"My favorite singer...."
- Tony Bennett
"[T]he most exciting young male singer on the scene...."
- The Wall Street Journal"
"... [A] velvet-voiced jazz singer...."
Ever since he burst on the jazz scene in the latter part of the twentieth century, The Brooklyn-born, Harlem-based vocalist/ guitarist/bandleader/composer Allan Harris has reigned supreme as the most accomplished and exceptional singer of his generation. Aptly described by the Miami Herald as an artist blessed with, "the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat `King' Cole," the ample and aural evidence of Harris' moving and magisterial artistry can be heard on his ten recordings as a leader; his far-flung and critically-acclaimed concerts around the world, from Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and Washington DC's Kennedy Center, to the 2012 London Olympics, and a number of prestigious bookings in Europe, The Middle East and Asia, and his numerous awards, which include the New York Nightlife Award for "Outstanding Jazz Vocalist" - which he won three times - the Backstage Bistro Award for "Ongoing Achievement in Jazz," and the Harlem Speaks "Jazz Museum of Harlem Award."
Harris' new CD, Black Bar Jukebox, produced by the award-winning producer Brian Bacchus (Norah Jones, Gregory Porter), is his most compelling and comprehensive recording to date. Inspired by the jazz, R&B, soul, country and Latin sounds that emanated from jukeboxes in African-American barbershops, clubs, bars, and restaurants, from the mid to late twentieth century, The CD - which features Harris' amazing and accomplished band of three years: drummer Jake Goldbas, bassist Leon Boykins, and pianist/keyboardist Pascal Le Boeuf; with special guests, percussionist Samuel Torres and guitarist Yotam Silberstein - also marks his moving and momentous return to his jazz-centered, Harlem roots, where he heard all those aforementioned styles, genres and grooves in the Golden Age of the seventies.
"Growing up, I heard the sound of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Nat King Cole," Harris says, "I was always cognizant of jazz."
Black Bar Jukebox features thirteen selections that include several American popular standards and originals penned by Harris. And his soulful, silken bari-tenor voice dances and trances throughout an eclectic spectrum of moods and grooves: from the moving, midtempo, 4/4 swing of "You Make Me Feel So Young," "A Little Bit Scared" and the Count Basie-ish, "Jumping at the Woodside" vibe of `I Got The Blues," to the Ahmad Jamal, "Poinciana"-pulsed "Miami," the Latin-tinged "Cat Fish," "Take Me To The Pilot," which can be compared to Les McCann's soulful grooves, and an ebullient cover of pop singer John Mayer's "Daughters," which features Harris' spare and syncopated guitar strains.
"Believe me; what Brian brought to the table was wonderful," Harris says, "not only because of his music, but also because of the vision, and the way he hears things. I'm enamored with the sound I got."
Allan Harris' soulful sound on Black Bar Jukebox comes from his rich musical home life, which extended deep into the artistic world of Harlem. "I remember seeing Sarah Vaughan at a matinee, Harris fondly recalls. "She stretched out her hand, and went into a version of `My Funny Valentine," that literally brought the house to its knees. And the way she sang the song ... it just captured my soul. I said this is what I want to do - not because I wanted to copy Sarah Vaughan, of course - but I figured that anyone who could deliver a lyric like that ... that's something that I want to be a part of."
Harris' mother, Johanna Chemina Ingram-Harris, was a concert pianist, and was a graduate of the first class of New York's legendary High School for the Performing Arts. Growing up, Harris went to Apollo Sunday afternoon matinees, and he visited his aunt Kate Ingram's famous soul food restaurant, Kate's Home Cooking; located behind the Apollo Theater, which was featured on the cover of organist Jimmy Smith's 1960 Blue Note LP, Home Cookin.' In this soulful setting, Harris would meet many jazz and R&B stars who worked at the Apollo and came by the restaurant to eat and hang out.
Another aunt, Theodosia Ingram, won the Apollo Theater's Amateur Night Competition and performed at a number of Manhattan clubs, including The Lenox Lounge under her stage name, "Phoebe." It was through her, that Harris would meet and be mentored by a seminal jazz figure, Clarence Williams: a pioneering African-American composer, sideman and manager of Louis Armstrong and businessman, who owned the Harlem Thrift Shop, and hired Phoebe when she was twenty years old.
