Dynamo drummer and renown band leader Winard Harper addresses jazz's past, present and future on the Piadrum Records release, Make It Happen
Release Date: August 8, 2006
An outstanding drummer, bandleader, and percussionist, Winard Harper is known throughout the world for his resolute style, tremendous touch and deep knowledge of jazz history. Born to a musical family in Baltimore, Maryland, Winard grew up surrounded by not only jazz, but the popular music of the day. When in his latter teenage years, he and brother Philip established the Harper Brothers Quintet, acclaim followed the band as they performed to adoring crowds across the globe. In the years that followed Winard dug in his heels and recorded a string of gritty albums that showed his ever expanding musical palette and perpetually hard driving style. With seven albums to his credit, Make It Happen marks a new plateau in this restless musician's career. Pairing an exceptional band with forward-thinking compositions, Winard Harper addresses the evolution of jazz on Make It Happen.
Every year there is growth, Winard explains. The players in my band are growing; I am growing and the concept of the band is growing. We expand on our ideas; we are evolving. With this record, you will find things that are on all of my records, but this is the first time we really utilized all the different elements -- the African experience, the world music influences, the different percussion instruments -- in the compositions."
Harper's bands have always been hothouses of improvisation, but Make It Happen is the most adventurous offering of his career yet. Special guests Wycliffe Gordon and Antonio Hart join long time members Ameen Saleem, Josh Evans, Lawrence Clark, T.W. Sample, Sean Higgins, Stacy Dillard and Alioune Faye. Make It Happen also features Harper's full percussion section: Abdou Mboup, Kevin Jones, and Jeremy Jones. In addition, Harper's resonant balafon playing adds a distinctive touch and tone to this unique ensemble, its power and precision barely contained in cohesive group fireworks.
Crossing hard bop, lush ballads and African percussion demands extraordinary finesse and invention, but the typically self effacing Harper takes no credit for his resourcefulness, crediting past masters for inspiration.
It all comes out of my love for Cannonball Adderley's band," he admits. They could play anything. They could take any arrangement, originals, standards, whatever, and play them in such a way that everything just felt good. So when I bring in the African and Caribbean element I am just trying to make music, I am not thinking about it."
What else comes naturally to the great jazz musicians? Swing, of course, but more importantly, heart. You gotta have heart.
This music is all about heart," Harper adds. You have to reach out and be able to pull things out of yourself and touch people. Your heart has to be right. That is different for everybody. I get there by connecting with the Creator through prayer, connecting with people, connecting with myself. I can most certainly hear it if a musician doesn't have heart. Can't you? Sometimes you hear a musician who has the music in his head, but it ain't in their heart yet."
Make It Happen is a study in both head and heart. Charlie Parker's infrequently covered Segment" opens the album. Graced with a swaying Caribbean lilt via Alioune Faye's percussion, the track lifts off from the first note.
Wycliffe Gordon's digideroo and Winard's pulsing balafon introduces the title track, which builds slowly with group percussion, brass punctuations and steaming organ into a mighty statement of intent. At one point Winard's descending balafon roll sounds for all the world like a Chinese melody from the 17th century Manchu Qing dynasty!
Frank Loesser's lovely I've Never Been In Love Before" is given an elegant reading by the group, with solos by Antonio Hart, Lawrence Clark and Josh Evans framing the track in a glowing ease while revealing this group's tremendous diversity.
Wycliffe's Get It" gives Winard space to show off his whirling straight ahead sticking chops and immaculate swing logic, the song moving at a breakneck pace. Winard's full throated drum roar is especially exciting.
Another interesting interpretation is found on Ray Bryant's Reflections." A long time member of the pianist's trio, Harper again upends a lovely jazz standard with a brisk Caribbean cum swing lilt, making the song his own.
A few tracks later, Winard performs one of his current solo vehicles, BangBangBoomBoomBapBap." That is one of my pieces inspired by Max and Higgins," Winard says. It just sounds like what I call it, bang bang boom boom bap bap. It is all improvised. That is the beauty of jazz music, it is all conversation."
Like all great musicians, Harper and Co. relate on a conversational level, one filled with heart, daring and a shared sense that no one on the bandstand is ever alone. For every solo and shout chorus declared by every jazz musician working small clubs to grand stages, the present doesn't exist without the past. For Winard Harper, it's a continuum without end.
I love playing," he says. I am still excited about it. At the same time I understand how important this music is. And it is still hard work, it will keep you humble. God and family keeps me inspired and the debt that I owe. All the great musicians understood the history of the music and the culture. Abbey Lincoln told me there is a debt to be paid to all the greats, all of those people whose shoulders we stand upon."