May 2006

Barry Harris Clinic – for piano and guitar players
Presented by Art of Jazz
May 20, 2006Gibsone Jessop GalleryToronto
The Educational Component
by Joyce Corbett with photo by Roger Humbert
Saturday morning. Cool and brisk, but sunny. People slowly gather in front of the Gibsone Jessop Gallery for the Barry Harris clinic for piano and guitar players, some with guitar cases in hand, some looking through their Barry Harris guitar method books.

When the doors open, we file gratefully into the warmth of the historic stone building to learn from a legend. Dr. Barry Harris’ illustrious teachers were Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Dr. Barry Harris' illustrious pupils include Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef and Joe Henderson. Dr. Barry Harris is now as well known for his achievements as an educator as for his achievements as a musician.

Dr. Barry Harris prefaces his clinic with a few words about how jazz musicians are the classical musicians of our day. He proclaims that jazz musicians are continuing the development of classical music and if Bach and Chopin were alive today they would be here, not in the symphony hall. None of this is new territory. What is novel, to me, is what comes next, Dr. Harris’ approach to musical theory.

It goes something like this: The chromatic scale is the world. After a while, God got bored with this, so he created man and woman, the two six-note whole tone scales, which together contain all of the twelve notes. And you know what happens once there is a man and a woman — they go to bed and they have children. The three diminished chords have perfect DNA, containing as they do, two notes from each of the whole note scales, or 'mom' and 'dad'. Barry Harris moves on in this vein and calls for a pianist from the audience to demonstrate. After admonishing him for an error, Barry Harris tells the pianist, “You know, you are now my student and I adopt my students. When I come back the next time, you better know this (pause) or I’m tearing up the adoption papers.” He says this with a blow-lightening twinkle in his eyes, a firm teacher with high expectations, but no malice, the kind who inspires you to live up to and surpass expectations.

As time moves on, a few other pianists take the bench and Barry Harris takes us through discussions and demonstrations concerning sixth and diminished chords, chord movement, major and minor sixth diminished scales and drop 2. But, he says, “there’s also drop 3 and 4. Nobody talks about them. Why not?” Heady stuff and the stuff of beauty as the harmonies of songs like “My Funny Valentine” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” are explored. By the end of the class, most of the pianists attending (including Robi Botos) are circled around the piano watching and listening while the guitarists are quietly trying out the chord movements and chord/scale combinations discussed.

Vocalist Sheila Jordan arrives and takes a seat at the back of the room, ready to lead the next clinic. Barry Harris, standing by the piano, greets her with a wave of the hand and a silent hello. This is the spirit Art of Jazz worked to create and with clinics given by Dr. Barry Harris, Sheila Jordan, Hank Jones, Hilario Duran and Franciso Mela, the educational aim of the Art of Jazz Celebration is certainly being fulfilled.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report
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© The Live Music Report – 2006