Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: US & Canada

Guitarist, composer, and vocalist Joel Harrison has one of the most unpredictable, fascinating discographies in contemporary music. He has developed a singular, lyrical voice through immersion in jazz, modern classical, world traditions, and American roots music. His rejection of stylistic boundaries has led him to freely wander wherever inspiration is found, from inner city blues bars to the finest concert halls. Harrison has released ten CDs of his own compositions and arrangements on six different record labels since 1995. Acclaimed New York City critic Bill Milkowski called his 2008 release, The Wheel, “a staggering work of indescribable beauty.”

Harrison has received a number of prestigious commissions in recognition of his composing and arranging skills. He was a two-time winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Composition Competition in the late 90s. Since 2003 he has received commissions and grants from Meet the Composer, the Flagler Cary Trust, NYSCA, and the Jerome Foundation. In addition Harrison has received four grants from Chamber Music America. His 2007 solo for marimba won first prize in the Percussive Arts Society’s worldwide competition, and other recent chamber works include a work for solo cello and a duo for violin and cello, both of which will be released on Orange Mountain Music label in 2010. In 2003 the Free Country CD was voted one of the top 50 records of the year by Jazz Times.

Harrison graduated from Bard College with a degree in composition in 1980, studying with Joan Tower. He went on to study privately with numerous composers and improvisers, including Ali Akbar Khan, Abubakari Lunna, W.A. Mathieu, Charlie Banacos, and Mick Goodrick. While living in the San Francisco area in the 1990’s Harrison organized tribute concerts to a number of great jazz artists including Jim Pepper and Jimmy Guiffre and released three CDs of his own compositions.

Since moving to New York City in 1999, his projects have included Free Country (radical renditions of old country and Appalachian music); Harrison on Harrison (re-composed improvisations of the music of George Harrison), String Choir (string quartet and two guitars play music of Paul Motian); Harbor with renowned guitarist Nguyen Le; “The Wheel," an extended suite for string quartet and jazz quartet plus guitar, and Passing Train, a collection of original songs. A new Highnote CD, Urban Myths, was released in Spring 2009.

Harrison is a four-time MacDowell Colony fellow. His allies in his various projects have included Wendy Sutter, Christian Howes, Tim Fain, Dave Liebman, Norah Jones, David Binney, Uri Caine, Jamey Haddad, Dewey Redman, Uri Caine, Todd Reynolds, and Caleb Burhans. He continues to tour worldwide with his various ensembles.

Profile photograph by John Soffe.

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