William Godvin Harris was born 20 April 1936, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. He died 22 December 1991. Harris played clarinet and alto saxophone in his teens, but switched to drums while in the army. He received encouragement from Max Roach, moving to New York at the end of his national service in 1963, where he worked with Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Clifford Jordan, Clark Terry, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard among others.
By 1966 he was involved with the avant garde movement, joining Archie Shepp and then working with Albert Ayler in Europe.
He participated in drum clinics with Roach and Kenny Clarke.
At the end of the decade he formed a co-operative band, the 360 Degree Experience, with Roswell Rudd, Marion Brown and Grachan Moncur III. In 1970 he played with Shepp for productions of plays by LeRoi Jones and Aishah Rahman. He has since done studio work with Maxine Brown and Doc Cheatham and played with Pharoah Sanders, Steve Lacy, Gato Barbieri, Sheila Jordan, Vincent Herring and the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra. In 1985 he toured Europe with the French Horn Connection and in a quartet with Gijs Hendricks.
Not as radical as Sunny Murray or Milford Graves, he was nevertheless an important occupant of the drum chair in '60s New Thing groups.
Harris was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Harris came from an athletic family. He played baseball as a teenager for the Kansas City Monarchs (then part of the Negro American League) and was scouted by major league teams Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
It was only after he was in the army that he began playing drums. After his national service ended in 1963 he moved to New York City and was encouraged to pursue a musical career by Max Roach. While in New York he worked and/or toured with Marion Brown, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Jordan, Howard Johnson, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Roswell Rudd, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Doc Cheatham and Larry Coryell among other musicians.
In addition, Harris founded a "world music" band and called it "The 360 Degree Music Experience". The band included some of the most significant artists of the time, including Buster Williams, Hamiet Bluett, Don Pullen, Jimmy Garrison, Ron Carter, Ricky Ford, Titos Sampa and many others.
Harris died of prostate cancer at the age of 55.
|THE CIRCLE WITH A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE
The 360 Degree
From Rag Time
to No Time
360 Records LP 2001
From Rag Time to No Time was one of the most subversive recordings of its time. Recorded in late 1974 and early ’75, it sought nothing less than proclaim jazz to be a unified field, instead of a Balkanized muddle. Anyone who thought drummer Beaver Harris to be an unlikely candidate to do so was probably only aware of his work with Fire Music principals like Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp. Harris’ resume was actually remarkably well rounded; not only did he work with icons like Monk and Rollins, but he played with old-schoolers like vocalist Maxine Sullivan, trumpeter Doc Cheatham and clarinetist Herb Hall, all of whom make vital contributions to the album. Tellingly, the only other musician on the album with comparable avant-garde credentials is pianist Dave Burrell, who was (and remains) as grounded in Joplin, Morton and Waller as he is in later styles (on subsequent 360 Music Experience recordings, Burrell had co-leader billing; here, he is listed as Music Director). Harris not only enlisted a unique cross-section of musicians from the jazz community (Ron Carter, Jimmy Garrison and Cecil McBee are the bassists), but Caribbean and Indian musicians, as well.
Yet, Harris didn’t go overboard by pairing Cheatham with sitarist Sunil Garg, or Hall with steel drummer Francis Haynes. Instead, he divided the LP into two sidelong, stylistically contrasting sequences. The common denominator is the sinew-like role of drums. Short Harris traps solos provide the transitions on the “From Rag Time” A Side, which is arranged by Marshall Brown, who also plays valve trombone and euphonium. With the exception of the Burrell-penned “A.M. Rag,” an excellent example of how Burrell attenuates early styles without draining them of their innate optimism, the compositions are by Harris. A thorough refutation of avant-garde stereotypes, this sequence is, at turns, melancholy and sprightly. However, Harris’ obvious affection for the elders on the date and the styles they propagated stops well short of mushy nostalgia; and, he is not hesitant to nudge them, artistically. The lyrics of the two ballads sung by Sullivan “Can There Be Peace?” and “I Wish I Knew” are informed by atomic-age anxiety and doubt rather than the romanticism of the vintage ballads that were her stock in trade, and prompt her depth-plumbing performances. Similarly, on the ebullient “It’s Hard But We Do,” the deep-in-the-pocket drive of Burrell, Carter and Harris causes Brown, Cheatham and Hall to stretch.
The two-part “Round Trip” takes up the entirety of the “To No Time” B-Side, and is an overlooked benchmark of multiculturalism in jazz. Throughout, themes that initially seem inspired by African music will take on an Asian tinge, and vice versa. After a short bluesy Carter-McBee duet and a short percussion interlude (in addition to Harris and Haynes, there are five other hand drummers), a mournful theme is introduced, highlighted by flutist Keith Marks. Bill Willingham sings a short chant that bears some resemblance to Leon Thomas’ work with Pharoah Sanders, triggering a simmering ensemble featuring Howard Johnson’s gruff baritone saxophone and Burrell’s cascading lines and clusters. After a bass interlude, Marks ramps up the energy with Burrell and the drummers, slipping into a convivial Brazilian groove. The drummers erupt, eventually settling into a fast 6/8 groove, onto which a lilting melody stated by Marks and Haynes and a vibrant steel drum solo are plied. Burrell moves to the foreground for an abstract statement, which peters out to allow Haynes to state a spare luminous theme. A rubato ensemble ensues, which dissolves with a final Harris onslaught.
In addition to its abundant musical merits, From Rag Time to No Time is significant on two other counts. The musicians produced the album, no small feat give the relative high costs of LP production, the obstacles of distribution (the emergence of the quixotic New Music Distribution Service notwithstanding), and a press corps that generally didn’t get it. Additionally, the album sparked pungent, if delayed musical commentary from across the pond. In 1982, Vienna Art Orchestra recorded From No Time to Rag Time (hatART). VAO composer Mathias Ruegg’s historical view was decidedly more dialectical than Harris’, which held that the music’s entire history is always present.
Charles "Majid" Greenlee
Grachan Moncur III
The Blue Humans
360 Degree Music
...and many more