Born in Salina, Kansas, he first started playing swing music with Benny Goodman and Charlie Spivak in the 1940s and 1950s. Working on the West Coast jazz scene, he performed with such musicians as Stan Kenton, Bill Perkins and Maynard Ferguson, among others.
In June 1949, he was a member of the band backing Billie Holiday on her famous Just Jazz radio broadcast for AFRS in Los Angeles. Other band members were Neal Hefti (trumpet), Herbie Steward (clarinet, tenor saxophone), Jimmy Rowles (piano), Robert "Iggy" Shevak (bass) and Roy "Blinky" Garner (drums).
In 1954, he recorded several sessions as a member of Steve White's Hollywood-based quartet.
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- 1954 Herbie Harper
- 1954 Herbie Harper Quintet (Nocturne)
- 1954 Jazz in Hollywood
- 1954 Quintet Tampa
- 1955 Five Brothers (VSOP)
- 1957 Herbie Harper Sextet (VSOP)
- 1981 Revisited (Sea Breeze)
- 1989 Two Brothers (VSOP)
With Maynard Ferguson
With Pete Rugolo
- Introducing Pete Rugolo (Columbia, 1954)
- Rugolomania (Columbia, 1955)
- New Sounds by Pete Rugolo (Harmony, 1954–55, )
- Music for Hi-Fi Bugs (EmArcy, 1956)
- Out on a Limb (EmArcy, 1956)
- An Adventure in Sound: Brass in Hi-Fi (Mercury 1956 )
- Percussion at Work (EmArcy, 1957)
- 10 Trombones Like 2 Pianos (Mercury, 1960)
- Herbie Harper 1920-2012 Los Angeles Jazz Society. Retrieved 9 June 2013.
- Yanow, Scott. "Herbie Harper Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-06-24.
- All Music Guide to Jazz, The experts' guide to the best jazz recordings, second edition, edited by Michael Erlewine, San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1996
- All Music Guide to Jazz, The definitive guide to jazz music, fourth edition, edited by Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2002
- The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, First edition, two volumes, edited by Barry Kernfeld, London: Macmillan Press, 1988
- The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited by Barry Kernfeld, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994
- The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Second edition, Three volumes, edited by Barry Kernfeld, London: Macmillan Publishers, 2002
- Billie Holiday discography Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- "Herbie Harper | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
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