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Donald Harrison: News

Check out my my favorite hotel in New Orleans. - January 27, 2015

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New Facebook Page - July 21, 2014

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Super Sunday 2013 - March 31, 2013

Donald Harrison - Ron Carter - Billy Cobham - August 26, 2011

This Is Jazz

On sale September 6

For their second Half Note issue, the power trio of Donald Harrison, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham declare themselves spokesmen for a kind of exploratory improvisation and interplay known only to seasoned jazz professionals. Staunch individualists all, they come together with a unified voice of alto, bass and drums - at once steeped in jazz's richly variegated traditions yet forward-thinking in the cause of new creative expression. The group play here is all about a stylized call and response, featuring guys with excellent listening skills and the means to keep the conversation compelling. Recorded Live at the Blue Note.

Big Chief Donald Sr. - March 28, 2011

My father, Big Chief Donald always talked about how great jazz musicians were. He never put them down which made me understand to respect them. He would have never talked bad about Louis Armstrong and never would have let me tallk bad about Louis Armstrong. My father also never put down any other Mardi Gras Indians which also taught me to respect other human beings. I think him for the wisdom he imparted that gave me humility and showed me to honor those who are great.

Composes piece for LPO - January 10, 2011

Donald Harrison wrote his first piece for the LPO before Katrina. Now Harrison is begining an orchestral piece written from the inside perspectives of being a Big Chief in the culture of New Orleans, playing with modern jazz greats, playing in the brass bands of New Orleans as a youth. Donald Harrison is the only modern jazz musician that has participated in The Mardi Gras Indian culture of New Orleans. He started as the little Chief of the Creole Wild West in 1963 at the age of 2 years-old. Harrison promises the piece will be an inside view of New Orleans culture. 

Donald Harrison transitions Mardi Gras Indian tradtion back to Congo Square with Afro New Orleans culture. - October 11, 2010

Donald Harrison transitions Mardi Gras Indian tradtion back to Congo Square with Afro New Orleans culture. - October 11, 2010

Donald Harrison is The Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation and his mission is to keep alive secret aspects of Congo Square not known conciously by most Mardi Gras Indians. Harrison has named his faction Afro New Orleans Culture because now is the time to put the focus on the individuals that keep New Orleans root culture alive. The truth is there are many factions of Mardi Gras Indian culture and all are great components to the whole. For instance the faction that Chief Tootie Montana nurtured is the antithesis of Afro New Orleans culture and not part of the faction that Harrison is keeping alive. Harrison has put his focus on the secret elements Congo Square to insure well meaning and profit seeking outsiders won't destroy what is pristine and to keep alive a strong but hidden elements that many Mardi gras Indians are not privy to. Harrison says, "For New Orleans culture to surivive the most important parts of the culture must stay in exile until the world is ready to embrace them with respect." 

Treme - June 2, 2010

Donald Harrison wears many hats on David Simon's new HBO series Treme. Harrison was contacted early on before production began and asked to be a consultant. He helped in developing characters based on his life in modern jazz music and New Orleans culture. The show developed 2 characters based on Harrison being a jazz musician with a father that is a Big Chief in the culture of New Orleans. The father, Altert Lambreaux is played by Clark Peters. The son, Delmond Lambreaux is played by Rob Brown. Harrison gets to interact with both characters in episodes 1, 6, and 10. His interaction takes place as a musician playing his own compositions, as an actor delivering lines in scenes with them, or as a Big Chief leading his Congo Nation Mardi Gras Indian group. Check Harrison out on HBO and make sure you tell HBO you like Harrison on their website.

New Recording, "Quantum Leap," coming soon. - January 5, 2010

Donald Harrison's just finished recording, "Quantum Leap," his most innovative classic jazz recording to date. The CD features a revolutionary update of the swing beat in addition to new composition installments to his signature, "Nouveau Swing," style of jazz. If you want to keep up with today's newest jazz sounds then, "Quantum Time," is a must have.

Congo Square - January 19, 2009

"Congo Square" Jazz Saxophonist Donald Harrison is the Big Chief of The Congo Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural group which represents Congo Square in New Orleans culture. His father, Donald Harrison, Sr. was the Big Chief of four tribes and passed down the secret rituals and drum patterns of Congo Square to him. Harrison says, "That our culture is different than African culture but it has direct links to it. You have to start in New Orleans to understand it, not in Africa." His CD's, "Spirits of Congo Square," recorded in 2002 and, "Indian Blues," recorded in 1991 incorporate his concept of the swing beat merged with the Afro-New Orleans rhythms of Congo Square have influenced many jazz musicians.

