Sunday, February 28, 2016

DFSBP archives: Beaver Harris

As WKCR—the world's greatest jazz broadcasting outlet and the place where I learned much of what I know about this art form that I love—continues to struggle with its online-streaming rights, I present a digital version of one of the most enjoyable shows I helped to organize there: a 2000 tribute to drummer-composer William "Beaver" Harris.

The role I played in this show was a background one. Glo Harris, the show's principal host and key architect, clearly had the whole thing covered. I can't recall exactly how the program came about, but I remember Phil Schaap mentioning to me—then an eager, inexperienced student broadcaster—that he had a project I might be interested in. I believe Glo, who had been married to Beaver, had approached Phil about putting together a radio show in her late husband's honor. At some point, Phil graciously handed me the reins. I engineered the show, talked on-air a bit and may have had some input into what musical selections were played—at that time, I was a huge fan of Beaver's work on the 1976 Steve Lacy–Roswell Rudd album Trickles—but this was Glo's brainchild, and the warmth and sincerity of the finished product is a testament to her enduring love for Beaver, both as a man and a musician.

Wade Barnes, the late drummer, educator and NYC jazz torchbearer, is a genial and insightful presence in parts I and II of the broadcast, and the supporting cast only snowballs from there. I still remember sitting in the main WKCR control room, then housed in Riverside Church, as master after master materialized, either on the phone or in person. Part III features an Andrew Cyrille call-in, and Rashied Ali and Grachan Moncur III drop by in Part IV, joined later by impromptu call-in guest Jack DeJohnette. Like Glo, they all clearly admired this man as a player and loved him as a human being. Their stories flesh out a career that's sadly underrepresented in the official discography.

Beaver Harris is a fascinating figure, and this program makes a compelling case for just how underrated and little understood his genius was, and still is. You'll hear Barnes discuss the "from ragtime to no time" ethos that guided Harris's work, and the concept wasn't just a clever phrase: whatever the idiom, Harris played with command and coherence. As a sideman, on Trickles, on various Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp recordings, on lesser-known sessions with Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, Ken McIntyre, and Rudolph Grey's Blue Humans, he was explosive (always wielding that slashing China cymbal) or supportive, as the moment demanded. He danced and pummeled with equal skill and flair.

As a leader or co-leader, on marvelous and almost completely overlooked albums such as 1976's In: Sanity (featuring Dave Burrell), 1984's A Well Kept Secret (featuring Don Pullen) and Thank You For Your Ears (recorded '84, released '98), he was even better. He wasn't just a drummer; he had a sonic and conceptual vision, which he aptly labeled "360 Degree." It was eclectic (those steel drums!), inclusive and fantastical. One of his pieces, "African Drums," even became a sort of out-jazz standard, recorded by Shepp and David S. Ware.

Beaver Harris made his mark. Start here and go forth:

Beaver Harris tribute - WKCR - April 19, 2000, pt. I
Beaver Harris tribute - WKCR - April 19, 2000, pt. II
Beaver Harris tribute - WKCR - April 19, 2000, pt. III
Beaver Harris tribute - WKCR - April 19, 2000, pt. IV

Download the broadcast at the links above, or stream via the blue bar at the bottom of the page.

Thank you again to Glo Harris for putting together this incredible program, and to Phil Schaap for making the introduction.


Other Beaver Harris resources:

*Clifford Allen's valuable career overview

*1987 WKCR interview re: Ayler (go here and scroll down)

*1983 live recording with Sam Rivers and steel-drummer Francis Haynes, who also appears on In: Sanity and A Well Kept Secret

*1975 live footage with Archie Shepp and Chet Baker

Incidentally, the broadcast above led, either directly or indirectly, to my later interviews with Moncur, Ali and Cyrille.

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