Ben Harris, who studied at Berklee School of Music 1974-6 with Bill Curtis of the Boston Pops and with John Neves, has lately renewed his focus on the bass as a lead instrument using a classical arco technique.
His new project follows work with Mike Stern, Andy Bey and Freddie Drew, touring with Doc Pittman’s Ink Spots, and performing with the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Lee’s Summit Symphony and other symphony orchestras. In 1981 the album Bridging The Gap received three stars in Downbeat magazine and his bass playing was featured in the movie This Bitter Earth, starring Nichelle Nichols and Billy Dee Williams.
Ben’s earliest influence – as a teenager – was Paul Chambers, but latterly he cites the inspiration of Gary Karr and Christian McBride. As a 16-year-old he had had lessons with an Omaha Symphony bassist but on arriving at Berklee, says Harris, it was Neves and Curtis who brought his bowing technique to a high point. In New York, after Boston, he studied at the Manhattan School of Music 1979-80 with Lew Norton and Homer Mensch of the New York Philharmonic. Over the subsequent 30 years he has been playing arco in all styles from jazz to hard rock to country and classical.
Regarding his new project, Arco Jazz Bass, Ben observes that “In the past, jazz bowing has long been used only in ballads and sparingly in other jazz improv music due to the preference of the listeners”. His intention now, as exemplified in the YouTube video below, is to record his favourite jazz songs using his bowing technique with the emphasis on strong melodies with a bluesy sound, imitating jazz-horn improvisation using a classical technique.
Ben is committed to showing the listener that not only can jazz bass be a beautiful centerpiece in music but it can be a powerful lead instrument in jazz standards.
This article was prepared with the assistance of the artist.