Eddie Harris – Bio

In Bio on October 30, 2008 at 10:55 am

Eddie Harris (b. Chicago, 1934 – 1996) was best known for playing tenor saxophone, though he was also fluent on the electric piano and organ. His most well-known composition was “Freedom Jazz Dance”, recorded and popularized by Miles Davis in the 1960s.

After college he was drafted into the United States Army. While serving in Europe he was accepted into the 7th Army Band, which also included Don Ellis, Leo Wright, and Cedar Walton.

After getting out of the army he worked in New York City before returning to Chicago, where he signed a contract with Vee Jay Records. His first album for Vee Jay, Exodus to Jazz included his own jazz arrangement of Ernest Gold’s theme from the movie Exodus. A shortened version of this track, which featured his masterful playing in the upper register of the tenor saxophone, was heavily played on radio and became the first jazz record ever to be certified gold.
Many jazz critics, however, regarded commercial success as a sign that a jazz artist had sold out, and Harris soon stopped playing “Exodus” in concert. He moved to Columbia Records in 1964 and to Atlantic Records in 1965. At Atlantic in 1965 he released The In Sound, a bop album which won back many of his detractors.

Over the next few years he began to perform on electric piano and the electric Varitone saxophone, and to perform a mixture of jazz and funk which sold well in both the jazz and rhythm and blues markets. In 1967 his album The Electrifying Eddie Harris reached second place on the R & B charts.
In 1969 he performed with Les McCann’s group at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Although they had been unable to rehearse, their session was so impressive that a recording of it was released as Swiss Movement, which became one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, also reaching second place on the R & B charts.
Harris also came up with the idea of the reed trumpet, playing one for the first time at The Newport Jazz Festival of 1970 to mostly negative critical feedback. From 1970 to 1975 he experimented with new instruments of his own invention (the reed trumpet was a trumpet with a saxophone mouthpiece, the saxobone was a saxophone with a trombone mouthpiece, and the guitorgan was a combination of guitar and organ), with singing the blues, with jazz-rock (he recorded an album with Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, Albert Lee, Ric Grech, Zoot Money, and other rockers), and with comic R & B numbers such as “That is Why You’re Overweight.”

In 1975, however, he alienated much of his audience with his album The Reason Why I’m Talkin’ Shit, which consisted mainly of stand-up comedy, and public interest in his subsequent albums declined sharply. He continued to record into the 1990s, but his experimentation ended and he mainly recorded hard bop.


  • Exodus to Jazz, 1961 VEE JAY Records
  • Swiss Movement; 1969 (CD 1996); with Les McCann
  • Come on Down, 1970 Atlantic Recordings
  • Instant Death,1971
  • In the UK.“ / Is It In; 1973 (CD 1999); with Albert Lee, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Chris Squire, Alan White, Tony Kaye, Rufus Reid, Ronald Muldrow
  • I Need Some Money; 1975; with Ronald Muldrow
  • Bad Luck Is All I Have, 1975 Atlantic Recordings
  • That is why you’re overweight, 1976 Atlantic Recordings
  • How can you live like that; 1977
  • I’m Tired of Driving; 1978
  • The Real Electrifying, 1982 Mutt & JeffRecording Corp.
  • People Get Funny, 1987 Timeless Records
  • Live in Berlin, 1989 Timeless Records
  • Live at the Moonwalker, 1990 Moonwalker Label (Suisa)
  • Listen Here; 1993
  • The Battle of the Tenors; 1994, with Wendell Harrison
  • The Last Concert; CD 1997; with WDR Big Band

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