Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2010: Sonny Rollins

Stefon Harris: Channeling the Muse

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Vibraphonist Stefon Harris has visited Winnipeg several times over the past few years. He mesmerized audiences in the Asper Jazz series, and catapulted students at the Summer Jazz Camp to new levels of harmonic awareness. His are possibly the most spectacular extraterrestrial visits the jazz community has ever experienced!

When Stefon plays, the music you hear is the music you see—he channels the sound, either through his facial expressions or through his gestures. His arrangements are often surprising, and he can turn a road-worn standard into something you’re hearing for the first time. When I heard him play “Summertime,” it was startling how austere yet new his arrangement of that piece was.

He’s one of the most virtuosic vibraphonists on the planet, and yet he can also play with utter simplicity. His brilliance is not only his ability to play phenomenally lyrical and rhythmic passages, but also to play almost nothing and keep people spellbound.

Stefon Harris is an ideal guest artist for the Oceanic Jazz Orchestra because his instrument and his style speak to that sense of world music that is so central to the OJO mandate. When he plays the marimba, you’re also hearing a djembe or conga—as well as the piano, trap set, bongos, agogô bell. With him, you’re hearing Africa, Europe, and the Americas coming at you at once.

He’s a prize guest also because he’s the type of musician who knows how to draw from everybody on the stage and create an umbrella of sound that contains all those disparate voices. He’s a consummate performer—you can feel that he’s actually connecting with everyone in the room. It’s pure magic!

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