46th Lakeland Jazz Festival to feature innovative sax man Donald Harrison

March 13, 2018

46th Lakeland Jazz Festival to feature innovative sax man Donald Harrison

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Donald Harrison, whose quintet headlines the 46th annual Lakeland Jazz Festival at Lakeland Community College this weekend, is known for taking quantum leaps with the genre.

His most recent release is called “Quantum Leap,″ Harrison, a New Orleans native who essentially apprenticed with the great Art Blakey, alongside fellow Cleveland favorite Terence Blanchard, explained the concept in an email interview this weekend.

″ ‘Quantum Leap’ is the first example of time morphing that you can actually feel if you clap on two and four,″ Harrison wrote. “The thing about it is I heard how to make something very difficult sound like nothing is happening at all.

“When you clap on two and four you will see that the time is moving differently than you than how it sounds,″ he wrote. “With quantum jazz I maintained all the tradition of jazz while I achieved extending harmony, rhythm, melody and structure from a normal two-dimensional state to a four-dimensional state. Quantum jazz basically opens a way to approach jazz music from every possible perspective.″

Next on his release horizon is “The Eclectic Revolution of Unity,″ Harrison wrote.

“This recording is a two-CD set with the first CD being variations on acoustic jazz including examples of nouveau swing, quantum jazz, hip-hop jazz where I play sax, scat, do spoken word and harmonized vocalese,″ he said.

“The second CD has soul music, organ jazz, New Orleans music, hip-hop and a multigenre work where the first movement has me singing lead on an Afro-New Orleans chant, the second movement is a Classical Orchestral work I composed and orchestrated and recorded with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra . . . [and] the third movement merges elements of Afro-New Orleans music, the symphony orchestra and my jazz quartet.″

A fourth movement, as yet unrecorded, “will feature my tribe with the orchestra and my jazz group to merge all the musicians in one setting.”

Here is the remainder of the email interview:

Q: Where are you as we’re doing this?

A: Right now, I am in New Orleans working on a commission to write a classical saxophone concerto for orchestra, getting ready to play some of the music from Bird with Strings and practicing on my new Donald Harrison signature line of saxophones. My saxophones are named The Double Four One sorta like James Bond manufactured by International Woodwind out of Los Angeles.

Q: Can you define Nouveau Swing for the uninitiated?

A: Nouveau Swing is the merging of swinging modern jazz with modern dance music like hip-hop, funk, soul, rock and R&B. With Nouveau Swing I produced a hybrid style that jazz people and today’s music fans relate to. Young cats like Christian Scott, Jon Batiste and Robert Glasper have told me the style influenced what they do. Older cats like Brian Lynch, Mike Clark and the great Eddie Henderson dig it too.

Q: You have a pretty diverse catalog, even within the realm of jazz – with ballads, swing, etc. What about each of those appeals to you?

A: What I do started when I read Charlie Parker’s statement “If you don’t live it, it ain’t coming out of your horn.” After that, I started my mission in high school to play with as many masters of jazz and music in general to work on trying to master the whole history of jazz from living it playing with the people who created it. I have now played with over 300 masters of music including people like Art Blakey, Miles Davis, The Duke’s Men, McCoy Tyner, The Headhunters, Maceo Parker, The Funky Meters, Galactic and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I have also participated in the offshoot culture of New Orleans’ Congo Square which is one of the root sources of American music. In my estimation all my preparation and experiences have given me the ability to play many styles of music in a way that is honest and the insight of how to mix them while keeping the core of what each style is intact. I also like a lot of different styles of music because my parents played jazz, classical, soul, R&B, African, Indian, Broadway and an incredible diverse array of music at home which made me a fan of all the music.

Q: I know it’s kind of a cliché question, but how did growing up in New Orleans influence you as a musician?

