Jerome Harris was one year ahead of me at Harvard, and by the time I met him he was already one of the best-known student musicians on the campus. His main axe in those days was guitar, and his trademark was versatility. He was a terrific soloist, a wonderful accompanist, and he could play a very wide range of jazz, rock, blues, and funk styles brilliantly. When I first met Jerome, he was planning a career as a psychiatrist; by the time he graduated, he’d made the decision to make music his career. To me it was a no-brainer.
Jerome’s college band was a big fusion outfit that featured Jerome on guitar and Akira Tana, who is now one of the best-known jazz drummers in New York. After college Jerome worked for a while with Stanton Davis, a trumpeter and fellow student at the New England Conservatory of Music, who at the time headed one of the best fusion bands in Boston. By 1978 Jerome had signed on as bassist with Sonny Rollins, for whom he more recently played guitar as well. Jerome worked with Rollins for a total of 15 years, more than any other of Rollins’s accompanists.
If you play with Jerome for 15 minutes, you understand why Rollins kept him on the payroll for so long. Jerome has what amounts to a kind of genius for ensemble playing. He listens brilliantly. He is capable of turning any aspect of a phrase rhythm, timbre, line, articulation into a platform for extended improvisation. He makes every musician he plays with sound better.
Jerome has performed on six continents with many of the biggest names in jazz and fusion: Jack DeJohnette, Bobby Previte, Bill Frisell, Oliver Lake, Ray Anderson, Bob Stewart, George Russell, Julius Hemphill, Amina Claudine Myers, Ned Rothenberg, Bob Moses, and many others. His international touring has included several stints in Japan with Sonny Rollins, as well as U.S. State Department tours of India and the Middle East with Jay Hoggard and of five African nations with Oliver Lake and Lake’s band Jump Up. (I can tell you that it takes planning up front to get on Jerome’s calendar.)
Jerome has done several albums as leader: Algorithms (Minor Music), an electric jazz album with Jerome on guitar; In Passing (Muse), which highlighted his bass guitar work; and his newest, Hidden In Plain View (New World), which puts his acoustic bass guitar at the heart of an all-star group playing pieces by jazz master Eric Dolphy. Hidden in Plain View is a joy; there’s so much feeling on the record, and I realized listening to it how much humor there was in Dolphy’s music, right alongside all the hard-driving, head-twisting stuff you take for granted in post-bebop jazz.
I’ll sum it up: Jerome is a master. The stuff he played on acoustic guitar for my second CD blew my mind. Part of me wanted to stop playing and just listen to him. (The other part figured I’d better play my ass off while I had the chance.) If you follow the international jazz scene, you’ll hear Jerome sooner or later, if you haven’t already. I recommend sooner if you get the chance.