BRATTLEBORO—On Saturday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m., the Vermont Jazz Center will welcome legendary trumpeter Tom Harrell to the stage. He will be touring with pianist Danny Grissett, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Joe Dyson in support of their new release, Moving Picture.
Although Harrell has recorded 30 discs as a leader, this is the first that features him as the sole horn in a quartet setting. Like Miles Davis before him, Harrell can most often be found in a quintet, paired with a tenor saxophonist (usually Wayne Escoffery). But for this project he has chosen to record and tour without another frontline instrument.
This gives him room to work on unexplored textures and stretch out on his solos. In the liner notes he elaborates: “I wrote the arrangements with the instrumentation of the quartet and the specific players in mind.
“There’s a lot of ensemble writing on Moving Picture — concerted writing with piano and trumpet as well as unison writing with bass and trumpet. I think this brings interest, as it is different from my writing for previous records. Then too, when I write a melody I think of it as something for the globe. I try to make it accessible for everyone and capable of being played or sung by any combination of instrument(s) or voice(s).”
Steve Futterman of The New Yorker writes in Moving Picture’s liner notes that Harrell’s “capacious horn, in tandem with a top-notch ensemble, is a veritable definition of musical joy.”
Futterman’s quote supports Harrell’s goal of bringing joy to his audiences. In numerous interviews, such as one archived on NPR’s Sound Takes, Harrell explains “...it’s true, I try to portray happiness and hope. There might be an element of sadness, but music can help us transcend sadness.” He goes on to say “music is directly related to your health and it is a healing process. So, to play music, you’re healing yourself.”
If Harrell appears to be a modern-day Yoda, there’s good reason: He is a truth-teller, mindful in his use of spoken language and the musical notes he chooses. He is regarded as one of jazz’s top living trumpeters, an individual who has earned the deepest respect of his peers through his unpretentious mastery of the horn and his self-discipline, prolific output, compositional prowess, and prodigious talent.
Harrell’s numerous tenures as a sideman with jazz legends affirm his master status. He was a touring member of ensembles led by Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and George Russell, as well as with Azteca, the Horace Silver Quintet (five albums), The Sam Jones-Tom Harrell Big Band, the Lee Konitz Nonet, and the Mel Lewis Orchestra.
He has performed on more than 300 albums including work with Lionel Hampton, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, David Sánchez, and Sheila Jordan and is a featured soloist on pianist Bill Evans’ final studio album.
Harrell’s achievements as a composer are on display in the many albums he has produced as a leader, but he has also been commissioned to compose and arrange for numerous other meaningful projects.
Joining Harrell at the Vermont Jazz Center will be pianist Danny Grissett, with whom he has been making music for over eight years. The All Music Guide to jazz states that Grissett “plays with an effortless brilliance that distinguishes him as one of the top three young pianists on the contemporary scene.” He has released six albums as a leader.
The bassist in the quartet is Ugonna Okegwo. As a youth in New York, he cut his teeth working with Junior Cook, James Spaulding, and Jon Hendricks. After graduating from Long Island University, he formed a highly regarded trio with Jacky Terrasson and Leon Parker. Okegwo has been with Tom Harrell for 10 years.
The group’s drummer, Joe Dyson, began his professional career performing in his father’s New Orleans church with other family members. He attended Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship and can be found on recordings with Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison Jr., Sonny Boy Williamson II, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Sullivan Fortner, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and others.
In the liner notes of Harrell’s Number Five, he is quoted as saying “I believe in music as an evolutionary power. I believe in peaceful resolution. I believe in love. Music reflects the world and I’m trying to convey love through my music. The world of art represents a peaceful philosophy towards life.”