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Mon, 10.29.1934

The “Electrifying” Eddie Harris

Eddie Harris, 1988

On this date in 1934, Eddie Harris, a Black jazz saxophonist, author and vocalist.

Harris was born in Chicago and studied piano at home and attended DuSable High School, where under the direction of Capt. Walter Dyett, he learned to play vibraphone.  He made his professional debut as a pianist with Gene Ammons. Throughout his career, Harris was a tireless experimenter, playing saxophones with brass mouthpieces and vice versa. He wrote several books, including “The Intervalistic Concept for All Single Line Instruments,” an elaboration for saxophone of a piano style based on intervals.

Eddie Harris was a one-of-a-kind, nonconformist multi-instrumentalist whose first recording, a saxophone rendition of the theme from the movie “Exodus” (1961), was a pop instrumental hit.  Harris went to become one of the first jazz musicians to "plug in," playing his horn through a Varitone attachment, which netted him another hit, 1966's "The Tender Storm.” Later, he sang through a synthesized saxophone and employed a guitarist on a customized instrument that was made to sound like a Hammond B-3 organ.

Harris' composition "Freedom Jazz Dance" became a jazz standard after Miles Davis recorded it.  Harris enjoyed renewed popularity with Les McCann's funk/jazz group, beginning in 1969, when they performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival; together they also recorded “Compared To What” and “Swiss Movement.” Harris recorded a jazz/rock album with Steve Winwood. “Jeff Beck and Eddie Harris in the UK.”

In the latter half of his career, Harris incorporated vocals into his performances, as well as stand-up comedy. His recorded output was huge, and uneven.

Eddie Harris died in Los Angeles on November 5, 1996.

Jazz People
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York
Copyright 1976
ISBN 0-8109-1152-3

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