A: I grew up really participating as a dancer then a musician in New Orleans’ traditional jazz second-line culture, which is the world’s only citywide jazz culture, in addition to participating in the only offshoot African style tribes in the United States. I am positive that those experiences gave me a different idea for jazz. I grew up thinking of jazz as dance music just like the music you hear on the radio. This element was never taught in school or discussed by any of my music peers so that alone made me realize I had a different thought process then even the cats from New Orleans like the Marsalis brothers and my partner at the time Terence Blanchard. They are all great players, but including a dance feeling did not seem like it was high on their priority list in the early ’80s. I also wanted to understand how to play the whole history of jazz from a young age.

Q: What made you choose the alto sax as your instrument of choice?

A: I really did not choose saxophone my father made an impulse purchase of my first saxophone because he thought I should have it. I did not really want to play the horn in elementary school when I first got it but when I was in ninth grade I picked it up and we have been together ever since.

Q: For songs with lyrics, it’s easy to convey the subject. But instrumentals are a different animal. How do you go about doing that?

A: To convey what you feel on an instrument I think comes from just living life. The triumphs and tribulations will manifest themselves in your sound and become fine-tuned most of the time from just living your life. Now I think of music as my way to spread love and joy.

Q: You’ve done a lot of work as a leader and a lot as a side man. What do you like about each?

A: When you play with other musicians as a side man this is the thing that gives you your depth. What happens is you learn their concept and what it really feels like to step on their bandstand. I think that playing with a lot of different artist is a major contributing factor to who I am. For instance, the real feeling of what Eddie Palmieri’s music sounds like is inside of me to pull up at any time. Playing with an artist is totally different than listening to them. When I played the first time with Art Blakey, I was a totally different after the first note. The same thing with Miles. I saw the tremendous amount of work I needed to do to be up to speed to play with them on two seconds.

Q: The piano always seems to play a prominent role in your music, and I understand you have a piano phenom coming with you in Zaccai Curtis. Can you talk a little about the role of the instrument in general and his role in particular?

A: I love Zaccai Curtis because he is one of the few that heard me when I said bebop is the key to the past and the future. What the piano does for me is to color the harmony and rhythm in ways that shade the emotion of the music.

Q: You spent time in Art Blakey’s band, as have many others in the jazz world. What did you take from that that’s still a part of your music today?

A: One of the most important things that Art told me was to let the punishment fit the crime. What he was saying was play the blues if it is a blues [tune] and play Latin if it is Latin. He and Roy Haynes also told me some of the things Bird confided to them about music which I still find invaluable.

Your bio says you mentored a favorite of mine, Christian McBride. What makes a good musician for you to mentor?

Q: Kind of an open-ended question, but ... where do you think jazz sits in today’s world of R&B, hip-hop and rock? It just seems to be the one constant in music. Evolving, sure, but its roots remain constant.

A: I think jazz influences some of the musicians in every genre of music and vice versa. This is one of the reasons jazz keeps finding new people who love it. I once talked to Snoop Dogg and he told me he loved jazz. He even rhymes on a Headhunters record. The artist formerly known as Prince had Esperanza Spaulding and my nephew Christian Scott on his record. Nas had his father Olu Dara on his record. I could go on for days with this because it is and has always been a prevalent part of music.

46th Lakeland Jazz Festival When: Friday through Sunday, March 16 to March 18. Where: Dr. Wayne L. Rodehorst Performing Arts Center, Building D, on the main campus at 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland. What: Donald Harrison Quintet, 8 p.m. Friday, with tickets at $15 for students, $30 for the public. What: “Mad for Tadd,” Tadd Dameron Tribute with the East Central Jazz Educators All Star (ECJEA) Big Band, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 17, with tickets at $7 for students, $15 for the public. What: Big Band Matinee, the Lakeland Civic Jazz Orchestra, 4 p.m. Sunday, March 18, with tickets $7 for students, $10 for the public. What: Middle and high school jazz ensembles perform for judging. See lakelandcc.edu/jazzfestival Tickets: Online at lakelandcc.edu/arts or by phone at 440-525-7134