Eddie Harris this weekend. Don’t know about you, but my first encounter with Eddie Harris was by way of Exodus To Jazz, an album he did for Vee-Jay Records in 1961. His take on the theme for the then-hit movie Exodus made for a huge crossover hit, and was for many people, a first taste of Jazz in a top-40 format and one of the first Jazz discs to hit Gold. It was not without some friction within the hard-core Jazz community who regarded that kind of crossover as something of a sell-out, but the bigger picture was, he got people interested and people listening – and I’m sure made a lot of converts along the way.
The next big moment came a few years later with a collaboration between Harris and keyboardist Les McCann – that one produced the iconic “Compared To What?” – between those two was his composition Freedom Jazz Dance which was popularized by Miles Davis in 1966.
His introduction to audiences of amplifying his tenor sax, rightfully dubbing him The Electrifying Eddie Harris, after his hit album for Atlantic in 1968 was another page-turner in an already extraordinary career.
Harris has a long discography to his credit, with numerous collaborations and milestones along the way. A native of Chicago, Harris was also known for fusing jazz and rock with a variety of invented electrical instruments. He called one, an electrical sax with a trombone mouthpiece, the “saxobone.”
From his Obituary in the November 8, 1996 issue of the L.A. Times:
“A lot of musicians are suspicious of electronics,” he once told jazz critic Leonard Feather. “They call it gimmickry, but I can understand that, because you always have opposition upon change. . . . (But) amplification will add 10 years to your life span, because you don’t have to exert yourself as much.”
As a teenager, Harris played piano backup for tenor saxophone giant Gene Ammons. Harris also toured Europe in the 1950s with the 7th Army Symphony Orchestra.
He wrote much of the music heard on “The Bill Cosby Show,” which ran from 1969 to 1971. His compositions also included “Please Let Me Go,” “Ten Minutes to Four” and “Eddie Sings the Blues.”
The versatile instrumentalist, composer and singer wrote several books on music theory, including “How to Play Reed Trumpet” and “The Intervalistic Concept for All Single Line Instruments.”
Harris moved to Los Angeles in 1974. Asked in 1995 if he continued to practice, Harris once remarked: “Are You kidding me? I practice eight hours a day. How do you think I can play all the things I play.”
As a reminder, here is a concert he did at Lugano, Switzerland during the Jazz Festival there in 1989.
Pull up a chair. Put on some headphones. Chill out.