Jazz vibraphone virtuoso and Albany native Stefon Harris returned to town recently for a homecoming concert at Proctors’ GE Theatre in Schenectady, helping to raise funds for the Ring of Hope Boxing Club’s youth program, as well as test-driving a new group of musicians for a possible new band.
Now 41 years old, Harris may no longer qualify as a wunderkind, but there’s no question that he’s certainly still wonderful. With his mallets often flying faster than the eye could see, Harris anchored a stellar group of musicians, including acclaimed bassist Linda Oh, guitarist Mike Moreno, 25-year-old drummer Jonathan Pinson and 19-year-old pianist James Francis.
“I can’t really remember the first album that I actually went out and spent my own money for.
But the first records that I owned were given to me by my father one Christmas. He gave me a lot of different recordings including Lee Morgan’s ‘Sidewinder,’ which is one that I particularly remember. I think that maybe there were also some Art Farmer records and some things by Clifford Brown.”
Rollins was also honored as Best Tenor Saxophonist. In addition, he was the subject of the portrait by John Abbott, which was named Best Jazz Photograph. And, of yeah, Rollins was also the subject of “Sonny Rollins: Getting It Back Together,” by Bret Primack, which was named Best Short Form Video of the Year:
Meanwhile, Hudson Valley saxophonist Joe Lovano and his band Us Five was named Best Small Ensemble, and their album, “Bird Songs,” earned top honors as Best Recording of the Year.
And Albany native Stefon Harris was also named Best Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year.
Nippertown jazz fans will also have the opportunity to see two more of the awards show’s double-winners in the spotlight – for free. The 84-year-old saxophonist Jimmy Heath earned the award for Best Book About Jazz (for his autobiography, “I Walked With Giants”) and well as the coveted Lifetime Achievement in Jazz honors. Heath will be performing with the Heath Brothers at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center on Tuesday, June 28. And Ambrose Akinmusire – who was named Up-and-Coming Artist of the Year as well as Best Trumpeter of the Year – is also slated to perform at the Zankel Music Center on Tuesday, July 5. Both performances are part of the Skidmore Jazz Institute.
Stefon Harris (center) and Blackout (photo by Nitin Vadukal)
“Growing up, I listened to a lot of classical music because that’s what I was studying at the time, but I can’t really remember the first album I ever bought.
I do remember the first album that turned it all around for me, however. In my first year of college, someone gave me a record by Charlie Parker called ‘Now’s the Time.’ It was a very moving experience, and that’s all it took for me. I listened to that recording, and I was completely blown away.
The next year, I moved to New York City so that I could be closer to the jazz and learn more about it.”
Albany native Stefon Harris received a wonderful holiday homecoming gift last night, when it was revealed that the jazz vibraphone phenom had garnered a Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category for his album, “Urbanus.” Recorded with his group Blackout and produced by Harris, the album is the 36-year-old vibesman’s first for the Concord Jazz label.
Harris faces some stiff competition for the award, however, as Julian Lage’s “Sounding Point,” Philippe Saisse’s “At World’s Edge,” Mike Stern’s “Big Neighborhood” and the late Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate’s “75,” are the other nominees in the category.
Harris and his band Blackout are in town to perform on the “Melodies of Christmas” program at Proctors in Schenectady. The concert opens at 7pm tonight (Thursday, December 3) and continues at 7pm Friday and Saturday, before concluding with a matinee at 3pm Sunday. The concert is being filmed and will be broadcast on WRGB-TV (Ch. 6) during the holidays.
Also performing on the 30th anniversary edition of “Melodies of Christmas” will be the Empire State Orchestra & Youth Choral, the McKrells with Sara Milonovich, the duo of Randy Crafton & Amy Platt and the Orlando School of Dance.
But Harris isn’t the only musician with Nippertown ties to garner a nomination for the 2010 Grammy Awards, which will be announced on Sunday, January 31.
Woodstock’s own Levon Helm – former drummer with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Band – snagged a nomination in the first-time ever Best Americana Album category for his latest CD, “Electric Dirt.”
Saratoga Springs native David Hyde Pierce picked up a Grammy nomination in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category for his recording of “The Phantom Tollbooth.”
And in the classical music department, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus teamed up with conductor James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra to a record a live performance of Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe,” which earned a hat-trick’s worth of Grammy nominations on Wednesday. The recording – the debut album on the orchestra’s new indie recording label, BSO CLassics – earned noms as Best Engineered Classical Album, Best Orchestral Recording and Best Classical Album.
Go here for a complete list of nominees in all 109 Grammy Award categories.
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