Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Harris, Allan (John Allan Harris, III)
Harris, Allan [John Allan Harris, III], singer, guitarist; b. Brooklyn, NY, 4 April 1956. His mother is Yohanna C. Harris (born 3/7/33 in Hamlet, NC, raised in Harlem; classical pianist and oboe, first graduating class of the School of Performing Arts in NYC, classmate of Arthur Mitchell of Dance Theatre of Harlem). Father is John Allan Harris, Jr. (born in McDonald, PA; 7/12/31- Pittsburgh policeman, and farmer). Brother is Daryl C. Harris (born in Brooklyn, NY 7/7/62- saxophonist). His cousin Michael Ingram was raised as one of the siblings. Ingram is the son of producer/ pianist Clarence Williams and Theodosia Ingram, sister to Harris's mother. Aunt Theodosia was trained as an opera singer and met Williams later when she became a blues singer. Williams became a regular dinner guest and often brought along other performers, even Louis Armstrong, who once baby-sat and terrified young Allan with his voice. He was encouraged to sing, and first performed at the age of 8 for his class at school, singing "Blue Velvet." By the age of 12, he was studying classical guitar with Vladimir Bobri, President of the Classical Guitar Guild. He also studied piano with Thelma Powell, his mother's piano teacher in Harlem. He spent time at his Aunt Kate's soul food restaurant across from the Apollo where notable jazz musicians stopped in after their gigs at the Apollo, and on Sundays, his mother would take him to the Apollo to see matinee performances. When he was 15 his family moved to the Pittsburgh area, where he lived until going to college.
Harris is a vocalist, guitarist, arranger, writer, and producer and has been described as "an extremely relaxed and tasteful crooner" by Stephen Holden of the New York Times. Amidst a serious shortage of great male jazz singers, Allan Harris's voice and demeanor "project the warmth of Tony Bennett, the bite and rhythmic sense of Sinatra, and the sly elegance of Nat 'King' Cole." Harris' romantically appealing voice reaches out with the heartbreaking depth that caresses a song, giving each it's fullest respect by combining the best of the past with his unique gifts to create something fresh and distinctive. Besides having total vocal control, Harris is also a superb musician with a natural ear, and the ability to accompany himself on the guitar while retaining his hallmark pinpoint vocal accuracy and incredibly clear diction without affectation. Now, with his new project, Cross That River, Allan Harris displays his gift for song-writing and story-telling. Cross That River is the first recording in a trilogy telling an epic story about the Black West. In Cross That River, Harris shows with conviction, that not only does he have something to bring to the world of jazz, but that he is one of the leading male singer/ songwriters of his generation.
Harris's production company has produced many concert programs, three of which were for Sotheby's. The first in this series was with Tommy Flanagan in a concert entitled "Our Favorite Songs" which was recorded by National Public Radio. The second was a concert with pianist Cyrus Chestnut in "Our Favorite Songs 2." His last concert for Sotheby's was a tribute to Nat 'King' Cole, Unforgettable, the Songs of Cole recorded for XM Radio. Harris also created a CD recording and concert tribute to Billy Strayhorn, entitled Love Came, the Songs of Strayhorn which toured in tandem with Strayhorn's biographer (Lush Life) author David Hajdu. This lecture/concert was last performed at the Kennedy Center where it was also recorded by NPR's Jazz Set. Since then, Harris has reprised his tribute to Nat 'King' Cole at the Kennedy Center where it was recorded for his next release. Recently, Harris was awarded the Chamber Music America Residency Grant for Cross That River of 12 schools in Harlem in 2007. This past summer, NPR featured Cross That River on their program "All Things Considered," and the Aspen Writers Foundation debuted a new series entitled "Lyrically Speaking" featuring Allan and the Cross That River band in a concert/interview conducted by American Songwriter Magazine editor Paul Zollo. In addition, the State of Oklahoma has licensed three of Allan's songs for their new historical DVD about the West, portions of which will honor African Americans.
