Q&A with captivating Jazz vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris: one of the jazz world's most acclaimed artists

"Soul and Jazz has, over the years, been the driving force in music that continues to conquer the world. Listeners and concert goers all want to hear the groove above all else. So when I couple the rhythms and swing of jazz with the hipness of soul music, I can feel my audience opening their hearts and minds to whatever I present to them from the stage."

Allan Harris: The Seductive Soul of Jazz 

Allan Harris is a Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and band leader. With an impressive discography boasting fourteen recordings as a leader, Harris has established himself as one of the jazz world's most acclaimed vocalists, possessing a potent combination of dynamic vocal abilities, impeccable phrasing, and powerful emotional resonance. Harris has garnered a loyal following of ardent fans who are captivated not only by his remarkable talents but also by his unassuming personality and inquisitive, creative mind. Harris effortlessly showcases his versatility as a storyteller through his authentic interpretations of the American Songbook, classic and contemporary jazz, popular standards, blues, and original compositions. His popularity has led to numerous performances alongside esteemed artists such as Tony Bennett, Dionne Warwick, Diana Krall, Abbey Lincoln, Natalie Cole, comedian Alan King, Al Jarreau, Reverend Al Green, Lee Ritenour, Michael Feinstein, Cassandra Wilson, and Wynton Marsalis.                                      (Photo: The soulful crooner, Allan Harris)

Beyond his musical endeavors, Harris has embarked on a passionate mission to educate and entertain children of all ages. Inspired by his early career playing guitar and singing with country rock bands, he created the acclaimed song-cycle Cross That River in 2006, offering a poignant portrait of the American West. Recognizing the importance of reaching young minds, Harris secured the Chamber Music America Residency Grant, bringing Cross That River into 12 Harlem schools. The children's version of the musical is featured on the Kennedy Center's Distance Learning program website, broadcasted to schools nationwide. Allan Harris is a luminary of jazz, captivating audiences with his remarkable voice, exceptional guitar skills, and heartfelt performances. His dedication to preserving the rich legacy of jazz while exploring new musical frontiers continues to inspire and resonate with listeners worldwide. Called the “Jazz Vocal King of New York”, Allan Harris has stunned audiences for nearly four decades. In 2023, renowned vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris released the album, "Live at Blue LLama". Recorded live at the state-of-the-art jazz club in Michigan, was Harris’ first live album in over thirteen years.

Interview by Michael Limnios                    Archive: Allan Harris, 2017 Interview

Special Thanks: Patricia Harris & Allan Harris

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I have grown as an artist from when I first stated making music mostly by performing and traveling the world. It has immensely enhanced my growth and opened doors to learning and gathering ideas and flavors of different cultures.

The only constant in my creativity has been the way I approach writing a song. I live with a lyric and melody for a certain time until it becomes a natural part of my musical spirit. Sometimes it’s based on an experience and other times it will be grown from an idea that has been rotating through my mind when I have the time to be quiet and listen.

Why do you think that the Soul & Jazz music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Soul and Jazz has, over the years, been the driving force in music that continues to conquer the world. Listeners and concert goers all want to hear the groove above all else. So when I couple the rhythms and swing of jazz with the hipness of soul music, I can feel my audience opening their hearts and minds to whatever I present to them from the stage.

"The message I always want to deliver is to let the listener hear and feel where I am in my journey through this musical life. Hopefully, if the recording and performances are successful, they will join me on that journey." (Photo: Renowned musician Allan Harris, called the “Jazz Vocal King of New York”)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

There are a few moments  in my life that have been lessons of learning for me.  One of them was being befriended by the late great Tony Bennett. He took me under his wing for a brief moment and imparted valuable lessons on how to be a performing vocalist. To this day I still apply his wonderful words of love and kindness that have helped me to become the artist I am today.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

The lessons I have learned from my experience in music are vast.  First off I learned early on to sing the melody as if the composer was seated right beside me. Then once I have learned and mastered what they have written, I put my voice into their composition.

Secondly I always remember that being overtly animated can distract from the story I am trying to tell to my audience. I have learned that less is more.  I have also learned that the musicians on stage with me all have to be on the same musical page, telling the same story and delivering the same message that I am giving to the listeners.

Do you think there is an audience for jazz music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Not only is there a current audience for jazz there is a growing audience for it across the world. There’s also a hunger for young musicians to grow technically and musically so that the excellent artists gravitate to jazz where they can have a profound effect on younger audiences. Tony Bennett is a great example of an older artist who could attract a young audience. I feel that the younger generation of jazz musicians grow into better artists when they are mentored by older artists. This has been a time tested way for artists to grow and I don’t think that has changed. These days a formal education is more of the norm and I’d like to see more mentorship because that is how jazz began.  But I believe that the quest for learning and growing means this incredible art form will always capture old and new fans.

"Music is poetry in its many forms. It is on par with a Shakespeare sonnet or a voice that cries out via a Maya Angelou poem. I’m currently working on my next project called “Jazz Sonnets” which is incorporating poetry with jazz on stage. The way that classic poetry meets jazz is something very deep and emotional to me and to my audience. I am excited to be launching Jazz Sonnets this year and sharing my love of poetry and jazz with the world." (Photo: Allan Harris beyond his musical endeavors, has embarked on a passionate mission to educate and entertain children of all ages.)

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

Preparing for a recording and a performance are different than the spiritual aspect of my music for I am alive with my music every waking and breathing day. The recording aspect of my starts when I begin gathering the artists who share my vibe prior to going into the studio, so that they will help me express my compositions. Then I like to do a series of performances with them on club dates or a small tour that highlights what I will be laying down at a later date in the studio.

Is there a message you are trying to convey with your music?

The message I always want to deliver is to let the listener hear and feel where I am in my journey through this musical life. Hopefully, if the recording and performances are successful, they will join me on that journey.

The relationship between music and poetry (Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, Shakespeare, Bob Kaufman, and others) has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far does music relate to poetry?

Music is poetry in its many forms. It is on par with a Shakespeare sonnet or a voice that cries out via a Maya Angelou poem. I’m currently working on my next project called “Jazz Sonnets” which is incorporating poetry with jazz on stage.

The way that classic poetry meets jazz is something very deep and emotional to me and to my audience. I am excited to be launching Jazz Sonnets this year and sharing my love of poetry and jazz with the world.

Allan Harris - Home

(Photo: Allan Harris is a Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and band leader)

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