Born: July 27, 1957 Primary Instrument: Guitar, electric
As guitarist, composer and vocalist, Washington D.C. native Joel Harrison resists categorization: jazz, African and Indian, contemporary classical, blues and rock all have a place in his unique approach. Remarking on his eclectic approach All About Jazz concluded that “Harrison’s ability to integrate renders irrelevant the identification of his sources in compositions that range from edgy angularity to sheer beauty…he dispenses with boundaries and creates his own mélange that’s as timeless as it is thoroughly modern.
Harrison graduated from Bard College with a BA in composition and performance in 1980 studying with Joan Tower; in the ensuing years he worked privately with Allaudin Mathieu, Charlie Banacos, Ali Akbar Khan and others. While living in the San Francisco area in the 1990’s Harrison released two cd’s of original works for jazz octet and sextet, Range of Motion and Transience, as well as 3+3=7, works for three guitars and three percussionists featuring Nels Cline. After moving to New York City in 1999, he continued his headlong rush into ever-inventive bands and projects including: Free Country (radical renditions of old country and Appalachian music); Passing Train (pop/world/Americana songs); Harrison on Harrison (re-composed improvisations of the music of George Harrision featuring Dave Liebman), String Choir (string quartet and two guitars play music of Paul Motian), and The Wheel, an extended work for String quartet and jazz quartet plus guitar. He released a cd for Highnote Records entitled Harbor with renowned guitarist Nguyen Le, David Binney, and Jamey Haddad in 2007 and just released two new cds; The Wheel (jazz /classical) and Passing Train (songs)
Harrison is best known for his composing and arranging skills. He has twice been selected as the winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Julius Hemphill Composition Competition, and has been the recipient of grants from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Cary Trust, NYSCA, and others. His recent chamber works include solos for marimba, violin, and cello as well as a two movement work for four percussion and piano. Harrison has been a guest of the MacDowell and VCCA artist colonies. His allies in his various projects have included Dave Liebman, Mark Feldman, Marty Ehrlich, David Binney, Dan Weiss, Dewey Redman, Norah Jones, Uri Caine, Todd Reynolds, Wendy Sutter, Christian Howes, and Caleb Burhans.
“Guitarist, composer and occasional vocalist, Joel Harrison, never ceases to surprise me with the amount and diversity of projects that he is involved in. Over ten or so discs, Joel has continually evolved. The Wheel might just be his best effort yet, it is one this year’s best discs.” -- Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
The Wheel’s greatest success is its absolute avoidance of division. This isn’t jazz with strings, or classical music with improvising musicians;” this is fully integrated music that has elements of both but feels like neither. That Harrison has written a suite of music that denies all borders and views music as one large continuum alone deserves attention. The remarkable group of players who can effortlessly navigate this challenging and ground-breaking music only makes it an even more essential listen. -- John Kelman, All About Jazz
“Definitions blur, and suddenly it no longer matters whether Harrison improvises or composes. Whether his playground is jazz, pop, folk, country, or classical it all comes down to this: imagination without limits.” -- Jazzthetik
We list Joel Harrison in the jazz section primarily because that’s where he started out, but few artists seem less content to stay put. With Wishing Well, just out on Intuition, Harrison reveals yet another facet of his artistic totality: the sandy-voiced, soulful singer of Americana-drenched songs. Rest assured, however, that the instrumental component remains at a high level, and we can’t decide whether it’s the sly arrangements or Ben Wittman’s production that makes the whole thing so seductive. --Steve Smith: Time Out New York
“This is no rattling of cultural loose change…a striking balance between improvisation, composition, texture, and color. The feel is contemporary, the moods varied, the results impressive.” --Irish Times: 5 star review
“A potent brew…easily Harrison’s most satisfying release.” --Jazzwise
“The new album imagines a fascinating modern fusion of Western and Eastern tonalities.” --NY Times
“Plays out like a suite, or at least a series of tunes related by daring and depth. Call it a signpost that our respected jazz guitarist is also an impressive composer.” --Village Voice
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Willing to teach:
Advanced students only.
I have taught for many years all over composition, guitar, arranging, songwriting $75 to $100 an hour
I enjoy doing clinics in jazz pedagogy, composition, overall musicianship, guitar, incorporating many different streams of music into a singular voice, etc.