Photo by Ruth Morgan
Cutting-edge Composer and Jazz Trombonist
“If you deal with African American music you have to deal with Harlem, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes.”
Craig S. Harris is a musician who soars through the skies exploring life’s intricate rhythms. Any attempts to categorize his innovative body of work would be fruitless. Like Duke Ellington, the trombonist will only admit to playing music. “I’m an African-American musician,” noted Harris. “The labels or terms don’t mean anything.”
Since his 1976 arrival on the jazz scene, Harris has become an African-American musical expressionist. His unique journey is a mixture of multimedia and performance art as a composer, performer, conceptualist, curator and artistic director. “Playing music is everything that I do. It’s all about the music,” explains Harris. “My concept is total art integration: dance, music, theater and poetry. The arts shouldn’t be separated. There’s a whole world of music for us to improvise on.”
Harris has enjoyed an ongoing collaborative relationship with poet Sekou Sundiata, while performing with such progressive jazz figures as Sam Rivers, Lester Bowie, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Cecil Taylor, as well as The Dells, Eddie Kendricks and a two-year stint with Lena Horne on Broadway. Harris’ current recording, a two CD set entitled Souls Within the Veil (Aquastra) commemorates the centennial of W.E.B. Dubois’ momentous book The Souls of Black Folk. Harris stated, “The music that comes from African-Americans is in constant transition. If you deal with African-American music you have to deal with Harlem, W.E.B. Dubois, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes.” His formation of the Nation of Imagination bridges artistic alliances between musicians of different cultures. “Music is the thing that forms a relationship even if you can’t speak the same language,” states Harris. His Tailgaters Tales ensemble draws on the entire spectrum of Black music for its repertoire. And his Slide Ride is a trombone quartet with Ray Anderson, Joseph Bowie and Gary Valente.
Born in Hempstead, Long Island, Harris graduated from the renowned music program of SUNY at Old Westbury, he was profoundly influenced by its founder and director, the late Makanda
Ken McIntyre. His later three-year stint with Sun Ra and his Arkestra proved to be an inspirational experience. “Sun Ra was the real key to total integration, his band always included singers and dancers. He understood the show, the total package,” says Harris.
—by RON SCOTT