Barry Harris

For the Canadian musician, see Barry Harris (Canadian musician).
Barry Harris
Background information
Birth name Barry Doyle Harris
Born (1929-12-15) December 15, 1929
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Bebop, hard bop, mainstream jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer, teacher
Instruments Piano
Labels Prestige, Riverside, Xanadu
Associated acts Cannonball Adderley, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Yusef Lateef

Barry Doyle Harris (born Detroit, Michigan, December 15, 1929) is an American jazz pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger and educator. He is an exponent of the bebop style.[1]

Early life and career

Harris began learning the piano at the age of 4. His mother was a church pianist and had asked if Harris was interested in playing church or jazz music. Having picked jazz, he was influenced by Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell's music. He went to public areas to play dances for clubs and ballrooms. Harris learned the bebop styles largely by ear, imitating the solos played by Bud Powell in his teenage years.[2]

Later life and career


Harris was based in Detroit through the 1950s and worked with musicians such as Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and Thad Jones. He also performed in place of Junior Mance, who was Gene Ammons's regular pianist for his group frequently. In addition, Harris toured with Max Roach briefly in 1956 as a pianist after the group's resident pianist Richie Powell (younger brother of Bud Powell) died in a car crash.[3]


Harris performed with Cannonball Adderley's quintet and even had a chance to do a television stint with them.[4]

Harris relocated to New York City in 1960, where he became a performer as well as a jazz educator. During his time in New York, Harris collaborated with Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef and Hank Mobley through performances and recordings.[5]

Between 1965 and 1969, Harris performed extensively with Coleman Hawkins at the Village Vanguard.[6]


During the 1970s, Harris lived with Monk at the Weehawken, New Jersey home of the jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, and so was in an excellent position to comment on the last years of his fellow pianist.[7]

Harris also sat in for Monk for rehearsals at the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1974.[8]

By the mid-1970s, Harris and his band members gave concerts in European cities and Japan. In Japan, he performed at the Yubin Chokin concert hall in Tokyo over two days and his performance were recorded and compiled into an album released by Xanadu records.[9]


Between 1982 and 1987, Harris took charge of the Jazz Cultural Workshop on the 8th Avenue in New York.[10]

Harris appears in the 1989 documentary film Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (produced by Clint Eastwood), performing duets with Tommy Flanagan.


Since 1991, Harris has collaborated with Toronto-based pianist and teacher Howard Rees in creating a series of videos and workbooks documenting his unique harmonic and improvisational systems and teaching process.


In 2000, he was profiled in the film Barry Harris - Spirit of Bebop.[11]

Harris continues to perform and teach worldwide. When he is not traveling, he holds weekly music workshop sessions in New York City for vocalists, students of piano and other instruments.

Harris has recorded 19 albums as a lead artist.

Jazz Cultural Theater

Larry Ridley, Barry Harris, Jim Harrison, and Frank Fuentes were partners in creating the Jazz Cultural Theater beginning August 14, 1982. Located at 368 Eighth Avenue in New York City in a storefront between 28th and 29th Streets in Manhattan, it was primarily a performance venue featuring prominent jazz artists and also hosted jam sessions. Additionally, it was known for Barry's music classes for vocalists and instrumentalists, each taught in separate sessions. Several artists recorded albums at the club, including Barry on his For the Moment. Some of the many musicians and notable jazz figures who appeared at the Jazz Cultural Theater were bassist Larry Ridley, guitarist Ted Dunbar, pianist Jack Wilson, trumpeter Bill Hardman, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, pianist Mickey Tucker, guitarist Peter Leitch, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, guitarist Mark Elf, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, drummer Leroy Williams, drummer Vernel Fournier, bassist Hal Dotson, bassist Jamil Nasser, pianist Chris Anderson, pianist Walter Davis, Jr., pianist Michael Weiss, tap dancers Lon Chaney and Jimmy Slyde, Francis Paudras (biographer of pianist Bud Powell), and the renowned jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who would park her silver Bentley sedan in front of the club.

The Jazz Cultural Theater (JCT) enjoyed a vibrant five-year run until August 14, 1987, when its lease ran out and the rent was increased. Barry simply moved his jazz instrumental and vocal instructional classes to other venues in New York City, Japan, and Europe, supported by a devoted and ever growing international base of students. Many of them are now professionals, including Israeli-born, New York City-based jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, Armenian bebop pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan, Italian-born brothers Luigi (alto sax) and Pasquale Grasso (guitar).

