Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

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Allan Harris:
Brooklyn Cowboy

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The New York Times calls Allan Harris “an extremely relaxed and tasteful crooner in the Nat ‘King’ Cole tradition,” and that lineage is strong for him: he performed a concert tribute, “Unforgettable: The Songs of Nat ‘King’ Cole” at the Kennedy Center, and released a live recording, Long Live the King. He has the admiration of other singers too. Not many performers can boast an introduction like this: “Frank Sinatra says his favorite singer is Tony Bennet, and Tony Bennett says his favorite singer is Allan Harris.” Winnipeg audiences are in for something special!

Growing up in Brooklyn, Harris was immersed in music from the beginning. His mother was a classical pianist, and his Aunt Theodosia was an opera singer who turned to the blues. Thanks to their success, the family found themselves entertaining many interesting musicians—including Louis Armstrong himself. Harris was encouraged to sing at a young age, and from the age of twelve, he studied guitar with Vladimir Bobry, the President of the Classical Guitar Guild. Though known primarily as a singer, he is an accomplished guitarist, composer, producer and educator as well.

Allan Harris has performed with some of the greatest artists out there today. He opened for Cassandra Wilson in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Rose Hall. He debuted Wynton Marsalis’ “Suite for Human Nature” in 2005. He shared the bill with the late Abbey Lincoln for “The Legacy Series,” a tribute to Harlem composers. His own band maintains a hectic pace, touring and recording. This past summer, they opened for Al Green and Al Jarreau at the Vienna Jazz Festival.

One of Harris’ recent projects started one day when he was listening to the radio. He heard a bluegrass version of Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” sung by Dolly Parton, and suddenly “I felt free to write the music I had always wanted to write, music that could be inclusive of all the American styles that had influenced me. I wanted to tell a story about the kinds of men I knew when I worked on my Grandfather’s farm back in Western Pennsylvania….” That moment was the inception of Cross That River, a song cycle about a runaway slave named Blue who flees to Texas in the 1860s to become one of the first African-American cowboys.

Directed towards school-age children, Cross That River includes a fusion of many American styles of music such as blues, folk, country, jazz, gospel, and rock. Harris has taken Cross That River to schools, museums, and performing arts centers across the United States, educating young people about the little-documented slaves who became Black Cowboys.

Harris opens the 2010-11 season of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series with a Nat “King” Cole tribute concert. He’ll offer a masterclass the day before to interested musicians. Given the depth and range of his accomplishments, and the grace and warmth of his singing, he’s a must-see!

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