Harris has sung and recorded with some of the most acclaimed jazz pianists in the world: Cyrus Chestnut, Bill Charlap, Eric Reed, Benny Green, Bruce Barth, and Tommy Flanagan. He continues to perform world-wide: Ireland with the RTE Orchestra; Finland's Espoo Jazz Festival; Berlin's Komische Opera House; Sweden's Linkoping Jazz Festival; New Zealand's Queenstown Jazz Festival; Germany's Swing IT Concert/TV Series; and Lugano, Switzerland singing the lead in Duke Ellington's Sacred Mass which has been released as both a DVD and a CD. He has recorded numerous CDs: Setting The Standard, It's a Wonderful World, Here Comes Allan Harris and the Metropole Orchestra, The Music of Duke Ellington, Laid Back, Love Came-The Songs of Strayhorn, Nat King Cole: Long Live the King, and Cross That River. Allan's recordings have featured many jazz legends: Ray Brown, Mark Whitfield, Clark Terry, Claudio Roditi, and Latin Grammy winner, Nestor Torres to name a few. Tony Bennett has praised Allan's technique and integrity and called him "my favorite new singer." At a showcase in New York sponsored by Bennett, Sammy Cahn introduced Harris: "Frank Sinatra says his favorite singer is Tony Bennett, and Tony Bennett says his favorite singer is Allan Harris."
Harris is also a master clinician and teacher who has conducted master classes at JAS Aspen Academy working alongside Christian McBride and Loren Schoenberg; Berklee School of Music, The Jazz Vocal Coalition, City College's Aaron Davis Hall, Lausanne, Switzerland's Jazz Music School, to name a few. In 2004 Harris sat on the Kennedy Center panel to choose the next U.S. Jazz Ambassador and has judged the Thelonious Monk Awards Vocal Competition. Most recent performances of note include: Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall: 2004 during the inaugural week and debuting a new work by Wynton Marsalis entitled "Suite for Human Nature;" January 21 & 22, 2005 - The Kennedy Center: "Unforgettable, The Songs of Nat 'King' Cole;" and March 11, 2005 - "The Legacy Series" at Aaron Davis Hall, in a double bill with Abbey Lincoln performing the songs of Harlem's greatest composers. On March 25, 2006 Harris debuted Cross That River at Kennedy Center for Country Music Week. He joined KT Sullivan in "American Naturals, the Music of Mercer and Ellington" at the Algonquin's Oak Room September 26 - October 14, 2006. BET Jazz has recorded and aired several of Allan's live concerts with hosts Lou Rawls and Ramsey Lewis. He has appeared on CBS News several times to discuss his writing of Cross That River. Will Friedwald, the author of "Jazz Singing" and "Sinatra" calls him "probably the most exciting singer on the scene." CNN's Showbiz Today referred to Harris as "one of the three best male jazz vocalists in the country."
Harris lives in Harlem with his wife and manager Pat Harris.
Setting the Standard (1993);
It's a Wonderful World (1995);
Here Comes Allan Harris and the Metropole Orchestra (1996);
Laid Back (1999);
The Music of Duke Ellington with the Rias Big Band (2000);
Love Came, the Songs of Strayhorn (2001);
Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert:
Big Band de Lausanne (1999),
Cross That River (2006), Allan Harris: Long Live the King (Nat King Cole) (2007)
Broadcasts and Unissued Recordings:
BET on Jazz, 2 programs
BET Jazz Awards Show, with Chuck Mangione and Mark Cary
Concert with Tommy Flanagan at Sothebys, Jazzset, NPR
Smithsonian, NPR, Jazz Singers, interviewed by Al Jarreau.
February 2003, tribute to Billy Strayhorn, Kennedy Center, taped
NPR "All Things Considered"
Espace 2 Radio Suisse
Ellington's Sacred Mass DVD (Image Entertainment 1998)
Harris, The Survival Handbook for the Performing Vocalist
Feature in JazzIz
Pace Award, an arts award presented by Southern Bell in South Florida
New York Nightlife Award for "Outstanding Male Jazz Vocalist"
2006-07 Chamber Music America Grant recipient