Barry Harris

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For the Canadian musician, see Barry Harris (Canadian musician).
Barry Harris
Barry Harris.jpg
Background information
Birth name Barry Doyle Harris
Born (1929-12-15) December 15, 1929 (age 85)
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Bop
Hard bop
Mainstream jazz
Occupation(s) Pianist, Educator
Instruments Piano
Labels Prestige Records
Riverside Records
Xanadu Records
Associated acts Cannonball Adderley, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach

Barry Doyle Harris (born Detroit, Michigan, December 15, 1929) is an American bebop jazz pianist and educator.


Harris left Detroit for New York City in 1960. Influenced also by Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk, Harris's playing is noted for its similarity to Bud Powell.[citation needed]

Harris has played with Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Illinois Jacquet, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Lee Morgan, Charles McPherson and Max Roach. Harris has recorded 19 albums as a lead artist, and is a recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

During the 1970s, Harris lived with Monk at the Weehawken, New Jersey home of the jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, and so was in an excellent position to comment on the last years of his fellow pianist.[1]

Harris appears in the 1989 documentary film Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (produced by Clint Eastwood), performing duets with Tommy Flanagan.

Since 1991, Barry Harris has collaborated with Toronto-based pianist and teacher Howard Rees in creating a series of videos and workbooks documenting his unique harmonic and improvisational systems and teaching process.

In 2000, he was profiled in the film Barry Harris - Spirit of Bebop.

Barry Harris continues to perform and teach worldwide. When he is not traveling, he holds weekly music workshop sessions in New York City for vocalists, students of piano and other instruments.

Jazz Cultural Theater[edit]

Larry Ridley, Barry Harris, Jim Harrison, and Frank Fuentes were partners in creating the Jazz Cultural Theater beginning August 14, 1982. Located at 368 Eighth Avenue in New York City in a storefront between 28th and 29th Streets in Manhattan, it was primarily a performance venue featuring prominent jazz artists and also hosted jam sessions. Additionally, it was known for Barry's music classes for vocalists and instrumentalists, each taught in separate sessions. Several artists recorded albums at the club, including Barry on his For the Moment. Some of the many musicians and notable jazz figures who appeared at the Jazz Cultural Theater were bassist Larry Ridley, guitarist Ted Dunbar, pianist Jack Wilson, trumpeter Bill Hardman, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, pianist Mickey Tucker, guitarist Peter Leitch, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, guitarist Mark Elf, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, drummer Leroy Williams, drummer Vernel Fournier, bassist Hal Dotson, bassist Jamil Nasser, pianist Chris Anderson, pianist Walter Davis, Jr., pianist Michael Weiss, tap dancers Lon Chaney and Jimmy Slyde, Francis Paudras (biographer of pianist Bud Powell), and the renowned jazz patroness Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who would park her silver Bentley sedan in front of the club.

The Jazz Cultural Theater (JCT) enjoyed a vibrant five-year run until August 14, 1987, when its lease ran out and the rent was increased. Barry simply moved his jazz instrumental and vocal instructional classes to other venues in New York City, Japan, and Europe, supported by a devoted and ever growing international base of students. Many of them are now professionals, including Israeli-born, New York City-based jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur, Armenian bebop pianist Vahagn Hayrapetyan, Italian-born brothers Luigi (alto sax) and Pasquale Grasso (guitar).

An advertisement appeared in New York Village Voice Newspaper announcing the last week of the Jazz Cultural Theater performances:

      • Thursday, August 6, 1987: Haze Laser & Sextet featuring C-Sharpe
      • Friday-Saturday August 7 & 8, 1987: Charles McPherson with the Barry Harris Trio
      • Sunday, August 9, 1987: a vocal concert for Victor Lane
Wednesday, August 12, 1987: The Last Big Bash at the Jazz Cultural Theater

Theoretical Concepts[edit]

Over many years Barry has developed a codified methodology and approach to the teaching of jazz. His approach, drawing primarily from the melodic and harmonic concepts/techniques utilized by Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, relies upon using the major and minor 6th chords and the 8-note major and minor 6th diminished scales as a basis for creating melody and harmony.

The major 6th diminished scale is a major scale with an extra note between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. A typical exercise using this scale involves playing a C Major 6th chord up the scale to a D diminished 7th chord, back to C Major 6th in first inversion, to D diminished 7th first inversion, to C Major 6th in second inversion, and so on, up the scale. Applying voicings, such as Drop 2 and Drop 3, up and down the scale in this way gives more possibilities for movement, as opposed to playing one static voicing when chording or "comping" through jazz tunes. The same concept applies as well to the minor 6th diminished scale. His concept of "borrowing notes," in which a related diminished note (or notes) is used in a major or minor 6th chord voicing and then resolved (or a major or minor 6th chord note is used in the related diminished 7th chord and then resolved) is an additional way of creating movement.

Dr. Harris also stresses the relationship of the major 6th chord to the minor 7th chord. Both share the same 4 notes and differ only by what note is considered the bass. The same relationship occurs between the minor 6th chord and the half-diminished 7th chord, that is, that C minor6 and A minor7b5 are almost interchangeable.

His approach to jazz harmony also relies heavily on diminished 7th chords and their relationship to dominant 7th chords. Utilizing the diminished 7th chord, he has also formulated scales of chords, which allow pianists and guitar players greater freedom in accompaniment and to play, in his own words, “movement, not chords.”

His fundamental scale is the major 6th diminished scale, but equally important are the minor sixth to diminished, the dominant seventh to diminished, and the dominant seven flat five to diminished scale. Extending this concept, Barry relates all chord alterations (flat and sharp 9’s, sharp 11’s, flat 13’s, etc.) to the tritone's minor sixth-diminished scale (Ab minor 6th diminished scale for G7altered), which provides options for moving the alterations through the scales.


As leader[edit]

Photo by Brian McMillen

As sideman[edit]

With Cannonball Adderley

With Charlie Byrd

With Donald Byrd

  • Byrd Jazz (Transition, 1955) - also released as First Flight (Delmark)

With Al Cohn

With Sonny Criss

With Art Farmer and Donald Byrd

With Terry Gibbs

With Benny Golson

With Dexter Gordon

With Johnny Griffin

With Coleman Hawkins

With Jimmy Heath

With Illinois Jacquet

With Carmell Jones

With Thad Jones

With Sam Jones

With Clifford Jordan

With Harold Land

With Yusef Lateef

With Earl May

  • Swinging The Blues (Arbors, 2005)

With Charles McPherson

With Billy Mitchell

With Hank Mobley

With James Moody

With Lee Morgan

With Dave Pike

With Sonny Red

With Sonny Stitt

With Don Wilkerson


  1. ^ Watrous, Peter. "Be-Bop's Generous Romantic", The New York Times, May 28, 1994. Accessed June 2, 2008. "Mr. Harris moved to New York in the early 1960s and became friends with Thelonious Monk and Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, Mr. Monk's patron. Eventually, Mr. Harris moved to her estate in Weehawken, N.J., where he still lives."

External links[edit]