Legendary jazz drummer performs


Christy Aumer/The Daily Iowan
Winard Harper plays the drums at the Wedge on Tuesday. The Winard Harper Sextet will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday in City High’s Opstad Auditorium.
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Winard Harper doesn’t let his status as a master percussionist in the jazz world get to his head. He realizes it is as important to stay on the road, playing shows and hosting workshops.

“In this time, you’re looking for anything and everything — whether it’s small shows or playing in theaters and on festivals,” the 47-year-old musician said. “You kind of welcome it all. One, to stay busy, and two, to see how you can help to evolve and open up other doors, not to just make things good for yourself but for the music and those musicians coming in behind you.”

Harper, along with the musicians making up his sextet, will bring a wide array of jazz knowledge to the UI campus over the next few weeks as part of a residency with the School of Music. The drummer hosted a coaching session with the UI jazz ensemble at the Wedge, and he will jam with jazz-studies students at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., at 8 p.m. today in a free performance.

The Winard Harper Sextet will also perform a show on Friday in City High’s Opstad Auditorium, 1900 Morningside Drive. Hancher is putting on the concert; admission is $20 to $25 for adults and $10 to $22.50 for UI students.

Harper began playing drums around the age of “3 or 4” alongside his brother, jamming to tracks by Graham Central Station and Kool & the Gang. At the age of 10, he was turned on to jazz and fell in love with the improvisational freedom it gave him.

“It’s like on those reality TV cooking shows where they give somebody a lamb chop, an onion, a couple of spices, and then tell them, ‘Let’s see what you can do with that,’ ” Harper said. “That’s pretty much the way jazz is. There is a basic structure, but it’s up to that individual to utilize her or his experience, her or his imagination, and her or his creativity to come up with something new.”

Harper went on to play with such jazz greats as Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, and Betty Carter. He eventually started a band called the Harper Brothers that played on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in the early ’90s and formed the Winard Harper Sextet in 1995, which released several albums and became nationally recognized as one of the most energetic jazz acts around.

The group features a revolving lineup of young musicians; it now consists of pianist Jon Notar, bassist Eric Wheeler, tenor saxophonist Jovan Alexander, percussionist Alioune Faye, and trumpeter Bruce Harris.

Craig Kessler, the owner of Real Compact Discs and Records, said he first saw Harper perform at the Sanctuary, 405 S. Gilbert St., a couple of years ago but first heard of the musician in the late-80s.

“[Harper] is just a really solid percussionist and knows a lot of the history of the music,” Kessler said. “He is a great performer.”

Part of the appeal of Harper’s playing is that he places percussion instruments at the forefront of the sextet’s sound. He specializes in playing a standard drum kit as well as the balafon, a wooden-keyed percussion instrument from West Africa played using mallets with soft rubber ends. The drummer, who said he was also influenced by such leaders as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Paul Robeson, likes the earthy sound of the instrument.

Harper pointed out that while the UI is doing a “good thing” by inviting him to visit the university and talk to high-school and college jazz students, it is up to the young musicians to be leaders and try to spark interest among their friends and peers.

“Generally, when we come out and play, the majority of our audience are people my age and older,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll introduce the music to more people in hopes of opening up some doors for rebuilding and replenishing the jazz audience. There are always a lot of good young talented musicians coming on, but the thing is, will they be able to bring on a lot of their peers and get a lot of their friends to be supporters for the music?”

While jazz may not have a large following among younger crowds, he is dedicated to preserving the genre of music he loves. He also recognizes that it has never been easy being a jazz musician.

“I mean, look, this age we are living in now — everybody’s struggling for something,” Harper said. “But at least there are still jazz venues popping up and people trying to do new things.”

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus
Daily Iowan Advertising
Today's Display Ads | Today's Classifieds | Advertising Info

Follow the DI through:


Sponsored Links  
T-Shirt Design  
Insurance Leads Charlotte Web Design
Health Insurance Leads Home Equity Loans
Life Insurance  
Custom Magnets DMI Furniture
Solar Products Custom USB
Snow Removal & Odd Jobs Buy a text ad


Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.