Gene Harris

Gene Harris was born Sept. 1, 1933. He was first attracted to music when he was four. Growing up in Benton Harbor, Michigan, he was attracted to the music of local bandleader Charles Metcalf’s group and was inspired to try to pick out songs on the piano. Harris also enjoyed the music he heard in church and the boogie-woogie records of his parents. Swing, gospel and blues combined to form the roots of his style. Harris quickly developed as a pianist, had opportunities to play music while serving in the Army (1951-54) and, after his discharge, he formed the Four Sounds. By 1956 the group dropped their original plan to include a tenor-saxophonist and had been renamed the Three Sounds.

During 1956-70, the Three Sounds (which also included the late bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy) was one of the most popular bands in jazz. The group performed the swinging and soulful music that one still associates with Harris, recording quite prolifically and helping to define soul jazz. Harris retained the Three Sounds name for a few years after the departure of Simpkins and Dowdy and then in 1977 largely retired from the jazz scene to settle in Boise, Idaho and play at a local hotel. After a few years out of the spotlight, in the early 1980’s bassist Ray Brown persuaded Harris to travel again. The pianist for a time was a member of Brown’s Trio before forming his own quartet, showing that his powerful blues-based style was still very much in its prime.

Since his return, Gene Harris has recorded many albums for Concord in settings ranging from quartet outings and dates on which he led the Philip Morris Superband to a set of unaccompanied piano solos (Vol. 23 of the acclaimed Maybeck Recital Hall Series). Together these highly enjoyable releases form quite a musical legacy.