Gene Harris tried to retire, but it didn’t take. Now the jazz pianist is hard at it again - touring, recording and hobnobbing with the greats and near-greats.
He’ll hobnob here Friday when he appears with the Whitworth College Jazz Ensemble.
Harris is a swinging, blues-based pianist who was introduced to our area when he played with the Ray Brown Trio at the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. That festival has featured a host of terrific pianists, but none of them has won over the big festival crowds like the ebullient Harris.
The UI gig was instrumental in luring Harris out of retirement. After leading his straight-ahead trio, The Three Sounds, for 17 years - and after working with such greats as Benny Carter, Stanley Turrentine and Ernestine Anderson - Harris retired in 1977 to Boise, where he took a regular job playing in the lounge at the Idanha Hotel.
But a few years later Brown needed a pianist for the University of Idaho date. He recruited Harris and before you can hum a 16-bar blues tune, Harris was on the comeback trail.
Now Harris is enjoying unbridled success. In the ‘80s, he signed with Concord Jazz and has since released a string of well-received records. His first Concord record, “The Gene Harris Trio Plus One,” won the French equivalent of a Grammy. The Gene Harris All Star Big Band’s “Tribute to Count Basie” was a Grammy nominee, was awarded Japan’s Gold Disc by Swing Journal and was one of Billboard’s Top 25 Jazz Albums in 1988.
In 1989, Harris was picked to lead the Gene Harris Phillip Morris Superband, which toured the world and released two sterling records. His solo “Live at Maybeck” recording is one of the highlights of the Maybeck Recital Hall Series. The ‘90s have seen a proliferation of Gene Harris records, including his latest, a collaboration with Basie arranger and woodwind player Frank Wess.
The last time Harris appeared here with the Whitworth group, he proved himself a generous and genial guest star. His bluesy style is well suited to a college big band, and his music finds a swinging groove that is always a pleasure to hear.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONCERT Gene Harris will perform with the Whitworth College Jazz Ensemble Friday at 8 p.m. at Whitworth’s Cowles Auditorium. Tickets are $8, available at G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call (800) 325-SEAT.