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Wendell Harrison's

Wendell Harrison Blac photo
Wendell Harrisonphoto1Monni

Photo by Lauren Jezlorski

Photo by Moni

2016 Chamber Music of America

American Ensemble
Hometown Hero
In 1960, the Detroit-born tenor saxophone, clarinetist, and educator Wendell Harrison moved to New York City, in search of fame and fortune. Ten years later, having built a career as a sideman with the like of Hank Crawford, Jack McDuff, and Grant Green, he made his way back to the Motor City, “in one year, I had gotten married, bought property, launched a magazine and a record company, and had two or three different bands,” the seventh three-year old Harrison say by phone from his Detroit home, “I could never have done that in New York.”​Back in his hometown, Harrison co-founded the artist collective Tribe alongside Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, pianist Harold McKinney, and trombonist Phil Ranelin; published an art magazine and record label of the same name; served as artistic director of Rebirth Incorporated, a non-profit jazz arts organization; and released twenty-plus CD’S as a leader, including Urban Expressions, Reawakening, and 2013’s It’s Just About Damn Time.

​Today, Harrison has his energy focused on a few important projects. A German distributor plans to release his entire catalog, and he’s releasing a new ninety-minute DVD in January, featuring his clarinet ensemble and others. “ In the clarinet group, there’s clarinet music, original tunes, and some classical pieces by Paquito D’ River, a little bit of Chopin, Mozart and ragtime” he says. “And, in my own group, we’ll be playing odd meters, and some Senegalese, Jamaican, Afro-Cuban music.” Nowadays, video is more effective for the moving pictures culture we live in When people see you play, it has more of an impact. Pretty soon we’re going to have to deal with holograms [laugh].”
​Harrison’s hometown greatly shaped his sound, as evidenced by his big Sonny Rollins-esque tenor tones, his fluid and finessed clarinet lines, and the solid musical foundation he received from local teachers, like Barry Harris. “ Barry, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Yusef Lateef…all of these cats went to college, got degrees, and knew how to put stuff down on paper,” he says. “ That was very important: to be [musically literate]. Everybody learned how to read, playing the idiom. And gave you the facility to play anything.”

Eugene Holly ( Fall 2016, p. 34) Chamber Music USA.

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