Theoretical concepts

Over many years Harris has developed a codified methodology and approach to the teaching of jazz. His approach, drawing primarily from the melodic and harmonic concepts/techniques utilized by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, relies upon using the major and minor 6th chords and the 8-note major and minor 6th diminished scales as a basis for creating melody and harmony.

The major 6th diminished scale is a major scale with an extra note between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. A typical exercise using this scale involves playing a C Major 6th chord up the scale to a D diminished 7th chord, back to C Major 6th in first inversion, to D diminished 7th first inversion, to C Major 6th in second inversion, and so on, up the scale. Applying voicings, such as Drop 2 and Drop 3, up and down the scale in this way gives more possibilities for movement, as opposed to playing one static voicing when chording or "comping" through jazz tunes. The same concept applies as well to the minor 6th diminished scale. His concept of "borrowing notes," in which a related diminished note (or notes) is used in a major or minor 6th chord voicing and then resolved (or a major or minor 6th chord note is used in the related diminished 7th chord and then resolved) is an additional way of creating movement.

Harris also stresses the relationship of the major 6th chord to the minor 7th chord. Both share the same 4 notes and differ only by what note is considered the bass. The same relationship occurs between the minor 6th chord and the half-diminished 7th chord, that is, that C minor6 and A minor7b5 are almost interchangeable.

His approach to jazz harmony also relies heavily on diminished 7th chords and their relationship to dominant 7th chords. Utilizing the diminished 7th chord, he has also formulated scales of chords, which allow pianists and guitar players greater freedom in accompaniment and to play, in his own words, "movement, not chords".

His fundamental scale is the major 6th diminished scale, but equally important are the minor sixth to diminished, the dominant seventh to diminished, and the dominant seven flat five to diminished scale. Extending this concept, Barry relates all chord alterations (flat and sharp 9’s, sharp 11’s, flat 13’s, etc.) to the tritone's minor sixth-diminished scale (Ab minor 6th diminished scale for G7altered), which provides options for moving the alterations through the scales.




As leader

As sideman

With Cannonball Adderley

With Charlie Byrd

With Donald Byrd

With Al Cohn

With Sonny Criss

With Art Farmer and Donald Byrd

With Terry Gibbs

With Benny Golson

With Dexter Gordon

With Johnny Griffin

With Coleman Hawkins

With Louis Hayes

With Jimmy Heath

With Illinois Jacquet

With Carmell Jones

With Thad Jones

With Sam Jones

With Clifford Jordan

With Harold Land

With Yusef Lateef

With Earl May

With Charles McPherson

With Billy Mitchell

With Hank Mobley

With James Moody

With Lee Morgan

With Dave Pike

With Sonny Red

With Sonny Stitt

With Don Wilkerson


  1. Milkowski, Bill (1998). "Barry Harris: Young-hearted elder". Jazz Times.
  2. Barry Harris: Spirit of Bebop. Efor Films. 2004.
  3. Barry Kernfeld, ed. (2002). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz Second edition. London, England: Macmillan Publishers Limited. p. 177. ISBN 033369189X.
  4. Barry Kernfeld, ed. (2002). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz Second edition. London, England: Macmillan Publishers Limited. p. 177. ISBN 033369189X.
  5. Barry Kernfeld, ed. (2002). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz Second edition. London, England: Macmillan Publishers Limited. p. 177. ISBN 033369189X.
  6. Greg Thomas (16 July 2012). "Bebop legend Barry Harris set to burn up Village Vanguard with 2-week gig". New York Daily News. New York. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  7. Watrous, Peter. "Be-Bop's Generous Romantic", The New York Times, May 28, 1994. Accessed June 2, 2008. "Mr. Harris moved to New York in the early 1960s and became friends with Thelonious Monk and Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Mr. Monk's patron. Eventually, Mr. Harris moved to her estate in Weehawken, N.J., where he still lives."
  8. Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian (1988). Jazz The Essential Companion. New York: Prentice Hall Press. ISBN 0-13-509274-4.
  9. Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2012). All Music Guide to Jazz: The Definitive Guide to Jazz music. USA: Hal Leonard Publishing. ISBN 0-87930-717-X. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  10. Greg Thomas (16 July 2012). "Bebop legend Barry Harris set to burn up Village Vanguard with 2-week gig". New York Daily News. New York. Retrieved 25 June 2015.
  11. Barry Harris: Spirit of Bebop. Efor Films. 2004.
  12. "Recognition Awards to Barry Harris for Outstanding Devotion to Music and Education". 2014.

External links

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