A self-taught musician, in the mid-1930s Benny Harris was already playing with Thelonious Monk. In later years, he participated to some of the jam sessions that gave birth to the bebop jazz style. Reportedly, it was Harris that persuaded Dizzy Gillespie of Charlie Parker's ability by playing one of Parkers's improvisations to Gillespie.
Harris's first major gig was in 1939 with Tiny Bradshaw. He played with Earl Hines on and off from 1941 to 1945, and worked the 52nd Street bebop circuit in New York City in the 1940s, where he collaborated with Benny Carter, John Kirby, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, and Thelonious Monk. He was with Boyd Raeburn from 1944–45 and Clyde Hart in 1944; he and Byas worked together again in 1945. He played less in the late 1940s, though he appeared with Dizzy Gillespie in 1949 and Charlie Parker in 1952. Tina Brooks' biographer, Michael Cuscuna reports that Harris was still performing around New York in 1957 (at the Blue Morocco jazz club in the Bronx), entertaining relationships with fellow musicians and discographic agents. However, he appears to have never recorded again.
Harris was never a well-known soloist, and is better known for his compositions, which include "Ornithology" (a signature Charlie Parker tune), "Crazeology", "Reets and I" (a Bud Powell favorite), and "Wahoo".
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With Dizzy Gillespie
- The Complete RCA Victor Recordings (Bluebird, 1937-1949, )
- Steven Strunk in "The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz", Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988
- Scott Yanow, Benny Harris at Allmusic
- Michael Cuscuna The Hard Bop homepage: "True Blue: Tribute to Tina Brooks" Retrieved 15 May 2013.
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