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Eddie Harris

Eddie Harris - Listen Here (live Montreux)

Harris was born and grew up in Chicago. His father was originally from Cuba, and his mother from New Orleans

 

Like other successful Chicago musicians, such asNat King ColeDinah WashingtonClifford JordanJohnny GriffinGene Ammons,Julian Priester, and Bo Diddley (among others), young Eddie Harris studied music under Walter Dyett at DuSable High School. He later studied music at Roosevelt University, by which time he was proficient on pianovibraphone, and tenorsaxophone. While in college, he performed professionally with Gene Ammons.

After college, he was drafted into the United States Army and while serving in Europe, he was accepted into the 7th Army Band, which also included Don Ellis,Leo Wright, and Cedar Walton.

Leaving military service, he worked in New York City before returning to Chicago where he signed a contract with Vee Jay Records. His first album for Vee Jay,Exodus to Jazz included his own jazz arrangement of Ernest Gold's theme from the movie Exodus. A shortened version of this track, which featured his masterful playing in the upper register of the tenor saxophone, was heavily played on radio and became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.

The single climbed into the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and reached #16 in the U.S.R&B chart. Some jazz critics, however, regarded commercial success as a sign that a jazz artist had sold out and Harris soon stopped playing "Exodus" in concert. He moved to Columbia Records in 1964 and then to Atlantic Records the following year where he re-established himself. In 1965, Atlantic released The In Sound, a bop album which won back many of his detractors.

Over the next few years, he began to perform on electric piano and the electricVaritone saxophone, and to perform a mixture of jazz and funk which sold well in both the jazz and rhythm and blues markets. In 1967, his album The Electrifying Eddie Harris reached second place on the R&B charts. The album's lead track, "Listen Here" was issued as a single, climbing to #11 R&B and #45 on the Hot 100. Harris released several different versions of his composition over the years, including both studio and live concert recordings.

In 1969, he performed with Les McCann at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Although the musicians had been unable to rehearse, their session was so impressive that a recording of it was released by Atlantic as Swiss Movement. This became one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, also reaching second place on the R&B charts.

Harris also came up with the idea of the reed trumpet, playing one for the first time at The Newport Jazz Festival of 1970 to mostly negative critical feedback. From 1970 to 1975, he experimented with new instruments of his own invention (the reed trumpet was a trumpet with a saxophone mouthpiece, the saxobone was a saxophone with a trombone mouthpiece, and the guitorgan was a combination ofguitar and organ), with singing the blues, with jazz-rock (he recorded an album withSteve WinwoodJeff BeckAlbert LeeRic GrechZoot Money, and other rockers). He also started singing and to perform comic R&B numbers like "That is Why You're Overweight" and "Eddie Who?".

In 1975, however, he alienated much of his audience with his album The Reason Why I'm Talkin' S**t, which consisted mainly of stand-up comedy. Interest in subsequent albums declined. He was a member of Horace Silver's Quintet in the early 1980s, and continued to record regularly well into the 1990s, sometimes in Europe where he enjoyed a loyal following, but his experimentation ended and he mainly recorded hard bop. He had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and was responsible for much of the music on the hit TV series, The Bill Cosby Show.

Harris died in hospital in Los Angeles from bone cancer and kidney disease, at the age of 62.

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