Vince Benedetti Tribute
In Memory of Barry Harris
I first began listening to so-called "modern jazz" in the early 1960s. The Miles Davis quintet with Red Garland was very popular then and a friend at that time introduced me to it. So I was listening to that as well as to Thelonius Monk. I learned my basic piano
voicings from listening to Monk. One day another acquaintance told me: "Red Garland is
OK but Barry Harris is really where it's at!" I respected this guy because he had
discriminating taste in other things. He was into Havana cigars for one. So I went looking
for a record of Barry and I found "Live At The Jazz Workshop" which, by the way remains
one of the most swinging trio records ever. I listened to it and immediately identified with
his type of phrasing. I just felt it, that is all. I learned to play a number of the tunes from that record at that time.
But the 1960s was also the decade of other developments. There was modal jazz,
free jazz, jazz rock, fusion etc. Bebop was out of style for many musicians. One Brazilian
pianist I knew in Paris said to me "Why do you still play like that? Nobody plays like that
anymore". So for us who were just starting out, it was necessary to perform in some of
those genres that were trending at the time. So I let myself be influenced by modal
principles and composed some things in that genre.
It was mid-1990s that I heard that Barry was giving a workshop in Verona. It was
an opportune moment for me because due to various reasons including raising the
children, I had not been very active. By then the modal approach had reached its
developmental limit, and several artists had veered into electronics or simplistic one or
two chord formulas with binary rhythms.
The experience of the workshop gave me a new stimulus to rediscover the roots of
the tradition in which I had come up. Shortly thereafter I helped organize Barry's
workshops in Switzerland and later on I was a regular guest performer at his workshops
in Rome. I have never met anyone who knew as much about harmony and how to apply it
to the piano. Barry remained true to what he considered to be the most valid approach to
jazz and that with the most potential for creativity. I am thankful to have discovered him at a young age and again later. It is as if I had come full circle.
January 16, 2022