Barry Harris, one of the great torchbearers of bebop, dies at 91

Barry Harris, the highly respected jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and educator who was widely regarded as a devoted exponent of the bebop style, has died. He was 91.

During a career spanning seven decades as a musician and teacher, Harris performed with and mentored some of the greatest names in jazz while keeping the flame of bebop burning bright.

Harris died Wednesday at a hospital near his home in Weehawken, N.J., shortly before his 92nd birthday.

A source told NPR that Harris had been hospitalized for the last two weeks and died of complications due to COVID-19.

Born in Detroit on Dec. 15, 1929, Barry Harris had a leading role in the city’s modern jazz explosion in the 1950s. Taking influence from Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, he learned to play bebop mostly by ear and soon went on to work with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Thad Jones and Max Roach. He stayed in Detroit until Cannonball Adderley brought him on the road with him in 1960.

Harris then settled in New York, where he performed with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef, Coleman Hawkins and Hank Mobley. It was there that he also began working as an educator, and his workshops soon became a fixture in New York. Some of the musicians he mentored include Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins, Curtis Fuller, Pepper Adams, Charles McPherson and Joe Henderson.

He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 1989. He also received an Honorary Jazz Award by the House of Representatives and a Presidential Award for excellence in jazz performance and education, both in 1995.

Harris leaves his daughter, Carol Geyer, and her husband, Keith.