Stefon Harris, vibraphone
Vibraphonist-composer Stefon Harris is heralded as “one of the most important young artists in jazz” (The Los Angeles Times). He is unquestionably developing what will be a long and extraordinary career. Stefon Harris’ passionate artistry, energetic stage presence, and astonishing virtuosity have propelled him into the forefront of the current jazz scene. Widely recognized and lauded by both his peers and jazz critics alike, the award-winning musician is committed to both exploring the rich potential of jazz education and blazing new trails on the vibraphone.
A graduate of Manhattan School of Music, Stefon received a B.M. in Classical Music and an M.M. in Jazz Performance. He is a recipient of the prestigious Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center and has earned four Grammy nominations including Best Contemporary Jazz Album for Urbanus (Concord Music, 2010), Best Jazz Album for The Grand Unification Theory (2003) and the 2001 release of Kindred (Blue Note) and his 1999 release of Black Action Figure (Blue Note) for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo. NPR honored his latest CD, Ninety Miles (Concord) as one of the Best Releases of 2011. Harris was named winner of the 61st Annual Downbeat Critics Poll for Vibes (2013). He has been voted Best Mallet player by Jazz Times Critics Poll, the Expanded Jazz Times Critics Poll, and by the Jazz Journalist Association (2000–2004, 2011–2013), Debut Artist of the Year by Jazz Times, Chicago Tribune’s Debut of the Year and Downbeat’s Critics Poll Winner for Vibraphone (2013) and Rising Star, Vibraphone (2006, 2004, 2003) Newsweek’s Best Jazz CD, Best New Talent, and 1999–2000 Readers Poll Best Vibraphonist by JAZZIZ Magazine. North Sea Jazz (Netherlands) named Harris for the prestigious International 2002 Bird Award for Artist Deserving Wider Recognition.
Mr. Harris has performed at many of the world’s most distinguished concert halls, including the Carnegie Hall debut of African Tarantella: Dances with Duke (2006 Blue Note), Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, The Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s Herbst Theater, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Chicago’s Symphony Center, Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, and The Sydney Opera House. In June 2007, his quartet performed a retrospective of his original compositions with the Jazz Sinfonica Orquestra in Sao Paulo, Brasil. He has toured and recorded with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and performed his original compositions with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra in Den Hague. He has toured South Africa, Brazil, and Europe performing at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Istanbul Jazz Festival, and the Umbria Jazz Festival, among others. In 2001 he premiered The Grand Unification Theory, a full-length concert piece commissioned by The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which was later presented at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. He has also appeared at the legendary Playboy Jazz Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. In March 2005 Mr. Harris debuted Suite Moments, a special commission from The Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Michigan State University. In May 2006 he premiered Portraits of The Promised, commissioned by Fontana Chamber Arts for People’s Church Sesquincentennial Celebration in Kalamazoo, MI. In 2009, Stefon was the subject of three documentaries by WGVU-TV, which earned three Michigan Emmy nominations and three Gold Camera Awards (U.S. International Film & Video Festival). He joined the San Francisco Jazz Collective in 2007 and toured through 2013 in addition to leading his band, Blackout, and other special projects. Harris was commissioned by the chamber group Imani Winds, supported by a grant from Music Accord, and wrote the piece Anatomy of a Box: A Sonic Painting in wood, metal, and wind. Pairing the jazz concept of improvisation within a classical framework, the 2009 performance debut through Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City received grand reviews. “It’s a good thing when you leave a performance wanting to hear it all over again. Friday night, many likely left the Imani Winds’ concert with Stefon Harris needing to hear it again” (Corridor Buzz).
An active educator, Mr. Harris teaches throughout the United States and internationally through Distance Learning programs. He is Director of Curriculum Development at the Brubeck Institute (CA), Artist in Residence at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony, and Visiting Professor at Rutgers University (NJ). For the past decade he has been on the faculty at New York University and was Artist in Residence at Fontana Chamber Arts (Kalamazoo, MI), University of Nebraska, Lincoln, San Francisco Performances, The Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and The Thelonious S. Monk Institute for Jazz Studies. He created a unique interactive program with poets from around the world at the University of Iowa’s famed International Writer’s Workshop. He returned there in September 2004 to participate in “The Life of Discovery” as part of a statewide celebration of arts and humanities. Harris currently serves on the Executive Board of Directors for Percussive Arts Society (PAS) and is a former member of the Board of Directors for Chamber Music America and WBGO-FM (Newark, NJ). His 2011 TED talk on “There are no mistakes on the bandstand” was the most watched video in its release.
In June 2011, Harris along with David Sanchez and Christian Scott released the critically acclaimed CD Ninety Miles (Concord Records). Recorded entirely in Havana, Cuba, with the highly noted Cuban pianists Rember Duharte and Harold López-Nussa, the project reveals the fascinating reaction that takes place when musicians from different cultures come together and converse in a common language that transcends mere words. A documentary, Ninety Miles Live at Cubadisco, chronicles the adventure. The same year, Stefon was a featured artist on the Grammy-nominated Have You Ever Been? (Telarc) by the Turtle Island String Quartet.
Urbanus (Concord Records), nominated for a 2010 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz CD, solidified the role of Stefon Harris & Blackout as one of the leaders of jazz urban music. Named the “Year’s Best New Jazz” by NPR, the follow-up to the band’s acclaimed Top Ten recording, Evolution, was hailed as “A spectacular piece of work sparkling with optimism, ingenuity, and emotional immediacy” (Amazon.com) and termed “brilliant’ by People Magazine. Urbanus sparked a media discussion on the cultural relevance of jazz while “delivering a different kind of unification: intellectually deep and emotionally resonant” (All About Jazz).
Stefon’s 2006 recording, African Tarantella: Dances with Duke (Blue Note) paired a modern arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite” and “Queen Suite” along with selections from Harris’ “The Gardner Meditations.” The latter suite was part of a commission by The Wharton Center for Performing Arts at Michigan State University. The 2003 release of The Grand Unification Theory, an eleven-movement suite featuring Latin, classical, African, and jazz influences earned a Grammy nomination, JAZZIZ Critics Choice, and 4-star reviews from Downbeat Magazine, Rolling Stone, and The Los Angeles Times. His 2001 CD Kindred earned him his second Grammy nod for Best Jazz Album. A quartet recording with the noted pianist Jacky Terrasson Kindred is a follow-up to his sophomore release Black Action Figure (Blue Note Records), also nominated for a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo. His premiere as a leader, A Cloud of Red Dust, was voted Best Debut Recording at the 1999 New York Jazz Awards. In addition to leading his own band, Mr. Harris has recorded as part of The Classical Jazz Quartet, a series of jazz-interpreted classics with Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Lewis Nash. He has also recorded and toured with many of music’s greatest artists, including Joe Henderson, Wynton Marsalis, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, Cassandra Wilson, Dr. Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Max Roach, Cedar Walton, Mulgrew Miller, Benny Golson, Bobby Watson, Chaka Khan, Kurt Elling, Buster Williams, Dianne Reeves, Charlie Hunter, Yakub Addy Odadaa, Common, and Pablo Zeigler. He has performed with Albany Symphony, Berkshire Symphony, Lancaster Festival Orchestra, and Chamber Society of Lincoln Center.