Donald Harrison

Donald Harrison was born in New Orleans in 1960 and grew up in a home environment saturated with the city’s traditional brass bands, afro-new Orleans culture, modern jazz, R&B, funk, classical, world and dance music. His connection to New Orleans’ roots was deepened by his father, a Big Chief, in a new American style of African culture developed in New Orleans. The culture is an offshoot culture of Congo Square, one of the only known places in North America where Africans openly participated in their culture in the 18th and 19th centuries and still participate in it throughout the city. Donald became the Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group in 1999 and coined the term Afro-New Orleans to describe his culture. He designed and built New Orleans’ first cultural attire to merge African designs with Afro-New Orleans style cultural designs.

Harrison created “Nouveau Swing,” a style off jazz that merges it with modern dance music like R&B, Hip-Hop, Soul and Rock. Over twenty years ago, he also combined jazz with Afro-New Orleans traditional music on his critically acclaimed and influential albums “Indian Blues” in 1991 and “Spirits of Congo Square” in 2000. These records deepened his commitment to maintaining the offshoot rituals, call and response chants and drumming as well as his determination to keep traditional to modern jazz music alive for the next generation.

Over three decades playing as a professional artist has placed Harrison on stage and on recordings with some of the most influential artists of the 21st century. He has performed and recorded with an illustrious list of distinguished musicians in Jazz, R & B, Funk, Classical and other music genres. Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, The Cookers, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Lena Horne, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Eddie Palmieri, Jennifer Holiday, Dr. John, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Digable Planets, Notorious BIG, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra are just a few of the artists and ensembles he has performed with.

As an actual evacuee/survivor of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison had a prominent role in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke.” He also appeared as himself and co-wrote the sound track for Academy Award winning Director Jonathan Demme’s feature film, “Rachel’s Getting Married,” starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger. Aspects of Harrison’s life and music are chronicled with two characters in David Simon’s ground breaking HBO series, Treme. He was a character consultant and appeared as himself in eleven episodes in the series.

Harrison recorded “Quantum Leap” in 2012, which musicians and critics agree is a next step for real jazz and is an amalgamation of his life’s experiences and years playing with jazz masters. With quantum jazz, Donald has opened up new areas for time, harmony, and melody. The recording has another component where it melds cutting edge jazz with New Orleans funk, connecting the past with the present with jazz music that transcends boundaries. His upcoming jazz recording will feature, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Christian Scott, Max Moran, Detroit Brooks, Joe Dyson and others. The recording has Donald Harrison playing sax, singing, rapping, chanting, playing percussion, piano, keyboards, drumming and producing.

In October 2015, Harrison explored a new chapter on his musical path when he recorded his first classical orchestral composition, “Congo Square Part I”, with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. The work is composed and orchestrated by the jazz saxophonist as a purely classical composition. Harrison plans to do other parts with his orchestral piece that will open up other ways to think of what music can be as a whole.

Harrison is co-founder and Artistic Director of the Tipitana’s Intern Program and also the founder of The New Jazz School where he along with his hand picked staff of seasoned veterans teach jazz, soul, funk, theory, harmony, composition, and history to students ranging from ages thirteen to eighteen. The Tip’s program is a college preparatory and music-training program for junior and senior high school students. This program has afforded millions of dollars in scholarships for its students, has taught million dollar-selling producers, and has placed many prominent musicians in the professional ranks. Trumpeter Christian Scott, hip hop icon The Notorious B.I.G., trombonist Trombone Shorty, guitarist Josh Connelly, producer Deezle and saxophonists Louis Fouche, Chris Royal and Aaron Fletcher are just a few. His working groups are an incubator for jazz bandleaders such as Christian Scott, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Cyrus Chestnut and bassists Christian McBride and Esperansa Spalding.

Throughout his career, Harrison has received numerous accolades for his music and talent. He is a patented inventor whose main invention is a new system to record and play back music. His new system will give musicians and music lover’s new ways to engage with music. He is working on developing software for the invention, which many believe, will assist in turning around a sagging music industry. Some of his awards include: two of France’s “Grand Prix du Disque”, Switzerland’s “The Ascona Award”, Japan’s Swing Journal “Alto Saxophonist of the Year,” The Jazz Journalist Association’s “A List Award,” 2012 New Orleans Civic Award, 2007 Jazziz Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” the Big Easy Music Awards “Ambassador of Music” and a Down Beat Magazine’s Alto Saxophone Poll Winner. He was also a 2006 Resident at William and Mary College, a 1995 “Meet The Composer” recipient and a 2012 Grammy nominee.

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