Billy Harper

Billy Harper has had a pretty incredible career. He was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1968. He played with Max Roach. He was part of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and the Gil Evans big band, and because of those connections he got to play on a Louis Armstrong album. He was on Lee Morgan’s final studio album, recorded in 1971. And he’s had a solo career since the early Seventies, making legendary albums like Capra Black for the Strata-East label and Black Saint for…well, for Black Saint. It was their first release, and they named the label after it!

Since about 2008, Harper has been a member of the Cookers, a group led by trumpeter David Weiss that also features Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Donald Harrison or Craig Handy on alto sax, George Cables — who’s been on this podcast — on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. All of those guys have long careers as leaders, but when they come together, playing music from their back catalogs and new material, they’re really amazing. I’ve seen them live twice and it’s just astonishing to watch absolute masters get up there and deliver the way they do.

I really had a good time talking to Billy Harper. In this interview, we talk about the Texas tenor sax tradition, we talk about his time with Lee Morgan, we talk about the Cookers, about his solo work, about how to teach improvisation, and a bunch of other things. If you enjoy this podcast, please consider visiting and becoming a subscriber. For just $5 a month, you can help keep this show and Burning Ambulance as a whole active and thriving. Thanks!

Music featured in this episode:
Billy Harper, “Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart” (Black Saint)
The Cookers, “Destiny is Yours” (Look Out!)

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