Harris pays proper homage to those who have provided the inspiration for his own highly personal sound, specifically here to Ray Charles, Nat 'King' Cole and Eddie Jefferson on three individual items. Over the past 20 years, Harris has steadily developed his reputation as one of the finest vocalists of his era. Brooklyn-born and Harlem-based, he has forged his sterling credentials through his ten previous albums, covering a broad range of contexts, all netted together within the rich territory of the jazz tradition. In addition to his recordings, he has performed on a worldwide stage that has taken him to prestigious international festivals and halls in Europe and Asia, as well as the 2012 Olympics in London and he has received numerous awards.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Patricia Timura-Harris

How has the Blues and Jazz music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Being exposed to the Blues and Jazz at an early age has empowered me with the knowledge that I am descended from a rich and varied group of American people who’s music and culture, which was fermented on the shores of early America, then spread across the world to not only influence future peoples but have built a common bridge for them to cross over to each other. I feel that the journeys I have taken have been made possible by that bridge. The bridge of Humanity.

How do you describe Allan Harris sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

The song book that I play and sing about is just the storytelling and musings of a wandering modern day troubadour. Each story I tell through my music reflects a common thread that binds me to them and echoes the experiences in life that we all share.

"Being exposed to the Blues and Jazz at an early age has empowered me with the knowledge that I am descended from a rich and varied group of American people who’s music and culture, which was fermented on the shores of early America, then spread across the world to not only influence future peoples but have built a common bridge for them to cross over to each other."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The most important acquaintances and experiences that have helped shaped me as an artist are those mentors, sages and teachers who have allowed me to fail and then guide me in discovering ways of growing from those mishaps. The best advice I was given was to try to find who I really am and stay true to myself, for everyone else is taken.

Are there any memories from gig, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Once, as a young musician finding my way, I was asked to step down off the stage during a jam session and told to first learn the correct melody, to pay homage to the composer before presenting a tune to fully understand the composer’s intent on writing it

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Music is constantly evolving and musicians, including myself, are changing with the times. But the fundamentals should always be the one element that resists that change until the student has an understanding of the path that he or she decides to undertake. I have such an optimistic outlook on the new bearers of this art called Jazz that my fears are always put aside when I see and hear them tackle and eventually conquer a piece of music from the golden age whether it be Swing, Bop, Big Band or Fusion. To put it bluntly they fill me with hope!

"The song book that I play and sing about is just the storytelling and musings of a wandering modern day troubadour. Each story I tell through my music reflects a common thread that binds me to them and echoes the experiences in life that we all share."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The one thing I would change or implement is that every child be introduced to this pure American art form as soon as they can conceive a thought or hum a melody!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Jazz with Blues and continue to Gospel, Swing, Soul and R&B?

These are all America’s gift to the world … and they all influence each other.  I’ve written a piece about the Black West that encompasses all these American genres that have influenced the world.

What is the impact of Jazz music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Jazz has always been political and I feel that it needs to continue to be a platform for artists to express their beliefs and their support for the kinds of political policies they believe in. 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day..?

I would like to go back to the 60’s and hang out with Jimi Hendrix in London.  He was such an influence on the world of music and I was inspired to pick up the guitar because of him.

Allan Harris - Official website

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