My young daughter is a producer-singer. - March 22, 2008

My 17 year-old daughter produced and sang this song all by herself. I new she could write some great radio friendly tracks because she produces tracks for me. When I need today's sound she is first call. Check her out here: http://www.myspace.com/vickcansing

I'm The Big Chief Congo Square - March 15, 2008

Harrison begins Classical piece that chronicles his personal journey as the Big Chief of The Congo Nation, Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group. He say's This piece will put into sound my feeling of learning from my father Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr. to the transition of becoming a Big Chief and everything I have to do each year."

Sacrilegus New Orleans Cultural Chants - November 23, 2007

My father taught me that I had to go through the ranks to earn the right to sing New Orleans cultural chants. I was taught that if you have not paid the dues and earned your respect from masking you should not chant prayers like Oh-Nah-Nay and Tu-Way-Pockey-Way. Musicians and others that chant without knowing what they are talking about show the deepest disrespect to our culture. They can sing songs that are not part of our ritual like Hey Pockey-Way, but they should not chant our traditional songs. When they do chant is a form of sacrilege.

Donald Harrison is, "The Soul of New Orleans." - September 16, 2007

It is no secret that Donald Harrison likes to twist phrases. He coined the phrase, "The Soul of New Orleans," as well as, "Party Gras," which are currently in wide use around the world. He recently revealed to us he has a come up with a new way to describe his insiders take on New Orleans music. You know after he tells us what it is all the rest of the musicians will keep it alive for him.

Harrison completes 3D Vol. II - August 14, 2007

Donald just completed 3D Vol II which is the second instalment of the his 3D trilogy. The recording is in the classic jazz genre and showcases his Nouveau Swing stlyle. Nouveau Swing merges swing music with the contemporary music that Harrison grew up dancing to. The first CD in the trilogy, "3D Vol. I," was in the smooth jazz genre and features Chris Botti, Chuck Loeb, and Eddie Palmieri. This latest CD features a host of New Orleans classic jazz musicians. They include drummers Troy Davis, 16 year-old Joe Dyson, bassists Mark Brooks, Roland Guerin, 16 year-old Max Moran, 15 year-old , pianist Jessie McBride, 19 year-old Victor Gould from Los Angeles, and 17 year-old Conun Papas.

New Recordings - May 28, 2007

Harrison completes trio recording that features, drummer Herman Jackson, and Bassist Chris Severin.

Harrison begins recording Indian Blues II.

Harrison almost finished recording 3D Vol II.

Harrison begins working on 3D Vol III.

Person of The Year - February 6, 2007

“Have you ever seen people build a home?” Donald Harrison asked a roomful of teenagers one Monday night in September at The Music Shed studio in the Garden District of New Orleans. “Well, you start with the foundation. And then you’ve got the support beams. If all that’s not intact, it won’t matter what you do — the whole thing will come crashing down.”

Harrison was instructing local high-school and junior-high students, interns in an education program sponsored by the Tipitina’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization developed by one of the city’s iconic clubs. His point was the importance of mastering fundamentals before moving on to the inventive improvisation that makes jazz — like most New Orleans music — special.

Harrison knows a great deal about constructing a solo and, these days, whether he likes it or not, a thing or two about building a house. Like so many of his New Orleans neighbors, the first floor of his home in the Broadmoor section is stripped to its beams. By now, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the failure of the levees and the subsequent floods, seem nearly a distant memory: the nights spent sleeping in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency; the difficulty of relocating to Baton Rouge; the first trip back to find his own home seriously damaged and his childhood house, where his mother still lived, mostly torn apart.

Stick to the “Sliver by the River,” the high-ground neighborhoods along the Mississippi’s banks, and you might think New Orleans is healing. Take a taxi from Louis Armstrong Airport to the French Quarter, and you’ll find scant evidence of Katrina’s wrath. But New Orleans is two cities now — one inching toward renewal, the other waiting for funding or any clear direction to the future. Favorite clubs still host favorite bands, but many of the musicians now travel from Atlanta or Baton Rouge for gigs. The culture that inspired and still shapes the sound of American music — in the form of jazz musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, Social Aid and Pleasure Club second-liners, and neighborhood brass bands — remains stuck in some painful limbo.

On a corner across the street from Harrison’s home, the elegant front façade is all that remains of another home, leaning precariously against three support beams. That’s what this city is like now — a shell of its former, historically significant self in need of preservation, teetering on the brink of utter collapse, yet still flashing beautiful details. Musicians like Harrison are back in New Orleans, working to rebuild their personal lives as well as the cultural landscape from which they sprang.

