|Drummer WINARD HARPER is passionate about jazz.
"This music is powerful," he says. "It can do a lot of good for people. If they'd spend some time each day listening to it, we would see many changes in the world."
Inspired by the musicianship of greats such as Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Jackie McLean, Cannonball Adderley, Dr. Billy Taylor, Art Blakey and Billy Higgins, Harper has been the leader and musical inspiration for a vibrant sextet for almost a decade. The group appears regularly all over the United States from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to Yoshi's, the legendary West Coast jazz club. Although clearly the dominant force behind this extraordinarily gifted ensemble, Harper has surrounded himself with superbly talented young guardians of the jazz tradition (including Lawrence Clark, Ameen Saleem, Josh Evans, Stacy Dillard and Alioune Faye), who are as entertaining to watch as they are to listen to.
Born in Baltimore in 1962, Winard had a natural affinity for drumming. He was encouraged to play the drums by his father, who noticed him beating on cans when he was three or four years old. At the age of five, Winard was developing his skills and making guest appearances with his older brother Danny's nightclub band. A turning point was reached when Winard heard a recording of Clifford Brown and Max Roach. It was then that he was irreversibly inspired to play jazz. "I was fascinated hearing Max do the things he did playing with mallets and everything," he remembers.
“Early on,” Harper continues, “I transcribed a couple of Max solos, but I really just loved listening to him. He was a big influence as well as Art Blakey, and more so than anybody, Billy Higgins. The joy and the passion and his love of playing really made an impact on me. I could see similarities between myself and him, and then we became such great friends. A lot of the concept of my band was inspired by Billy. A lot of the African influences and different instruments I use in the band, Billy was always exploring as well.”
Constantly in reverence of his predecessors while remaining innovative in his own right, Harper has become one of the most celebrated drummers in jazz. He is a virtuoso on the drum set as well as the balafon, the West African equivalent of the marimba. Critics have written that Winard is as pleasing and entertaining to watch as he is to hear. "As tasteful a drummer as one could ask for," according to Jeff Kaliss of JazzTimes. Franz Matzner recently wrote in All About Jazz that the sextet's performance "culminated in an evening of fireworks with a sustained display of percussive pyrotechnics by Harper so rapid fire, so mind bogglingly dexterous, and so expressively diverse, as to be truly awe-inspiring." And in a Washington Post review, Mike Joyce said, "Winard Harper's wonderfully orchestrated solos alone might have forced a corpse to grin!"
Harper's first major gig was with Dexter Gordon in 1982, and shortly thereafter with Johnny Griffin. It wasn't long before his drumming skills captured the attention of Betty Carter. He spent four years working with Ms. Carter's band, inevitably honing his jazz-as-entertainment sense of showmanship.
“With Betty I learned consistency and persistence,” Harper recalls. “Working with her prepared me to become a bandleader. I learned a lot about the business from her. When I left Betty’s band, I came out with enough information to get the Harper Brothers on the way. She gave me the inside track on bookings, clubs, most of the places we worked were the same places I worked with her.”
During the 1980s while Winard worked as a sideman to such jazz legends as Ray Bryant, Abdullah Ibrahim, Pharoah Sanders and Clifford Jordan, he also laid the foundation for what would become The Harper Brothers band. He and his brother Philip launched a band that would blaze a brilliant trail both on the charts and on the international touring circuit.
"Man for man, The Harper Brothers Quintet, … is the most brilliant new jazz group of the new decade," declared Leonard Feather in his review of the band's Los Angeles performance in early 1990. Remembrance, the band's second album went to #1 on Billboard's jazz chart in 1991.
Winard Harper, Piadrum recording artist, is one of the hardest working drummers in jazz today, not only leading his very exciting and hard-swinging sextet, but also continuing as an in-demand sideman. When not touring with his band, Harper continues to work and record with such artists such as Joe Lovano, Avery Sharpe, Steve Turre, Wycliffe Gordon, Frank Wess, Ray Bryant, and Jimmy Heath. His newest CD, Make It Happen, goes further than any of his previous six releases to highlight his talent as drummer, composer and bandleader.
And now the Winard Harper Sextet moves to a new level of success. Not only is the band gaining increased air play around the globe, joined by regular appearances at festivals, on jazz cruises, concert halls and in top jazz clubs, the Winard Harper Sextet is doing their part to bring the power of jazz to audiences everywhere. The response has been nothing short of remarkable. But then again, so is Winard Harper.
Review Quotes for "Make It Happen"
Click Here to Read CD Reviews
“This disc truly has the appeal of an instant classic.”
“For now, get your hands on a copy of Make It Happen,
and you’ll be able to say you were in on one of the
year’s best releases way back in July.”
-Jazzitude – Marshall Bowden
"... what really makes this record click is the tasteful
diversity - it makes the 77-minutes go down pretty easy,
which is saying a lot."
-JazzWeek - Tad Hendrickson
"Throughout the disc, crisply rendered solos and brief
dialogues among the horns highlight the camaraderie of
Harper's group, exemplifying the spirit of optimism and
unity pervading this fine recording."
-JazzTimes Magazine - Forrest Dylan Bryant
"Drummer Winard Harper plays the kind of
soulful music that puts the lie to the notion that uncompromising jazz can't feed
both the head and the heart. On Make It Happen, Harper augments his
high-energy hard-bop with an exploration of global
rhythms and textures."
Down Beat - Philip Booth
"There's no question the Winard Harper Sextet lives
up to the title of their latest recording, Make It
Happen. These guys make it happen again and
again, with a swinging set of high intensity jazz."
- JazzImprov - Dave Miele
"Diversified, creative, straight-ahead and world music are all wrapped up in
this tight production, one that defies classification. What kind of Jazz
is this that the Winard Harper Sextet is recording? It's fresh, lively,
and serious all in the same exalted breath."
- Cadence Magazine - Dee Dee McNeil
"It's clear the polished band is having a blast thanks
to Harper's galvanizing drive. And yes, a talking
drum can be right at home in straight-ahead swing. "
- Modern Drummer - Jeff Potter
"As it is, the unflagging excellence of the compositions, arrangements and
soloing (that's just about everything on a jazz record, isn't it?), added to the
evident camaraderie of the players throughout, make for a strong and joyful
entry under the “soulful/mainstream” heading. "
- AllAboutJazz - Jeff Dayton-Johnson
“It's a Whitman's sampler of what a great young jazz
drummer and leader can do, and it couldn't be tastier.”
-Buffalo News - Jeff Simon
“Winard Harper, however, has proven since the late ‘80s
to be one of the true great bandleaders who sits behind
a drum kit while pushing his ensemble to explore
international sounds ranging from African to Caribbean
to Afro-Cuban, all wrapped around the core of Hard Bop
-Chicago Defender – Demetrius Patterson
“Overall, Harper’s methodology translates into a smashing success, brimming with a charismatic sound and scope, largely driven by finesse and sheer firepower.”
-Ejazznews – Glenn Astarita
“…a wonderful recorded program with solid compositions excellently executed by fine musicians.”
-The Skanner – Dick Bogle
Photo of Winard © Janis Wilkins