As a young lion in the mid-1980s, drummer Winard Harper came of age in the midst of a jazz boom. Resurgent legends mentored budding players, providing them with invaluable experience and exposure. Record labels sought out young artists, and clubs rushed to book their bands.
Harper first gained attention as a supple timekeeper in 1982 with tenor sax titans Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin. But it was his four-year run with vocalist Betty Carter that catapulted the Baltimore native into prominence. He made his Seattle debut with Carter, a savvy talent scout who ran her band like a boot camp for improvisers, and he's returned many times as the leader of his own combo.
He arrives in town on Tuesday for a two-night run at Jazz Alley looking at a jazz landscape transformed by technology and recession. After more than a decade leading a sextet constantly refreshed by a stream of top young talent, Harper is talking about downsizing. With sadness in his voice, he indicated that his longest-serving band member, Senegalese percussionist Alioune Faye, may not make the West Coast trip.
I'm not sure he's coming out," said Harper, 47. It's just rough out there. Flying is already so expensive, and now they want to charge you for luggage. Keeping a band together is harder than ever. We're figuring out how to make things work."
After a string of excellent sessions for Savant, Harper released his last sextet album, Make It Happen," in 2006 on Piadrum. Characteristically, the CD features well-traveled contemporaries like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and altoist Antonio Hart alongside rising stars such as tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trumpeter Josh Evans.
This story appears courtesy of Seattle Jazz Scene.
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