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Stefon Harris

By Dan Kimpel

Stefon Harris: The Mallet and the Muse

Multiple Grammy-nominated composer, vibraphonist and marimbist Stefon Harris says that he often prefers to create his melodies sans instruments. “Many times I’ll sit in a park and close my eyes and listen to several conversations and the sounds going on around me.  There are really interesting patterns that arise that I could never imagine on my own. So music is not really about being creative, it’s about discovery of what’s already there.”

Harris is readying the release of his latest CD for Concord Records. The title, Urbanus, signifies “pertaining to the city” in Latin.  Harris says that it represents both the origins of his musicians and their genre. “Jazz has flourished in the urban environment with the diversity of an urban community -- the confluence of cultures. It’s not a one-dimensional art form. You have jazz that has been influenced by Cuban music, Bach, Stravinsky and Stevie Wonder.  It’s a music that is wide open and an unbelievable palette for the expression of a variety of cultures.”

Born in New York City in 1973, Harris trained in the classics and fell in love with jazz at the Manhattan School of music. While his compositions are central to all his projects, he notes that for Urbanus, members of his band, Blackout, also composed as well. It is an outgrowth of an inclusive  philosophy. “If I was a dictator I wouldn’t be a jazz bandleader. If I told everyone what I wanted I would only get what I asked for – and I wouldn’t be getting the best out of the people who worked for me. I want everyone to feel like it’s their band, and they have ownership in what we do. When they’re comfortable in that way, they give every bit of passion they can. The more freedom I allow, the more expansive the music is – not just the music, but my potential growth, because I learn from the people around me.”

And this sense of expansion carries on to his choice of his performing rights organization. Harris testifies that he has been with SESAC since the advent of his career. “I have never felt like a stepchild. When I first talked to them, I felt that jazz was a priority. With SESAC, you feel like you are a part of a family. That hasn’t changed over the years. It’s been a fantastic experience.”

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