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Jazz at Scullers – Allan Harris “Black Bar Jukebox”

Black Bar Jukebox - Allan Harris - Photo by Rebecca Meek

Black Bar Jukebox – The new album by Allan Harris. Photo by Rebecca Meek.

Tony Bennett has called Allan Harris “my favorite singer”.  Allan is coming to Scullers on February 27th for two shows at 8pm and 10 pm. He will be performing songs from his newest album Black Bar Jukebox.  If you love the velvet sound of Nat King Cole, you should take this chance to see Allan in a live performance with his band. He will take you back in time to his childhood and revisit some of his favorite places and sounds in Harlem.

The album was produced by the Grammy-award-winning Brian Bacchus, who is also the producer of Gregory Porter’s Be Good and Liquid Spirit and signed Norah Jones’ first recording, Come Away With Me. The band behind the album: Allan Harris on vocals and guitar, Leon Boykins on bass, Pascal Le Boeuf on piano/keyboard, Jake Goldbas on drums; with special guests, Yotam Silberstein on guitar and Samuel Torres on percussion.

Growing up in Harlem, you have been singing since you were very young. What were some of your early music influences? What was Harlem like then?

“Growing up in Harlem was a wonderful and eye-opening experience for a young boy of color! The music and cultural diversity that America had to offer during those turbulent times of the sixties and early seventies opened my heart and mind to the changing winds of hopefulness that was enveloping the country. With music that was pouring out of Detroit by way of the Motown sound; the incredible British invasion of Rock and Blues; and the Funk and Fusion that was then permeating Jazz; I was trained in a school of revolutionary ideas that changed the way one approached music and how to interpret it.  I was groomed on Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Bob Dylan and Eddie Jefferson just to name a few!”

There were also the name of your mother and you aunt Theodosia you have mentioned; can you share some stories about them?

Allan Harris's mother Yohanna Chemina Ingram-Harris

Allan Harris’s mother Yohanna Chemina Ingram-Harris

“My mother Yohanna Chemina Ingram-Harris and her sister, my aunt Theodosia were born in Hamlet, North Carolina which was also the birth place of John Coltrane. They both were in the first graduating class of New York’s School of the Performing Arts.  My mother was a classical piano prodigy and my aunt Theodosia studied opera. As teenagers, they won the amateur competition at the Apollo Theater.”

“Through these two incredible women, who helped me  embark on my musical journey at a very young age. They exposed me to the world of the arts that New York had to offer. Arthur Mitchell was my mother’s childhood friend, who was a principal dancer of Balanchine’s and also the first renowned African American Ballet dancer in the world. He took my mother to the hospital to deliver me into the world; for my father was stationed overseas in the navy.

Allan Harris's Aunt Theodosia Ingram

Allan Harris’s Aunt Theodosia Ingram

“My aunt Theodosia introduced me to Jazz and Blues upon her graduation from the School of Performing Arts.  Sometimes she would take me with her to matinees where she would be performing.  She used to sing at the Lenox Lounge in Harlem.  Aunt Tede was managed by Clarence Williams, who was also the manager of Bessie Smith and Louie Armstrong in the 30’s. My aunt also had one child by him, my cousin Michael.  We would spend weekends at Clarence Williams’ home where artists such as Louie Armstrong would occasionally drop by.  My Aunt Tede also gave me my first guitar!”

Your new album, Black Bar Jukebox, has diverse 13 songs ranged from modern tunes, blues, ballads and some originals.  What’s the story behind the title?

Aunt Kates Restaurant copy

Aunt Kates Restaurant copy

“My new album Black Bar Jukebox harkens back to the days of my childhood when most of the bars and restaurants had Jukeboxes. No matter what your station in life was, once you put that coin in the Jukebox, the world was your stage for the next two or three minutes. Every patron had to adhere to a certain musical etiquette and that was not to interfere with the choice of the coin holder’s selection; whether it was Johnny Cash or Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew.  I wanted to recreate that ambiance from those joints onto my record so that the listeners can travel back in my time with me as a child in those bars and cafes in Harlem.  One major influences for me was frequenting my aunt Kate Ingram’s Soul Food restaurant, Kate’s Home Cooking. The restaurant was down the street from the Apollo Theater. Often sitting there before and after the matinees, I would meet and be introduced to some of the artists who were performing at the Apollo Theater and ventured in to eat. Oh yeah my aunt Kate had a jukebox too! Here is a picture of the restaurant on the cover of Jimmy Smith’s album ‘Home Cooking,’ where he was standing right outside of it.”

Now you have done musicals for Cross That River project, theater work for Café Society Swing, what’s next?

“I have been selected to do the role of Reverend Gary Davis in a new story about Bob Dylan that is directed by Randall Myler. It is starting in May at the Triad in New York City. I get to play some finger picking guitar, and oh yeah this is a challenging role, for Reverend Gary Davis was blind!”

2 thoughts on “Jazz at Scullers – Allan Harris “Black Bar Jukebox””

  1. Brian Bacchus says:

    Wonderful piece on a great artist and love the photos! One correction: I didn’t produce Norah Jones. I signed and A&R’s her first recording, Come Away With Me. Arif Mardin w/ Jay Newland and Craig Street shared the production credit and Jay Newland engineered it. I did produce Gregory Porter’s Be Good and Liquid Spirit.
    Thanks again for the wonderful interview and spotlight on Allan Harris and Black Bar Jukebox!
    Wish I was in Boston for the Sculler’s performance!
    Brian M. Bacchus

    1. Erin X. Smithers says:

      Thank you for your comments, Brian. We will make an update right away. Allan’s concert at Scullers was wonderful last night!

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