Yesterday I posted about Jamaican tenor saxophonist Wilton Gaynair. Today, I want to hip you to Jamaican alto saxophonist Joe Harriott. Like Gaynair, Harriott was educated at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston. And like Gaynair, Harriott moved to Europe, but instead of relocating to Germany, he settled in the U.K. in 1951 and became a Charlie Parker-influenced bebop player. But in the mid-1950s, Harriott began thinking about free-form jazz—music without measures or set melodies.


In Nov. 1960, Harriott recorded Free Form in London for the Jazzland label, with Shake Keane (tp, flhrn), Joe Harriott (as), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b) and Phil Seamen (d). Coming on the heels of Ornette Coleman’s initial free jazz recordings in the States, Free Form begs comparison. While Free Form packs the same modal tension as Coleman’s Something Else!!! and The Shape of Jazz to Come, it has a more lyrical feel, perhaps because of Harriott’s Jamaican background. As a result, I find it less relentless and more palatable to the ear—a perfect starter for those unfamiliar with free jazz.

Straight Lines is a good example. Though it’s free jazz, the walking bassline anchors the ear. Calypso also is accessible, with a festive silhouette. And Abstract feels about 10 years ahead of its time.


Harriott’s free jazz recordings include Abstract (1962) and Movement (1963). Also of note are Harriott’s Indian fusion albums with Indian composer John Mayer—Indo Jazz Suite (1965), Indo Jazz Fusions (1965) and Indo Jazz Fusions II (1966). Both are fascinating albums. [Photo above of Joe Harriott and John Mayer]

Suffering from cancer, Harriott was destitute in his last years and died in 1973.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Joe Harriott’s Southern Horizons, Free Form and Abstract on a Fresh Sound release here.

You’ll find Indio Jazz Fusions (Atlantic) here.

And you’ll find all of these albums at Spotify.

JazzWax clips: Here’s Straight Lines

And here’s the Indo Jazz Suite I and II, featuirng the Joe Harriott/John Mayer Double Quintet with Eddie Blair (tp, flhrn), Chris Taylor (fl), Joe Harriott (as), Pat Smythe (p), John Mayer (vln, harpsichord), Diwan Motihar (sitar), Rick Laird (b), Allan Ganley (d), Chandrahas Paigankar (tambura) and Keshav Sathe (tabla)…

A special thanks to John Herr.


from JazzWax
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