At 46, Harrison is in a position to grasp and address this crisis more completely than most musicians because his life and career embrace so much of what defines New Orleans culture. In his early teens, he began playing saxophone with Ernest “Doc” Paulin’s brass band, a seminal group for generations of players. He studied at New Orleans Center for Cultural Arts (NOCCA), the finishing school for a long list of jazz stars. He played in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, co-led a band with another hometown hero, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and, later, became an important voice in Eddie Palmieri’s blend of salsa and jazz. An established jazz star who spent much of the 1980s and ’90s in New York City, Harrison is nonetheless best-known to some in his hometown as a Mardi Gras Indian chief and the son of Donald Harrison Sr., who was himself a Big Chief of four different Mardi Gras Indian tribes.

“The Mardi Gras Indian rhythms and chants were really the very first music that entered my consciousness,” Harrison said while sitting on the front stoop of his gutted home, squinting in the midday sun. “My mom remembers me tapping out the beats on the side of my crib.” But Harrison didn’t see the link between that formative influence and his modern-jazz career until the late ’80s, when he began participating with his father in those Mardi Gras Indian events he’d experienced as a child.

“I didn’t get the connection until I started coming out with the Indians again and my dad was singing [the traditional song] ‘Shallow Water.’ In the back of my head, I started hearing Art Blakey’s drums. And I thought ‘Wow, this is all starting to make sense.’” In 1991, Harrison recorded Indian Blues (Candid) — still the most intriguing combination of jazz and Mardi Gras Indian music I’ve heard — with musicians ranging from Cyrus Chestnut to Dr. John to Donald Harrison, Sr.

After his father’s death in 1988, Harrison became a Mardi Gras Indian chief and named his tribe Congo Nation in reference to New Orleans’ Congo Square, the one place in the United States where, during slave days, displaced Africans were allowed to play their native drums. The legacy of black New Orleans residents dressing up like Native Americans and parading on Mardi Gras Day dates back more than a century. It perpetuates not just an African consciousness, but, through costumes and other vestiges of American Indian culture, a bond with another oppressed and unappreciated people.

Harrison’s childhood in the 9th Ward was something out of a Norman Rockwell painting — that is, if you’re talking about “The Problem We All Live With,” Rockwell’s 1964 rendering of a 6-year-old black girl being led into the all-white William Frantz Elementary School, the first such integration in Louisiana. Harrison, who was born in 1960, attended Frantz. He understands the music he was born into as a primary statement of African-American pride. “In America people of African descent are taught that where we came from is nothing. We have a day to celebrate Irish-American pride, St. Patrick’s Day, and a great parade in New York to celebrate Italian-American heritage. We have to come to grips that people of African descent are important, too. The pageantry of the Mardi Gras Indians means something.”

When Harrison hears people speak today about why New Orleans should not be rebuilt, he hears the comment as another negation he just can’t accept. “That’s like someone saying ‘Your home and your culture don’t matter.’ But we do, and people need to recognize and honor that. Every time I wear the feathers and beads as a Mardi Gras chief, every time I pick up my saxophone and play, every hour I spend with a student, is my response.”

“Donald embodies what it means to be a New Orleans musician in terms of historical roots, traditional and modern jazz, and all of the other styles,” said Tipitina’s Foundation Executive Director Bill Taylor. “When we were looking for someone to work with students, we wanted a musician who knew what it meant to grow up here and to succeed on the national stage but who also spoke the language of a New Orleans kid — someone who was proud of all of that, and who could share that pride.”

Harrison’s nephew, trumpeter Christian Scott, remembers the giddy excitement he felt as a boy each time his Uncle Donald came to visit. But when Scott approached Harrison about playing trumpet, the games were over. “He was hard on me,” said Scott. “He set the bar high and expected a lot right away. Without saying so, it was as if he was telling me, ‘We come from a place where there’s a standard and a code that you must uphold.’ I got the message: If I wanted to be a part of this important chain, I could not be a weak link.”

Harrison likes to return to the moment he first heard Blakey’s drums in his head when his father sang. “I stopped thinking of music in boxes,” he says. He’s held on to that sense as a defining characteristic of his inherited New Orleans legacy, not to mention his musical future. After the hurricane, he raised money to complete a new album leading an electric band, 3D: Volume 1 (FOMP Records), which includes among its guest artists both Eddie Palmieri and Chris Botti. “People will call this smooth jazz,” Harrison said, “but I don’t care.” His recent disc, The Survivor (Nagel Heyer), with Scott among the cast, features a wildly unorthodox version of the standard “Caravan” that employs LP scratching and looped rhythms.

