Guardians of the Groove: Donald Harrison on passing the torch

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 16, 2013 at 10:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 30 at 11:55 AM

We're focusing once again on the heart and soul of the Crescent City, its incredible musicians.

Our special partnership with local radio station WWOZ features a man with deep roots in New Orleans who describes himself as a critical connection between the very first generations of jazz musicians and the young artists who are reinventing the genre today.

WWOZ DJ T.R. introduces us to this month's Guardian of the Groove.

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T.R.: We're here at the Prime Example with the great Donald Harrison, alto saxophonist, Mardi Gras Indian, a great bearer of the tradition and really one of our cultural ambassadors from New Orleans.

Donald, one of the most interesting facets of your career these days is your work bringing up youngsters into the music. We talked about Art Blakey and the kind of role he played and you have now assumed that role.

Donald Harrison: I think it’s important to provide a link to the musicians that I've played with. That's what I see my role as. When I played with Art Blakey or people like Roy Haynes, they could tell me what Charlie Parker was like and what it was like to play in those groups, so they were my link. Playing with McCoy Tyner, he could explain what it was like playing with John Coltrane. So I see my job as to keep that thread alive, because many of those masters are not with us anymore.

I actually started in New York with Roy Haynes when I was 19. My first gig was on 52nd Street with Roy Haynes. How can you – and I'd only been playing jazz – I started at 16, so I think about that now, and I'd only been playing jazz for three years and then I was playing with Roy Haynes, and that is truly amazing to me.

T.R.: Donald, there's so much happening in jazz right now, a lot of new energy. Are you optimistic about the future of this music?

Harrison: I just saw Christian McBride. He started in my band, Esperanza Spalding started in my band. My nephew Christian was taking her around. They were schoolmates at Berkley and said I should consider her for the band. She sat in and I said Christian, you're right, and I stared hiring. She's a super-talented individual

Mark Woodfield, lot of young musicians started in my band. Their first experience and then talking about them to everyone that would listen so they can build a name and then hopefully make a living at this.

My father calls me the pragmatist. I'm practical. You can't continue to play this music unless you understand it and also have a job doing it.

Want to hear more of what makes Donald Harrison special? Check out these songs below:

From The Chosen
#6 "To Nola with Love"
#9 "Drum Line"
#10 "Big Chief of the Congo Nation"

From New York Cool: Live at the Blue Note
#3 "Easy Living"
#6 "Third Plane"

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