Billy Harper Biography

17 January 1943, Houston, Texas, USA. A child soloist in the church choir, Harper took up the tenor saxophone at the age of 12. He formed his first quintet at 14, and played in high school bands before graduating summa cum laude. At Texas State University he gained a degree in saxophone and theory, working professionally as a singer/saxophonist at the same time. He worked in R&B bands and with James Clay and Fred Smith, then moved to New York in 1966, soon beginning a decade-long musical association with Gil Evans. From 1968-70 he also worked with Art Blakey, then in 1971 joined the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Big Band until 1973. He has also worked with Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones and Max Roach.

In addition to his impressive tenor, Harper plays flute as well as teaching and composing: his tune ‘Thoroughbred’ was a staple of Evans’ repertoire for several years, and later Evans groups played many more Harper pieces, most notably ‘Priestess’. He has taught at Livingstone College, Rutgers University, and was awarded a grant by the New Jersey Council for the Arts to teach improvisation at 15 high schools. His 1975 Black Saint launched the famed Italian label of that name, while the 1979 In Europe launched its co-label Soul Note Records. Although he records infrequently each release is highly worthwhile, none more so than 1996’s John Coltrane -inspired Somalia


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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