Joe Harriott, born on July 15, 1928, in Kingston, Jamaica, was an influential alto saxophonist and composer who played a significant role in the development of free jazz in the 1960s. Known for his innovative approach to improvisation and his unique fusion of Caribbean rhythms with modern jazz, Harriott left a lasting impact on the jazz world.
Harriott’s musical journey began in Jamaica, where he attended the Alpha Boys School, a Catholic institution known for its strong musical program. Under the guidance of the school’s music director, Lennie Hibbert, Harriott honed his skills on the alto saxophone and developed an interest in jazz music. In 1951, he moved to London, England, to further pursue his career in music.
In London, Harriott quickly became an important figure in the city’s jazz scene, performing with various bands and establishing his own quintet in 1958. It was during this time that he began exploring the concept of free jazz, moving away from traditional jazz structures and embracing a more abstract, experimental approach to improvisation. This innovative style of playing earned him comparisons to other jazz greats such as Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy.
In the early 1960s, Harriott formed the Joe Harriott Quintet, featuring musicians such as Shake Keane, Pat Smythe, Coleridge Goode, and Phil Seamen. The group was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of jazz, recording groundbreaking albums like “Free Form” (1961) and “Abstract” (1963). These albums showcased Harriott’s unique style, which blended Caribbean rhythms with the freedom and unpredictability of avant-garde jazz.
Despite his pioneering work in free jazz, Harriott also maintained an interest in more traditional jazz styles. He collaborated with several Indian musicians, including violinist John Mayer, to create the Indo-Jazz Fusion project. This innovative venture combined the harmonic structures of Indian classical music with the improvisational elements of jazz, resulting in a captivating and original sound.
Joe Harriott’s career was unfortunately cut short by his untimely death from cancer on January 2, 1973, at the age of 44. However, his contributions to the world of jazz have not been forgotten. Harriott’s innovative approach to improvisation and his fusion of diverse musical styles have left a lasting legacy, inspiring countless musicians and continuing to influence the evolution of jazz music.
Page last updated 3/19/2023.