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The nouveau swing of Donald Harrison Jr., Big Chief and NEA Jazz Master

Donald Harrison
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Donald Harrison

"This music that we call jazz is one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind," declares Donald Harrison, Jr., with the air of someone who knows. To be sure, Harrison is hardly an objective source on the matter, as an alto saxophonist and bandleader with a lifelong connection to the culture of New Orleans, where he's also known as Big Chief of the Congo Square tribe. His commitment to cultural preservation recently earned him the 2022 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy — a prestigious title for the work he does every day as a matter of course.

Jazz Night in America caught up with Harrison on his home turf to talk about the formative lessons of his father, Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr., whose legacy he carries forward; the bedrock influence of another mentor, drummer Art Blakey, whose Jazz Messengers served as a crucible for bright young talent; and the eventful path that led Harrison through his own career as a bandleader.

We'll hear music from across that career, focusing on a set from earlier this year at a storied New Orleans club, Snug Harbor. And we'll hear from close associates like Joe Dyson, the drummer in Harrison's band, who marvels at his ability to connect the root foundation of Afro-New Orleans music with a contemporary spirit of play. Harrison has a name for this musical synthesis: Nouveau Swing. And he considers it not just a style but a calling. "The music is saying, 'Work as hard as you can,' " he reflects. "The music is saying, 'Give everything you got.' "

Musicians:

Donald Harrison Jr., alto saxophone, vocals; Dan Kaufman, piano; Detroit Brooks, guitar; Nori Naraoka, bass; Joe Dyson, drums.

Set List:

All music by Donald Harrison Jr. unless otherwise noted

  • Hey Pocky A-Way (Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Joseph Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli)
  • One For Bird
  • Free to Be
  • Temporal
  • Soul to Soul
  • Credits: Writers and Producers: Camilo Garzón and Alex Ariff; Consulting Editor: Katie Simon; In-house engineer: Patrick Rhodes; Concert recording and mix: Lu Rojas; Host: Christian McBride; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; VP of NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Jason Patterson at Snug Harbor, 1504 Productions, Josephine Reed, and the team at National Endowment for the Arts.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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