From Eddie Harris to John Prine…Well, there’s the Chicago connection. Are you detecting a theme? I’ve been a huge fan since Mr. Prine traded his mailman hat for a spot on the stage at The Earl of Oldtown in the late 1960s. He has mastered the art of distilling universal moments of humanity into emotionally direct pictures. His best songs stick to you, and his folksy, off-the-cuff delivery, and wry sense of humor, make him that much more endearing. I’ve been listening to his 2005 release, ‘Fair and Square’ occasionally for the last couple of years. ‘Other Side of Town’, ‘Some Humans Ain’t Human’, ‘Crazy As a Loon’, and ‘She Is My Everything’ are wonderful songs, but the one that stays with me is ‘The Glory of True Love’. I am always amazed that he comes up with these enduring melodies, from such a simple musical palette….Somehow, those particular colors have never been mixed in quite that combination. His lyrics and performance are always perfectly balanced. A wonderful songwriter with much to say about life on this earth.
Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Eddie Harris, the late tenor saxophonist. Maybe it’s my Chicago roots, I don’t know. ‘Listen Here’ with it’s simple 2-chord vamp captures the minimalist essence of everything that feels right to me about jazz. During his career Mr. Harris was considered jazz-funk and fell somewhere in the shadow of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, etc. Although his recorded output was uneven, his voice was completely original. His tone was rich, and his experiments with electronics were ahead of their time. His simple riff-based style reminds me of something John Mayer said about Stevie Ray Vaughn (I paraphrase); “…he was always playing rhythm guitar…”. I particularly loved Eddie’s trademark technique of anchoring his solos with a simple repeated lick, jumping back and forth between registers. In my writing I have long pursued that mysterious space between simple, direct, groove and the more sophisticated elements of harmony and rhythm. Whenever I try to visit that place, I’m pulled back to Eddie Harris, and wonder if there is anything to explore he hasn’t already said.