Gene Harris (1933-2000) can safely be termed the most serious populist jazz musician to perform in the last 50 years. He is among the most accessible and amiable of jazz pianists, who focused his superior command of the blues and ballads to produce some of the most enduring and enlightening jazz music ever. For these reasons, Mr. Harris has been largely overlooked and underestimated as driving force in jazz. For the uninitiated, this driving force was God in Mr. Harris' left hand.
Gene Harris was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. After performing in the US Army Band during the Korean conflict, he formed a trio with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy that was to define the face of Soul-Jazz, The Three Sounds. In this capacity, Harris was to provide the rhythm section for several notable musicians, including Nate Adderley, Stanley Turrentine, Ernestine Anderson, and Anita O'Day. Mr. Harris and the Three Sounds (in a variety of configurations) recorded and performed into the mid-1970s when Harris went into semi-retirement at his home in Boise, Idaho.
In 1983, just when he thought he had been forgotten, bassist Ray Brown appealed to Harris to return to the studio and stage. His first recording out of retirement was Milt Jackson's Soul Route. From there, Harris joined Brown's trio for a score of notable recordings before leading his own trios and small groups through the late 1980s, recording for the Bay Area-based Concord Jazz. At the close of that decade, Harris was approached by Andrew Whist, then president of the Phillip Morris Jazz Grant, to lead an all-star big band on a world tour. This resulted in two superb big band recordings that, added to his earlier Tribute to Count Basie mark Harris as a great large band arranger and leader.
Throughout the 90s, Harris was given free reign to record how he wished. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD opined that Harris always ended up making the same record...but that was all right. Gene Harris' music always sounded as if it had a smile on its face as big as the one Harris himself wore while performing. That type of sunshine can never be dimmed. Gene Harris died on January 16, 2000 while awaiting a kidney transplant from his daughter. His beaming personality illuminates all through his recorded legacy.
Gene Harris and the Three Sounds: Introducing The Three Sounds (Blue Note, 1958)
Nat Adderley Quintet (Featuring The Three Sounds): Branching Out (Riverside, 1958)
Stanley Turrentine with the Three Sounds: The Complete Blue Hour Sessions (Blue Note, 1960)
Anita O'Day and the Three Sounds: Anita O'Day and the Three Sounds (Verve, 1962)
Gene Harris: The Three Sounds Live at the It Club (Volumes 1 & 2) (Blue Note, 1970)
Gene Harris All Star Big Band: Tribute to Count Basie(Concord, 1987)
Ray Brown: Bam Bam Bam (Concord, 1988)
Gene Harris: Listen Here! (Concord, 1989)
Gene Harris: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Volume 23 (Concord, 1992)
Gene Harris Superband: Big Band Soul (Concord, 2002)