Back to School Special

I just walked out of a jazz piano class.  Not very many people were good at the piano.   The people who could play a bit were verbally cocky, and condescending.  People were rude, loud, and disrespectful.  There was only a small amount of information in the syllabus.  The piano was a bit out of tune and had terrible action.  The room was hot and sweaty, and you could hardly hear the music because of the three massive fans and open doors leading to traffic.  I didn’t learn very much, but I’m going to go back every single week.

Because in the middle of that classroom was Barry Harris.

There really is something magical about the man.  The last time I attended one of his famous clinics, I was 16, and couldn’t tell you who Keith Jarrett was.  All I knew was that Barry was the best, and that’s all there is to it.  In that first class, just by being in the room and paying attention, I learned the backbone of drop-two and diminished major theory; something Mark Levine takes three chapters to explain (not that I used that book).

This time, I didn’t learn nearly as much.  Barry teaches by showing, and he can’t get to the piano as quickly, but he’s changed from a burning bebop player (although he’s still got that pretty much together) into a harmonic master in the style of Hank Jones.  His touch is beautiful due in part to longtime lessons with Sofia Rosoff, and everything he plays has this understated beauty to it.

He is truly the real deal, and you can tell, just by being there.  He says things like, “Dizzy would have smacked you in your mouth, playing chords like that…” and means it.  His presence, to borrow a Jim Collins-ism, is like that of Yoda.  Surrounded by big, cocky students, he is the small, all-knowing figure who is calm, yet never afraid to raise his voice when the situation calls for it.

So I’ll keep going back, again and again, just to be near that presence.  I’ll pick some things up on the way, and hell, it’s just 15 bucks.


“Not quite Monk.”  -Barry Harris, about a chord I played.


~ by Martin Porter on August 23, 2011.

One Response to “Back to School Special”

  1. […] thing happened to me last week.  I was in a piano class with Barry Harris.  You’ll remember my account of going to one of his classes when I just moved here.  This time, we were on the same side of the […]

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