Bruce Harris trumpets showmanship, grace at quartet show
Bruce Harris is the type of trumpeter to play obscure Prince tunes as a jazz waltz. Steeped in tradition yet simultaneously forward thinking, Harris has had a dynamic career, playing with stars from Tony Bennett to Rihanna.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Spike Lee’s 1990 film “Mo Betta Blues” inspired Harris to pick up the trumpet. The music of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis continued his interest in jazz. Eventually, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, building an impressive resume along the way.
Harris is coming off a strong 2017 with the release of his debut album “Beginnings.” The album was well reviewed, receiving four out of five stars from allaboutjazz.com. After an eventful year, Harris brought his talents and his band to New Brunswick last night. The event, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, was held in collaboration with the New Brunswick Jazz Project (NBJP).
“This is the first time that we have had Bruce back to the New Brunswick Jazz Project since probably 2012 ... It’s been a while,” said Virginia DeBerry, NBJP co-founder, to a nearly full house. “So we’re very glad to have him and his wonderful band here at the Hyatt.”
Harris brought a reduced band compared to the quintet featured on his album. Playing in a quartet, he was joined by Steve Ash on piano, Chris Haney on bass and Aaron Kimmel on drums.
The first set performed was a bebop showcase of sorts. The group performed hits from legends like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd Dameron.
When Harris plays, he moves his trumpet around in a wide arc, almost like he’s looking for something. When he finds it, he slowly brings his horn back down. This type of showmanship was just one way Harris showed how much mastery he had over his instrument.
Their sound was just as settled in, replicating the 1940s bebop sound to a tee. With Harris perched comfortably on a stool, snapping and visibly grooving to his band, the group looked right at home. Turns out he was.
“I like any place where the audience is right on top of you," Harris said.
He claimed that he feels more connected and prefers when the audience is up front and center. The band as a whole didn’t flinch at the proximity of the eager listeners in the Hyatt restaurant.
Ash worked dutifully within the typical blues influenced riffs that bebop interpolates regularly. Haney laid a solid foundation, while still playing surprisingly horn-esque melodic solos. Using rhythmic motifs borrowed from players like Max Roach, Kimmel showed great coordination and control.
After a brief intermission, the band returned with a new vigor and a new member.
Jerry Weldon, a Rutgers Jazz Studies graduate Class of 1981 and internationally renowned tenor saxophonist, joined the group for the second set. The surprise guest immediately tore into a raucous solo, eliciting cheers from the crowd. Harris and Weldon traded solos in spectacular fashion, and the group’s cohesion was only bolstered by the new addition.
Weldon’s playing demonstrated how seasoned of a performer he was, as his solos were just spacious enough to keep the crowd captive. Playing hunched over, it seemed like he was so moved by the music, that he couldn’t stand up straight.
The second set was more varied, with Harris selecting some originals, like his album cut “So Near, So Far." As the performance drew to a close, the crowd thanked the band for a wonderful evening of live entertainment. Harris left the night on a good note by looking towards the future.
“In 2018, I look forward to recording my second album,” he said.
If the crowd at the Hyatt was any indication, he’s not alone in his anticipation.