Jazz Master of the Month: Gene Harris

Sep 3, 2015

Born in 1933 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Gene Harris began teaching himself piano when he was nine years old. Admiring the playing style of pianist Oscar Peterson, Harris started touring and leading his own bands immediately after leaving the military service in 1954. 

Harris's first ensemble as a leader was named “The Four Sounds,” which within its first year of performing soon became known as “The Three Sounds” — a member was lost due to the rigors of touring as well as other complications. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, The Three Sounds recorded heavily for both Verve and Blue Note records. Harris, with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, supported many famous artists such as Nat Adderley, Lester Young, Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Stitt, and Anita O’Day.  The Three Sounds disbanded in 1973, but Harris continued to tour and perform. He collaborated with vibraphonist Milt Jackson and bassist Ray Brown to record on the Concord record label. He also recorded more than 15 recordings as a leader. Harris played a church, swing, bluesey crowd. His technical precision,  personal touch, and unique chord substitutions and song interpretations, seemed to always please and surprise his listeners. Harris was nominated for a Grammy in 1988 for his record release of “Tribute to Count Basie” (on The Concord Label). The nomination was in the category of best big band Instrumental. The Gene Harris Jazz Festival continues to feature major artists every year and the Gene Harris Endowment Fund provides music scholarships to students attending Boise State University. Harris released his final album on Concord in October of 1999, entitled “Alley Cats.” He passed away a year later in January 2000, while waiting for a liver transplant from his daughter. He was 66 years old.