June 2007

Barry Harris Trio + Howard Johnson
Art of Jazz Celebrations
June 3, 2007 Pure Spirits Stage The Distillery District Toronto
Trio Jazz
by David Fujino with photo by Mike Colyer

Often described as a 'keeper of the bop flame', Barry Harris stayed the course this afternoon.

For two enjoyable hours, Harris — a pianist and noted educator — brought his years of craft and artistry to bear on quality pieces from the modern jazz repertoire.

"Blues in the Closet", the Oscar Pettiford classic, got reworked by Harris into a series of inventive blues variations that were almost Basie-like in their use of space and pauses. After Don Thompson's singing bass interlude, a loud shot! from the piano and drums brought us back to the theme.

A medium tempo "I Remember April" ended with an intriguing Asian sound, whereas "Manteca" was played very bluesy, and its guest artist, Howard Johnson, played tuba as if it were a trombone. Johnson's range is exceptional and his ideas were swift and fluid.

Barry Harris

Joining Mr. Harris were trio mates Don Thompson on bass, and Leroy Williams on drums — two very tasty musicians indeed. Drummer Williams is so musical and precise that you can hear treble, mid-range, and bass lines in his finesse playing; and Toronto's multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson proved to be, once again, a ceaselessly lyrical, supportive, and singing voice on the acoustic bass.

The educator part of Barry Harris stepped forward in "6-2-5", a swinging bit of audience participation and creation. After accepting the numbers shouted out from the audience, 6 ... 2 ... 5, Harris translated these numbers into note intervals and taught us to sing this melody and clap out a 1 / 1-1 rhythm. Harris even had us modulating into different keys. It sounded Brazilian. It was fun to s(w)ing along, just for a minute, with Harris-Thompson-Williams.

To cap this number, the wry Harris announced that the audience wouldn't receive any residuals for the writing of this song, "6-2-5". "We'll treat the audience the same as record companies treat us. They give us nothing." (WHEW!)

Throughout this Sunday afternoon, the Barry Harris trio was smooth, poised, and agreeably articulate in their improvisations. Whether backing Howard Johnson's imaginative tuba soloing on "What's New?"; carefully spacing out notes in Monk's "Well, You Needn't"; or letting their emotions come right out in "These Memories Remind Me of You", this Barry Harris trio played sounds that were just right for this Sunday afternoon.

The musicians
Barry Harris — piano
Don Thompson — bass
Leroy Williams — drums
Howard Johnson — tuba
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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