“We’ll deliver a show with a little bit of movement, a little bit of funk, a little bit of jazz improv. But we’re always going to come back to the notion that it’s Valentine’s Day,” Harris says, describing his plans for the show.
A program of Chesapeake Music, Jazz on the Chesapeake is staging the annual Valentine celebration with the guitarist-singer-songwriter on Saturday, February 11th at the Academy Art Museum in Easton.
Harris was introduced to music at young age—his mother was a classical pianist; his aunt, a vocalist; and his great-aunt ran a soul food restaurant down the street from the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
“I couldn’t run from this vocation that I have with jazz and music,” he says. “It was just inbred in me as a child.”
While studying at California State College, Harris performed at coffee houses and other local establishments, performing rock n’roll and R&B numbers. Still, he combined elements of jazz in his performances, paying tribute to his roots.
“I finished up school and decided to make my mark as a jazz vocalist and guitar player,” he says.
Harris refers to jazz as the true American art form. He mentions its role in America’s history and describes the genre as a melting pot, combining white and black culture; a blend of neoclassical sounds and African rhythms. To Harris, jazz speaks to what it means to be American.
“Jazz is a great expression of what we are,” he says, adding that he’s also a fan of the freedom within the genre. “Every night when we do a song, we do it differently. We keep the template of what it is, but try to stretch it a little bit.”
Harris is known for his eclectic approach to songwriting, taking components of country, R&B, blues, and more—an ability he credits to his aunt. From Tony Bennett to Nat King Cole and Arthur Prysock to Elvis Presley, her taste in music, he says, knew no bounds.
“I gained a lot of that in my writings and my compositions,” he adds. “I put a lot of that into my words and into my melodies.”
It’s certainly evident in his most recent album, “Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better,” which steps away from the typical confines of jazz and reflects on musical musings from the past.
“[My producer Brian Bacchus] said ‘Let’s do something like how it was 40-50 years ago when everyone sat around the radio and it wasn’t just one sort of music you were hearing,’” he says, listing the artists, from the The Temptations to Pink Floyd, that would flood listeners’living rooms. “[Bacchus] said ‘Let’s bring that back and do it in a way that keeps you fresh.’”
While he’s really excited about his new album—he says it’s one of the records he’s most proud of—his upcoming show won’t stray too far from the Valentine’s theme. He says he’ll throw in a few songs from past releases and perhaps one or two from his newest album, but he wants to pay homage to the holiday.
“I want you to sit there and be enamored by what I’m doing and, hopefully, with the person you’re with,” he adds with a laugh.
Accompanying Harris will be pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, bassist Leon Boykins, and drummer Shirazette Tinnin. He says concert-goers can expect to smile.
“I guarantee every song you hear will be a song that you not only recognize, but we’re going to make you feel like we’re your old friends,” he says. “We’re going to warm your heart and share our love of this music with you.”
By Becca Newell
Watch and listen Allan Harris here: https://youtu.be/4P6RN3YQw6I.
An Unforgettable Night with Allan Harris begins at 8 p.m. at the Academy Art Museum. Tickets are $55. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 410-819-0380 or visit Jazzonthechesapeake.org.