Donald Harrison is being called one of the most important musicians of the new millennium by CBS Sunday Morning. A list of his accomplishments shows that he has developed into a musical category unto himself. In the classic jazz genre, he is the originator of the Nouveau Swing style which merges acoustic swing with modern R&B, second-line, hip-hop, (New Orleans African American roots culture), and reggae rhythms. His smooth jazz recording, The Power of Cool, went to the top of Billboard Magazine’s Smooth Jazz and R&B charts and is considered a classic. His ground-breaking recording, “Indian Blues” captured the essence of Mardi Gras Indian culture within a jazz context. His latest New Orleans recording, “The New Sounds of Mardi Gras”, updates New Orleans music. It puts the sounds of Mardi Gras into Hip-hop, R&B, and Funk. It also marks Harrison’s debut as a rapper. The great singer-pianist Dr. John says of the recording, This is the freshest thing to come out of New Orleans in years. You deserve an award for this one. Harrison’s newest Classic Jazz recording, “Heroes”, is now available. The CD is a trio recording with the great bass innovator Ron Carter and drum innovator Billy Cobham. The CD also features three bonus tracks with his young working band. In April he released “Freestyle” with his young working band. It showcases his Nouveau Swing in an even funkier presentation. In September Half-Note Records will release his second trio recording with Ron Carter and Billy Cobham which was recorded live at the Blue Note NYC. Presently, Harrison is recording yet another CD titled, “3D” The recording is a three CD set which features a different genre of music on each disc. The genres are Classic Jazz, R&B-Smooth Jazz, and Hip-hop. This exciting project will showcase Harrison’s ability to produce, write, sing, rap, and play many instruments.
Harrison now a proven master of many musical genres, has written and performed many innovative classic jazz compositions. Some of his compositions are now part of the standard repertoire of jazz. He has written and performed in the R&B and smooth jazz genre where his chart topping recording, “The Power of Cool” has received radio airplay everyday for the last 10 years. He has also written and performed as a Hip-hop MC. His influence on the whole rap culture as an early mentor of The Notorius BIG on the science of rap and life was documented on VH-1. He is also master singer/dancer in traditional New Orleans culture. Harrison now a Big Chief even designs and makes his own Mardi Gras costumes which are considered works of art. He is The Big Chief of Congo Square with his group the Congo Nation. He has composed and played classical works with major orchestras. The question with Harrison is not what he can do, but is there anything he can’t do? So far he has mastered and influenced everything he has touched.
Today the 47-year-old saxophonist is regarded as one of the most influential musicians of these times, yet he remains inextricably tied to his New Orleans roots. The son of late great Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr. began working with Roy Haynes at age 19 and Jack McDuff at age 20. He joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at age 21. A few years later, he co-led a band with Terence Blanchard that had an enormous impact on the development of the “neo-conservative” movement. After that group split in 1989, Harrison became a prodigious leader releasing a number of well-received records. Harrison has also discovered and nurtured some of the finest young jazz musicians like the young trumpeter Christian Scott, Mark Whitfield, Dwayne Burno, Christian McBride, Cyrus Chestnut, as well as rap icon The Notorious BIG who was his neighbor in Brooklyn for eight years. He also worked throughout the 90’s with a wide variety of world-class talents. Such notables include Lena Horne, Spike Lee, Latin jazz giant Eddie Palmieri, and the smash hip hop groups, Jazzmatazz, The Notorius BIG, and Digable Planets. All of this diverse experience fuels Harrison’s dynamic sound. In the new millennium, Harrison has written and performed major orchestral works. Recently he has performed with his own groups as well as The Head Hunters, Jennifer Holiday, Larry Coryell, and The Art of Four with Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, and James Williams.
He is one of the few musicians who can play it all – from traditional New Orleans, to swing, bop, post-bop, modern, smooth, avant-garde, and beyond. Yet, Harrison has developed his own personal style that traverses and synthesizes all these mediums with great success. Through talent and perseverance, Harrison has developed into one of the most significant artist to emerge in the last twenty years!