King of Nouveau Swing, Big Chief Donald Harrison, Mentors Young Local Musicians
WESTMINSTER, VT- After performing center stage on Church Street at the 2014 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival on Thursday June 4th, the young students of the Kurn Hattin Homes Jazz Ensemble were invited to participate in a private workshop with award-winning New Orleans alto sax giant, Big Chief Donald Harrison. The workshop was part of the Flynn Center’s Artist-in-Residency series sponsored by Lake Champlain Chocolates.
Known as the “The King of Nouveau Swing,” Harrison’s music merges modern dance music such as R&B, hip-hop, soul, rock, and jazz with Afro-New Orleans traditional music. A graduate of Berklee School of Music, and formerly a member of drum legend Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Harrison has become a jazz legend in his own right. He is also Big Chief of Congo Square Nation, a cultural group of black Mardi Gras Indians that preserves the legacy, history, and traditions of Afro-New Orleans residents. They are known for parading in elaborate, beaded and feathered Native American-influenced costumes at Mardi Gras. The outfits are so beautiful and complex that they are considered a form of moving, living sculpture. Harrison and his group bring the rituals, dancing, call and response chants, beads, feathers, and drumming of Congo Square to their performances, as well.
Harrison is also the co-founder and artistic director for the Tipitina’s Intern Program, and The New Jazz School where he along with a staff of seasoned veterans teach jazz theory, music and history to students ages 13 to 21. As an actual evacuee and survivor of Hurricane Katrina, he appeared in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary “When the Levees Broke.” Aspects of Harrison’s life and music are chronicled on David Simon’s ground breaking HBO series, Treme. He appears as himself in eleven episodes.
Kurn Hattin Homes made headlines earlier this year when their Music Director, Lisa Bianconi, was nominated for the Grammy Music Educator of the Year Award, a new category in 2014. She was a top ten finalist out of 32,000 applicants. The southern Vermont residential home and school serves at-risk children. Music plays a key role in its therapeutic and educational programs.
Harrison spent time discussing the history of the blues and jazz music before working on specific techniques with the young musicians. He then moved on to concepts of call and response, and he and the students jammed in a lively rendition of the New Orleans classic “Eiko, Eiko”. Bianconi was deeply impressed by Harrison’s patient, intimate teaching style, “I don’t know if they realize yet what a big deal this is, but someday they will. It will knock them out that they had this wonderful opportunity!”
Established in 1894, Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster, Vermont is a charitable home and school for children, ages 6-15, who are affected by tragedy, social or economic hardship, or other disruption in family life. Its mission: Kurn Hattin transforms the lives of children and their families forever. www.kurnhattin.org.
Photo captions: 1) Big Chief Donald Harrison plays the Blues for the Kurn Hattin Jazz Ensemble; 2) Big Chief Donald Harrison is given Vermont maple syrup made by the Kurn Hattin students on their own farm 3) Big Chief Donald Harrison mentoring the young Kurn Hattin musicians.