Tom Harrell Quintet
Tuesday, October 12, 8 p.m.| Fulkerson Recital Hall, HSU
"There is no one in jazz today writing with more intelligence, depth and heart than Tom Harrell."
"A pure melodic genius."
(For music and links, scroll to the bottom of this page)
For a whole lot of people, including us, Tom Harrell is a strong contender for the title of greatest living trumpeter. (“The finest jazz improviser today,” Harrell’s former boss, sax legend Phil Woods, says flatly.) What makes him all the more remarkable—apart from his decades-long struggle with schizophrenia—is his long and prolific career as an outstanding composer of sublimely lyrical melodies. After fruitful apprenticeships with Horace Silver and Phil Woods in the 70s and 80s (he’s also had memorable collaborations with Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, and Joe Lovano, not to mention the big bands of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Mel Lewis, and George Russell), Harrell went on to form his own groups; his mid-90s quintet included past RJA guests Kenny Werner and Larry Grenadier. For nearly twenty years he topped the trumpet category in DownBeat’s readers’ and critics’ polls, and each of his twenty-odd albums as a leader has made it onto countless “Top 10” lists.
Harrell was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1946 and grew up in the Bay Area. (His father taught at Stanford.) His folks’ Louis Armstrong records led him to the trumpet at age eight, and he took to improvising immediately. “It was fun, because there didn’t seem to be any rules,” he told Gene Santoro in The Nation in 1995, “and that appeals to a kid.”
Harrell’s personal musical landscape is vast, with points of reference ranging from Mahler, Ravel, Stravinksy, and Bartok to Parker, Monk, Miles, and Coltrane (with occasional stops for eccentric iconoclasts like American composer and instrument inventor Harry Partch). As a composer, he incorporates everything from bop to Brazil to Bacharach. But whether he’s writing ballads or burners, his compositions are (as Jazz Times put it) “at once complicated and accessible, mirthful and mature.” “A Harrell song,” adds veteran jazz writer Doug Ramsey, “is likely to be demanding in harmonic structure, melodic shape, time signature or all three elements, but disguise its rigors with beauty and logic that leave the listener unaware of the underlying complexities.”
Harrell puts it more straightforwardly: “I think it’s really important for music to communicate with everyone,” he told an interviewer in 1998, “but you don’t have do it at the expense of your art. Like, you can hear Coltrane on ‘A Love Supreme,’ he was creating on a level of total artistry and also it’s very accessible. Miles could reach a wide audience and also be very deep. I’m trying to do the same with my music.”
Though listeners and fellow musicians regard Harrell as “one of the more pensive craftsmen around” (Steve Greenlee, Jazz Times), his personality—like his music—also has a sly, playful streak. Gene Santoro relates an apocryphal story which Harrell does not deny (in fact, it cracks him up): “He’s on tour and checks into a hotel, where he’s given a two-room suite. He puts his bags down, slowly looks around, and then cracks, 'One for each of my personalities, huh?'”
Harrell’s current quintet is a tight, energetic unit filled with young, first-call New York sidemen who all convey the sheer joy of his music: saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, an immaculate soloist in his own right, complements a forceful rhythm section made up of pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Rudy Royston (subbing for Johnathan Blake).
Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website, or at Missing Link Records, People's Records and The Works.
Members of the Tom Harrell Quintet will also present a FREE public workshop on Tuesday afternoon, October 12th, at 3:30 p.m. (BEFORE the concert), in Music Room 130 on the HSU campus. People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend.
Words & Pixels:
Additional support for this show comes from The Arcata Eye, Libation Wine Shop & Wine Bar, Mosgo's Coffee House, P.J. "Paul" Nicholson/State Farm Insurance, Les Scher Attorney-at-Law, Six Rivers Optical, and Martin Turkis OD.
Tuesday afternoon's workshop is made possible through the generosity of HSU's Office of the President, Office of the Provost, the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Department of Music.