"Clarence Williams and my aunt fell in love, and had a child out of wedlock, [my cousin, Michael Ingram]. He met my aunt when he was about sixty years old," Harris says. "He wanted to make her the new Bessie Smith, because she looked and sang like Bessie Smith. He opened up a whole new world for me, because he was a direct link to the history of jazz in the early part of the twentieth century ... We used to go to his record store, and he'd come into our house on Lincoln Avenue. At the time I was a child ... I just thought that was just a part of my life. And later, I understood the gravity of the depth of his history. Yes: Clarence Williams opened up a lot of doors for me, to really get me into this genre called jazz." It was Williams who brought Louis Armstrong to the Harris home, and babysat the future crooner, who was frightened by Satchmo's gravelly, "frog like voice."
In addition to all of that invaluable jazz education, Harris played basketball and football at St. John's Prep until his sophomore year, when he moved to McDonald, PA near Pittsburgh, to live on his grandfather's farm.
It was a move that had major implications for his development as a musician. "Pittsburgh is a wonderful jazz city: Billy Eckstine, Ray Brown, Errol Garner, Lena Horne, George Benson ..." Harris says, "and there were guys who were still alive who played with them when I live there. Roger Humphries was a drummer who took me under his wing when I was fifteen years old. That's Pittsburgh for you: it's a working man's town, coupled with the arts." It was in the Steel City where Harris worked with a wide variety of artists from jazz, blues and soul backgrounds. It was also there where he was getting requests to sing, as well as play guitar, which was his focus at the time.
Harris graduated from Fort Cherry High School in McDonald, PA and attended California State College on a basketball scholarship, but became disinterested in sports and gravitated towards music, and joined a country western band called Vaquero. Harris moved to Atlanta, and later took his talents to Miami, which exposed him to another cadre of diverse musicians and musical settings, particularly in the Latin jazz genre. He met Tony Bennett there, who insisted that he move back to New York in 1991, to take his artistry to the next level.
After his Homeric sojourns to Pittsburgh, California, Atlanta and Miami, Harris heeded Bennett's call, moved back to the Big Apple, and like Frank Sinatra, he did things his way. He formed his own label, Love Productions Records in 1994, and released a number of recordings that spanned jazz, blues, soul, and the American songbook. They range from the straight- ahead swinging, Setting the Standard, Love Came: The Songs of Strayhorn, a tribute to composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, and a live date, Nat King Cole: Long Live the King, to the R&B-grooved Open Up Your Mind, Cross That River, a recorded version of his epic Old West Black cowboy musical, which earned a Chamber Music of America Residency Grant, which enabled Harris to perform the musical in schools in Harlem and across the country, and was broadcast via satellite by The Kennedy Center's Distance Learning Program, and Convergence, with Japanese pianist Takana Miyamoto.
He also recorded two CDs for the Mons label; It's a Wonderful World, a sumptuous sextet date featuring pianist Benny Green, bassist Ray Brown, guitarist Mark Whitfield, drummer Jeff Hamilton and trumpeter Claudio Roditi, and Here Comes Allan Harris and The Metropole Orchestra; a grand affair with Harris fronting the celebrated fifty four-piece Dutch ensemble. Harris' reverent recordings are augmented by his many radio broadcasts including NPR's JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Piano Jazz; Michael Feinstein's Series: More Than a Song and the Music of George Gershwin and, Jazz at Lincoln Center's The Genius of Eddie Jefferson.
Back in Harlem, Harris is the jazz vocal King of New York, as evidenced by his potpourri of engagements, including an impressive run as a featured soloist and producer of Sotheby's three-year jazz series. His commitment to education is as equally impressive as his recordings and engagements. A Gibson guitarist, Harris is a long-time supporter of the St. Mary's Children's Hospital's, Guitars in the Classroom, and donates a performance every year to Challenge Aspen/America, along with Vince Gill and Amy Grant.
All of which brings us to Black Bar Jukebox: a diverse and dynamic disc that showcases Allan Harris at the zenith of his all- encompassing artistry.
"I'm a storyteller through the genre of jazz."
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