JOEL HARRISON BIOGRAPHY
Guitarist, composer and vocalist, Joel Harrison resists categorization: his music is informed by western and non-western traditions. He is equally at home writing songs and complex chamber music, playing modern jazz and bar blues.
Harrison graduated from Bard College with a BA in composition and performance in 1980, studying with Joan Tower; in the ensuing years he worked privately with Allaudin Mathieu, Ran Blake, Charlie Banacos, Ali Akbar Khan and others. While living in the San Francisco area in the 1990’s Harrison released three cd’s of original jazz-based music. Since moving to New York City in 1999, his projects have included: Free Country (radical renditions of old country and Appalachian music); Harrison on Harrison (re-composed improvisations of the music of George Harrison), String Choir (string quartet and two guitars play music of Paul Motian). In 2007 he released a new cd for Highnote Records entitled Harbor with renowned guitarist Nguyen Le.
Harrison’s latest projects were released on Intuition Records in May 2008: “The Wheel”, an extended suite for String quartet and jazz quartet plus guitar, and Passing Train, a collection of original songs.
Harrison is best known for his composing and arranging skills. He has twice been selected as the winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Julius Hemphill Composition Competition, and has been the recipient of commissions from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Cary Trust, NYSCA, Jerome Foundation, and others. His solo for marimba recently took first prize in the Percussive Arts Society’s worldwide competition. Other recent chamber works include a commission from the group Mosaic (fl.,vc.,pn.,perc.). Harrison has been a guest of the MacDowell and VCCA artist colonies. His allies in his various projects have included Dave Liebman, Norah Jones, David Binney, Jamey Haddad, Dan Weiss, Dewey Redman, Uri Caine, Todd Reynolds, Wendy Sutter, Christian Howes, and Caleb Burhans.
“Definitions blur, and suddenly it no longer matters whether Harrison improvises or composes. Whether his playground is jazz, pop, folk, country, or classical it all comes down to this: imagination without limits.”
— Jazzthing, Germany
“Mr. Harrison is a jazz-trained guitarist and composer, but on his new album, Passing Train he steps into the position of a roots-haunted singer-songwriter with a knowing, yearning tone.”
— Nate Chinen, NY Times
“Joel Harrison consistently proves to be one of the most restless, protean composers and improvisers on the local scene, plumbing the depths of country- and folk-music traditions for inspiration and raw material.”
— Time Out New York
“We list Joel Harrison in the jazz section primarily because that's where he started out, but few artists seem less content to stay put. With Wishing Well, just out on Intuition, Harrison reveals yet another facet of his artistic totality: the sandy-voiced, soulful singer of Americana-drenched songs. Rest assured, however, that the instrumental component remains at a high level, and we can't decide whether it's the sly arrangements or Ben Wittman's production that makes the whole thing so seductive.”
— Steve Smith, Time Out New York
“One of the finer composer/guitarists in modern jazz.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune