Introduction to Eddie Harris

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Introduction

Eddie Harris (born in 1934 – died in 1996) was an American jazz musician and comic recording artist, proficient in saxophone, vibraphone, piano and organ but was most known by playing the tenor saxophone. Born in Chicago, Harris studied under Walter Dyett, a distinguised violinist and music teacher who also mentored future stars such as Nat King Cole, Bo Diddley and Dinah Washington among others, all of whom were also native Chicagoans. His first album and single, Exodus To Jazz and “Exodus” respectively, was his first breakout hit in 1961, reaching the Top 40 pop chart. Jazz critics lambasted Harris as a “sell-out” musician because of “Exodus”’s commercial success, and so he stopped playing this in his live performances. In 1965, he restored the faith of his critics by releasing a bop album The In Sound, in 1965. Also remembered for his experimentation, Harris employed different and eclectic instruments such as the reed trumpet, the saxobone (saxophone-trombone), and guitorgan (guitar-organ). Later in his career he began to take vocal duties as well, singing mostly humorous R&B numbers as well as blues and jazz-infused rock tunes. Harris had played in a number of jazz concerts including the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, and had worked with a variety of artists from soul/jazz pianist Les McCann and rockers Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood. Harris also worked on much of the music on The Cosby Show. He recorded and performed actively until his death in 1996, aged 62.

Early Years

Born on October 20, 1934, Eddie Harris was an American jazz musician best remembered for playing tenor saxophone. He was one of the firsts who introduced the electrically amplified saxophone. The Chicago-born Harris was a multi-instrumentalist; aside from being a saxophone virtuoso, he was also proficient in playing the electric piano and organ. He attended DuSable High School and studied music under the class of Walter Dyett, whose students went on to become well-known musicians. After high school, he studied music at Roosevelt University where he mastered playing piano, vibraphone, and tenor saxophone. Throughout his college years, Harris was already performing with fellow saxophonist Gene Ammons.

Music career

After he finished college, Harris entered the United States army and became a member of 7th Army Band whose members were Don Ellis, Leo Wright and Cedar Walton. He went to New York after serving the military. From there, he signed a record deal on Vee Jay Records and released his debut album Exodus to Jazz in January 1961. The album included the shortened version of Ernest Gold’s theme (from the movie Exodus) which entered the US R&B chart and peaked at #16. It was the first jazz record which scored a gold disc status. In 1964, he hopscotched from label to label; from Columbia Records to Atlantic Records. The following year, he issued the bop album The In Sound on Atlantic.

Years later, Harris developed a passion for experimentation by performing on electric piano and the electric Varitone Saxophone incorporated with jazz and funk sound. He applied the newfound style on his 1967 effort, The Electrifying Eddie Harris. The album reached the #3 spot on the R&B charts. Its single, “Listen Here,” peaked at #11 on R&B.

At the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969, Harry performed with pianist and vocalist Les McCan.  Despite the lack of rehearsal, their performance turned out to be impressive. It was later followed by the album Swiss Movement which was listed as one of the best-selling jazz albums. During the 1970’s, he kept on experimenting with brass instruments. He even invented such instruments like the reed trumpet and the saxobone.  Along with those inventions, he was singing the blues infused with jazz rock. In 1974, he released Is It In with the single of the same album title but unfortunately, it failed to hit the charts, as well as the following releases.

On November 5, 1996, Eddie Harris succumbed to bone cancer and kidney failure. He was 62 years old.

 

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