Special Encounters of the Jazz Kind

credit: JF Hayeur

It’s Jazz Fest time in Montreal, 10 days of countless shows of all genres including, of course, some excellent jazz. Many have criticized the Festival’s organizers for not featuring enough jazz and while that might be true for the big free outdoor shows, there’s still plenty of great, authentic live jazz to be heard. Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, and Barry Harris are just some the remarkable headliners this year.

I was particularly excited to see the Barry Harris Trio in the (very) intimidate settings of the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill. When I was in New York City in late May, I wanted to check out a good jazz show at the famous Village Vanguard. It turned out there was a hell of a good show that night, but unfortunately for me it was sold out! The jazzmen at the legendary club were none other than the Barry Harris Trio.

barry harris trio at village vanguard

Barry Harris is not only one of the most renowned jazz pianists of the last 50 years; he’s also the embodiment of bebop. Harris has played with such legends as Max Roach, Dexter Gordon, Yusef Lateef, Coleman Hawkins and Lee Morgan, just to name a few. His magnificent piano playing is immortalized on the latter’s The Sidewinder*! Completing Harris’s Trio are the formidable Leroy Williams on drums (accompanied everyone from Thelonious Monk to Sonny Rollins and Hank Mobley!) and Ray Drummond on bass (recorded with Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, Stan Getz)

You can imagine my joy to find out this impressive jazz trio was going to perform in my city during the jazz fest! Come show night, the hubby (he’s a huge jazz aficionado) decides to bring some albums these fine legendary musicians have recorded on. We bring along: Barry Harris’s first album:  Breakin’ It Up (Argo); The Sidewinder (Blue Note); and Big John Patton’s Accent of the Blues (Blue Note), Leroy Williams’ drumming is on that one! As we sat down at our table at the Upstairs (which is really downstairs), we were slightly disappointed we weren’t closer to the stage. That setback lasted all about five seconds because all three jazzmen were seated right behind us, enjoying their dinner before their set.

The real joy came at 9:45 pm when Barry Harris, Leroy Williams and Ray Drummond hit the stage. Their masterful playing took me to unexplored territories. Each musical layer was more amazing than the previous.

I was particularly moved by Williams’ genius drumming. After the show, I took my Big John Patton record and walked up to Williams. “Where did you get that?” he exclaimed. “That’s an OLD record!” We chatted a bit and he carefully autographed my record. “Is that Sarah with an ‘h’?” he asked. He then signed it: “To Sarah. The best in life, Leroy Williams”. I gave him the biggest bear hug in return. When I returned to my table, I noticed Barry Harris sitting behind me. I couldn’t help but praise his excellence and asked if he could autograph one of his signature recordings: The Sidewinder.

_MG_6361 I still can’t believe I had the immense honour of having a (brief) conversation with two living jazz legends. Between Harris and Williams, there’s almost 60 years of jazz history and recordings with some of the most iconic artists of the genre.

To anyone interested in experiencing the jazz magic of the Barry Harris Trio, they’ll be returning to the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill in November (upstairsjazz.com)

 * The Sidewinder is widely considered as one of the best jazz albums of all-time.  It’s also one of the few commercially successful jazz tracks to enter the Billboard Top 100. The title track, now a jazz standard, defined the soul jazz genre. Listen to it here.
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