About Joel Harrison

Named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010, Washington D.C. native Joel Harrison has long been recognized as a highly gifted guitarist, composer, arranger, vocalist and songwriter. A survey of Harrison’s body of work would be a bit like spinning a globe and stumbling on regions with names like Duke Ellington, Hendrix, The Beatles, John Mclaughlin, and Charles Ives. Wielding a focused lens and an ever-increasing courage to take risks with his art, Harrison has quickly blossomed from mentorships with Joan Tower, Ali Akbar Khan and Charlie Banacos into one of the most respected artists of his generation.

Harrison is a two-time winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Composition Competition, and has received support from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Flagler Cary Trust, NYSCA, New Music USA, and the Jerome Foundation.  He has released 16 cds since 1995 as a leader. His most recent effort is Multiplicity (Whirlwind Recordings ), a collaboration with virtuoso sarodist Anupam Shobhakar. Both contributed compositions and arrangements of folk and blues material for a group that includes Dan Weiss (drums/ tabla), Hans Glawischnig (bass) and Gary Versace (keys.)

His latest CD is Mother Stump (Cuneiform), where Harrison finally puts himself out front as a guitarist, leading a trio that catalyzes numerous American guitar styles, in a stunning display of raw sound and emotion that both soothes and rocks. Featured are bassist Michael Bates, drummer Jeremy Clemons, and guest keyboardist Glenn Patscha, playing an amazing assortment of covers such as John the Revelator, Paul Motian’s Folk Song For Rosie, and Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne,  as well as originals.

His 2013 release, Infinite Possibility, new music for a 19 piece jazz orchestra, received a four and a half star review from Downbeat. AllMusic called it “a stellar exercise in ambition and vision.” Past  works include Harrison on Harrison (Highnote, 2005), exploring the music of George Harrison, (Dave Liebman, Uri Caine and David Binney), Free Country (Norah Jones, Binney, Gary Versace), and the septet Search (Donny McCaslin, Stephan Crump, Dana Leong). All display his affection for country, gospel, Indian, modern jazz, classical concepts, and of course his dry sense of humor dispatched with a Zen sensibility.

The boundaries are further blurred in Harrison’s 2011 project, Search, which utilizes the techniques of contemporary classical composers like John Adams, Charles Ives, and Olivier Messiaen in compositions for a septet of modern jazz’s finest instrumentalists.

The combination of formal Western classical notation with improvised music from  jazz, African, and Eastern traditions may be perceived by some as experimental; however, Joel Harrison’s music directly challenges this philosophical model. In fact, Harrison proposes that in the very near future we may come to see many more musicians emerging with equal proficiency and fortitude on both ends of the equatorial and cultural divide, and in deference to a musical climate defined by a directive that averts any social or cultural barrier in its midst.
 A quote from the spoken poetry of Oliver Lake, from a Joel Harrison project, touches on this astutely: “It’s best just to create it and play it. Put all my music on the same plate!”