Rich Harney has been illuminating the Austin jazz scene as one of its brightest stars for the last decade. His remarkable talents as pianist, composer, and vocalist have gained him acclaim from the Austin American-Statesman as “one of Austin’s most valuable musical resources.” The Austin Jazz Players and Critics Poll honored him in 1993 as Composer of the Year, Best Songwriter, and Best Male Jazz Vocalist. He also received second place honors in the Austin Music Umbrella’s 1992 Composer Competition. In a 1990 competition adjudicated by Branford Marsalis, MUSICIAN magazine named Harney’s sextet as one of the twelve Best Unsigned Bands nationwide.
Harney has performed extensively as band leader and ensemble pianist with Gene Ramey, Tony Campise, Carmen Bradford (Count Basie Orchestra), Martin Banks (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Clifford Scott and Ted Piltzecker (Director, Aspen Music Festival’s Jazz Program). In addition to playing jazz festivals and local venues, he and singer Beth Ullman co-produced the popular concert series “Jazz at St. David’s” and the highly acclaimed theatrical concert “Dyin’ to Swing.”
Born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, Harney was first inspired by Oscar Peterson’s recordings. Other influences on his compositions and arrangement include Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, and Charlie Parker, as well as the early jazz piano of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. “Any traditional jazz music is an inspiration to me, “ Harney says. “I just want to carry on the spirit of the music.”
Echoes of old-time stride piano, forties big band style and fifties bebop draw a wide audience to his innovative sound. But the soul of his music lies in an elegant simplicity that comes from what Critic Jay Trachtenberg calls “its verve, humor and unabashed drive.” As Harney himself notes, “Most audiences really respond if you play what you love. The greatest musical statements are usually something so simple. You just have let go and play.”