The last time I saw Harrison, in October, he was in the front yard of his childhood home. The house is uninhabitable. Harrison’s mother, Herreast, lives in a trailer, temporarily stationed next to the house until repairs are complete. The filmmaker Jonathan Demme and a small crew were there, filming the Harrisons for a documentary that centers in part on the hardships they’ve endured since Katrina, and the family’s centrality in New Orleans culture. Harrison’s mother stood on the step of her trailer and recalled the day, decades ago, that Donald Harrison Sr. came home from Werlein’s Music Store, where, on a whim, he bought a saxophone for his son. Donald picked up his current alto horn and played some of “Amazing Grace” — and swung it hard, as he might have played it in a brass band, while in his teens.

A few minutes later, Harrison grabbed a tambourine and, with his sister, Cara, and a nephew, Kiel, by his side singing along, underscored the Mardi Gras Indian traditional “Two-Way-Pocky-Way” with that same rhythm. His mother stood proudly, watching the scene unfold on a block lined with empty houses of undetermined fate. When he finished singing, Harrison put down his tambourine and looked into Demme’s camera.

“I’m going to continue to be a Mardi Gras Indian,” he said. “I’m going to play my saxophone. If enough people do their part, everything will endure. But that’s the question: Will people be allowed to do their part?”

Carrer Highlights - January 5, 2007

Donald Harrison Highlights


1960 - Born and raised in New Orleans, LA
1976 - 1978 Saxophone studies with Edward Kidd Jordan
1976 - 1978 Doc Paulin New Orleans Brass Band
1978 - 1979 Saxophone studies with Alvin Batiste
1978 - 1979 Formed Baton Rouge funk band
1979 - 1982 Attended The Berklee College of Music
1979 - 1982 Saxophone studies with Bill Pierce, Andy McGhee, and Joe Viola
1979 - 1995 Played and recorded with Roy Haynes
1980 - Played with Jack Mcduff
1982 - 1999 Moved to New York from New Orleans
1982 - 1986 Played and recorded with Art Blakey
1986 - Recorded with Tony Williams, and Ron Carter
1986 - Recorded with Don Pullen
1986 - 1989 Co-led group with Terence Blanchard group won 2 French Grammy’s
1986 - 1988 Mentored Chris Wallace on music and life. Wallace later gained fame
as Notorious BIG and is considered the King of East Coast Rap
1987 - Played with Miles Davis
1988 - Recorded with Digable Planets (jazz hip-hop group)
1989 Won Sony Innovators Award
1989 - Started Jazz Quartet
1989 - Began working with director Spike Lee
1990 - Began to help jazz artist like Carl Allen, Mark Whitfield, and Cyrus Chestnut get their first recording deals.
1990 - recorded ground-breaking jazz recording Indian Blues
1990 - Joined Eddie palmieri
1990 - Joined Bill Lee’s Mo Betta Blues Quartet
1990 - Joined Larry Coryell recorded Live in Bahia, Brazil
1990 - 1994 Freelanced around New York and toured with many jazz greats and
worked in the jingle industry
1994 - Recorded The Power of Cool smooth jazz CD that became a classic
1994 - 1996 Played with Lena Horne
1995 - 1997 Meet The Composers Residency where he developed Noveau Swing
style of jazz and began composing and performing classical music
for symphonic orchestra.
1996 - Recorded ground-breaking CD Noveau Swing for Impulse records
1997 - Organized quintet comprised of 16 to 25 year-olds to expose new
ideas to the jazz world.
1999 - Started record company and cut Paradise Found which introduced
his nephew 16 year-old New Orleans high school student Christian Scott
1999 - Started The Congo Nation Mardi Gras Indians to honor his father Big
Chief Donald Harrison, Sr. and further New Orleans African roots culture
1999 - Recorded The New Sounds of Mardi Gras which merges New Orleans
traditional music with hip-hop
2003 - Recorded Freestyle hip-hop inspired jazz recording
2003 - Recorded Heroes with Billy Cobham and Ron Carter
2003 - Along with Bill Taylor started the Tipitina’s internship program to
help New Orleans area high school students become professionals
at an early age
2003 - Recorded The New Sounds of Mardi Gras II
2004 - Recorded New York Cool with Ron Carter and Billy Cobham
2005 - Began hiring New Orleans area high school students for his live
performances to give them experience of being in professional
settings at an early age.
2006 - Recorded his second smooth jazz CD, 3D vol. I
2006 - Began recordings which will feature New Orleans area high school
and professional musicians .

Donald Harrison to record December 27. - December 21, 2006

New trio with Donald Harrison, Chris Severin, Herman Jackson, and introduces 16 year-old drummer Joe Dyson

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