Barry Harris, born December 15, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan, is an American jazz pianist, composer, and educator who, as a musician, became known for his virtuosity, marked by complex chord structures and dexterity. An exponent of the bepop style that became popular after World War II, he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Yusef Lateef, Coleman Hawkins, Cannonball Adderly, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and other jazz greats. Among Harris’ chief influences were close friend Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker
Harris began piano lessons at age four, under his mother’s tutelage. He studied classical music throughout his youth until coming under the influence of Parker, whom he first heard in Detroit in the late 1940s. Harris’s family home became a salon for jazz musicians, his mother encouraging his newfound interest. He worked as a sideman, session player, and lead player in Detroit in the 1950s, when he played with such stars as Davis, Parker, and Sarah Vaughan.
In 1960 Harris moved to New York, where he played regularly with Adderley and Hawkins. There Pannonica de Koenigswarter—the British scion of the Rothschild dynasty and patroness of the New York jazz scene, which dubbed her the “Jazz Baroness”—befriended Harris and introduced him to many luminaries, including pianist Monk. Harris lived with Monk at Konigswater’s house in Weehawken, New Jersey in the 1970s.
In 1982, Harris founded Manhattan’s Jazz Cultural Theatre, a performance venue, featuring famed jazz musicians as well as regular jam sessions and music classes for musicians young and old; he ran it until it closed in 1987. Harris also became renowned as an educator, teaching courses in jazz theory, piano, and voice at several schools and institutions in the New York area and delivering master classes and lectures throughout the world. He continues to build his long legacy as a venerable musician, educator, and performer, traveling the world over with a dedicated following of jazz aficionados.