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8 Bars with Lafayette Harris
Our guest is pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader Lafayette Harris, Jr.
8 bars with, is a series on Educated Guesses where we offer up 8 questions to a special guest for them to ponder and freestyle on. The questions aren't necessarily questions as much as they are prompts or linguistic ink blots meant to stimulate thought. The responses can be short and pithy, long and loquacious or somewhere in between.
Baltimore-reared, New York City-based pianist, composer arranger Lafayette Harris, Jr. has recorded nearly a dozen recordings as a leader, and has worked as a sideman with many artists including drummer Max Roach, trombonist Roswell Rudd, guitarist Mark Whitfield and singers Ernestine Anderson and Melba Moore. Harris’ most recent chart-topping projects include his work as a sideman on The Mary Lou Williams Resurgence Project Vol. 1 with vibraphonist and longtime collaborator Cecilia Smith, and his latest straight-ahead CD, Swingin’ Up in Harlem, produced by tenor sax master, Houston Person. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Harris received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance from Rutgers University, studying with Kenny Barron.
1. The origin of Swingin’ Up in Harlem
A practice idea I had for the standard “How High The Moon,” plus some Barry Harris teachings. The name I picked is from my long association with clubs in uptown Manhattan.
2. First piano lessons
Me and mom in the car on Madison Avenue in my hometown Baltimore, and her asking me “Sonny would you like to take piano Lessons?” And [I had been thinking] … I had been waiting my whole life (11 years) for her to ask me that question.
3. Jazz piano influences
Everybody who is good!
4. Who were your piano teachers?
Miss Robinson at the Y, Charles Covington at Peabody, Bobby Pierce and Gwen Schrader at Denison, Francis Walker at Oberlin (also Wendell Logan for jazz composition and arranging)), in NYC Walter Bishop Jr., Barry Harris and Kenny Barron.
5. The influences of classical music and R&B
Both gave me lots of structure and kept me practicing [and gave me] great discipline.
6. Education at Oberlin
Oberlin: the land of beautiful Black women who are super intelligent. A great place to have some quiet while you're studying.
7. Moving to New York
It was time to get out of my Daddy's house. Ha ha ha!
8. The music of Mary Lou Williams w/Cecilia Smith
They can write and play! Great to see and hear the music of Black women.
Your next project?
Helping Lonnie Plaxico with his recording with his brother. The Plaxico Brothers!