WUSF has been the premier eclectic music station for the Tampa Bay area for years. Consequently as we're a jazz band for weddings and corporate events that is popular, we were fortunate enough to be invited to perform there.
As all of our songs were original compositions by me, I was interviewed as part of the process.
Here's that interview along with some samples.
Roger Harrison started playing piano at age 9 and continued with private lessons and college study, where he studied exclusively classical music. He was always intrigued by jazz and began listening to great artists like Wes Montgomery. From there, a desire to learn to improvise was born. Years of specialized jazz training followed, and eventually, he formed a group and began performing for paid gigs in Los Angeles. As he progressed, he discovered he also had talent as a composer and wrote songs not only for his group but also for a movie.
After he moved to the Tampa/St. Pete area in 2014, Roger created the Harrison Jazz Ensemble and now performs regularly in hotels, concerts, and private events.
Jazz on Arts Axis Florida: What message do you hope resonates with your audience when they hear your music?
Roger Harrison: I hope that people are reminded that art should heal, uplift and inspire.
What’s your process for writing a song and how do you write your messages into them?
I get inspirations from either the rhythm of a drum track, a particular chord progression, of sometimes I have a scenario in my mind which is like a mini movie that I'm attempting to express, as in a fellow being happy about a new love. That was the genius of "Living Dream Come True". In my mind's eye I saw a happy couple at a park.
I always aim to express a real scenario and craft it in an aesthetic was that uplifts people, even if the subject matter is getting dumped as in "Lost Love". We've all gone through these emotions and scenarios and so I try to represent them with music and lyrics that describe the circumstances.
Picasso stated that "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." It's my goal to create music that does just that.
Who are your musical inspirations?
I have several. The biggest is John Coltrane. He embodied not just virtuosity, but sincere purpose. Miles Davis was a master at storytelling, simplicity and he was also constantly moving to the next thing.
Chick Corea was a genius composer, on top of being a virtuoso piano player. There are so many more. Each giant provides his own inspiration.
What’s your favorite album or song to listen to?
My all time favorite is A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.
What’s the greatest musical moment you’ve experienced?
This happened when I was in college. For whatever reason, it had been a rough day and when I came home I felt like crap. In those days they had stereos with detachable speakers. I laid on the floor with a pillow, put one speaker on each side of my head, and listened to a John Coltrane compilation album. As I listened to song after song, I felt the anxiety, stress and confusion washing away. By the time the album ended I felt blissful!
I knew then that I wanted to be able to do that for others too!
What inspirations do you pull from when crafting a song?
I try to get a mental picture of a scenario or circumstance and then write a song to that. Sometimes I'm lucky and the scene is like a mental movie. I then create music to that. Occasionally there's a story that unfolds mentally which can lead to multiple songs. An example is three songs from the album "Getting Ready For the Club" which an instrumental about a woman excitedly dressing to go out and have fun, "Attraction" is this same woman having a keen mutual interest with a man at the club and "Living Dream Come True" is how they're now together and in love.
Other times I may get a melodic idea first and then the story comes later. That was the case with "Miles, Bird, Duke and Trane."
How often do you write?
I try to spend some time daily working with a lyric and a melody. I joined a songwriting group that had a rule of spending at least 15 minutes daily in song creation. I find that this is helpful, because when I plan on spending 15 min, I find that I end up working for an hour or so.
Creative people have a bad habit of having lots of half done projects, so I put my songs on a Trello board so that I keep things on track. There's so many hats to wear!
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?
Of my more recent songs it's Miles, Bird, Duke and Trane, because I have so much respect for the contributions of these titans and I've read biographies of all of them, so I have some understanding of their struggles and triumphs. All of them cast huge shadows across the world of jazz.
MILES, BIRD, DUKE AND TRANE
How do you choose what songs to play live?
I like songs that have great messages, interesting melodies and are fun to play.
How do you prepare mentally and physically for a live show?
For me the secret is in estimating the precise amount of rehearsal. A band or a performer can be over rehearsed, in which case he becomes frantic as he's consumed with doubt or under rehearsed, in which case he can't really communicate the music.
So it's important to get familiar enough with the songs so that you aren't worrying about the mechanics like chords, melody, lyrics and you then can relax and concentrate on imparting a message.
What makes playing jazz music in Florida so appealing?
Florida tends to have a small town friendly vibe amongst musicians. It's much less competitive and more collaborative.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
[Roger laughs] Listening to Disney songs. Jiminy Cricket!
What are your future aspirations/plans in jazz music? I'm currently working on compiling and creating an hour and 1/2 of my original songs and I'd like to put on a show of all original music. Jazz is similar to classical music in that there is a group of songs that is a set repertoire that musicians learn. Many jazz groups focus on those songs. That's great, but it's extra special to bring new music that will hopefully one day be part of that repertoire.
Can you provide more info on your upcoming album?
The album "More Than Friends" is a collection of songs that have a theme of relationships. The joy of achieving them, the pain of losing them and everything in between. Each song is it's own "universe" in terms of varying rhythms from neo soul, jazz and Latin. Most have lyrics and my vocals but some are instrumental. None of the songs are from any sort of formula but were original ideas.
As I mentioned some are connected to a story. One is a very unique jazz/Latin treatment of a traditional song.
The key is each is it's own special creation and the idea is to provide pleasant aural surprises and joy with each track.
Perfect to listen to after a long day at work or snuggling with your sweetie!