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Spotlight Project: Allan Harris Black Bar Jukebox
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 one of the most accomplished and exceptional singers 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' multifaceted talent 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 album, Black Bar Jukebox, produced by Grammy® Award-winning producer Brian Bacchus (Norah Jones, Gregory Porter), is his most compelling and comprehensive recording to date. "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." 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 album - which features Harris' 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 popular standards and originals penned by Harris. His soulful, silken bari-tenor voice dances and trances throughout an eclectic spectrum of moods and grooves: from the moving, mid-tempo, 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 "Catfish," "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.
Allan Harris' soulful sound on Black Bar Jukebox comes from his rich musical home life, which extended deep into the artistic world of Harlem. 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. "We used to go to his record store, and he'd come into our house on Lincoln Avenue," explains Harris. "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."
Harris is a first call vocalist (especially back in Harlem), 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 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," concludes Harris.
Upcoming Allan Harris Performances:
January 25 / Tucson Jazz Festival / Tucson, AZ
February 9 / Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola / New York, NY
February 14 / Mid Atlantic Jazz Festival / Rockport, MD
February 27 / Scullers / Boston, MA