SFJAZZ.org | Five Things You Should Know About Stefon Harris

On The Corner Masthead


February 10, 2020 | by Rusty Aceves

Stefon Harris

We are very excited to have vibraphone virtuoso Stefon Harris return to SFJAZZ with his all-star Blackout quintet including pianist Marc Cary, saxophonist Casey Benjamin, bassist Burniss Travis, and drummer Terreon Gully, performing music from his new Motéma Music album Sonic Creed – his first with the band in nine years. Here are five things to know about the instrumentalist and composer:

  1. The New York-born Harris attended the Manhattan School of Music, and initially pursued classical studies before his exposure to the music of Charlie Parker directed him to jazz. He has performed with Joe Henderson, Wynton Marsalis, Buster Williams, Kenny Barron, Cassandra Wilson and many other legends, and made his recording debut as a leader on Blue Note Records in 1998, releasing A Cloud of Red Dust when he was only 25.
  2. The vibraphonist was a member of the SFJAZZ Collective from 2007-2013, succeeding his mentor Bobby Hutcherson. He toured the world with the band and contributed performances, arrangements, and compositions to four albums with the Collective, honoring the music of Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder, and Chick Corea.
  3. Harris is among the most lauded jazz artists on the scene — a four-time GRAMMY nominee, recipient of the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, a multi-year winner in the Annual DownBeat Critics Poll and JazzTimes Critics Poll, and an eight-time “Best Mallet Player” honoree by the Jazz Journalists Association.
  4. First appearing on record in 2004 on Harris’ Blue Note release Evolution, Blackout has been devoted to a seamless hybrid of hip-hop and jazz improvisation, with a masterful lineup of virtuoso pianist Marc Cary, saxophonist Casey Benjamin (Robert Glasper Experiment, Roy Hargrove, Mos Def) drummer Terreon Gully (Christian McBride, Dianne Reeves), and bassists including Daryl Hall and Ben Williams II. The band’s second album, 2009’s Concord Jazz session Urbanus, received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.
  5. Released nine years after Harris’ last Blackout recording, Sonic Creed reunites the same supercharged lineup with the addition of keyboardist James Francies in place of Cary and Joshua Crumbly on bass. New Jersey’s legendary jazz station WBGO named Sonic Creed as their Album of the Year.
    In Stefon’s words, Sonic Creed is “an album that chronicles the story of a people and their time on the planet. It is a reflection of African-American life in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Furthermore, it is a sonic manifestation and creed of family, community and legacy. The album explores afresh the music of masters such as Bobby Hutcherson, Abbey Lincoln, Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver.”
    For these performances in the Joe Henderson Lab, Marc Cary returns to the fold, along with saxophonist Casey Benjamin’s Robert Glasper Experiment bandmate Burniss Travis on bass. On Friday and Saturday, drummer Jonathan Pinson (Herbie Hancock, Kamasi Washington) stands in for Terreon Gully. 

Stefon Harris and Blackout perform February 13-16 in the Joe Henderson Lab at the SFJAZZ Center.

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