Internationally acclaimed jazz pianist Kevin Harris interweaves traditional and contemporary music styles, visual arts, electronic media, science, and language, distinguishing his music and rendering each performance a unique experience, meant to activate the audience’s senses and personal curiosity.
Harris’ most innovative project as a composer is “Roots, Water and Sunlight: A Contemporary Octet Expedition through the Expressions of James Baldwin”. This three-movement piece uses powerful spoken-word samples from American author James Baldwin as the foundation for a wind octet accompanied by a rhythm section and digital instrumentation.
In this short video, Kevin Harris explains the creative dynamics behind his composition, and helps audiences contextualize the experience of hearing James Baldwin’s teachings set against a shifting sonic landscape.
Roots, Water, and Sunlight
First movement: Reality Dissipating
Comfortingly harmonious, Harris’ first movement slowly transports the listener from a feeling of familiarity to one of ambiguous sense of not knowing what will occur next. As the more pleasant harmonies (reality) dissipate, one can hear Baldwin softly whispering to the observer “who will you become as the stars above you (your reality) change position or fall from the sky?”
Second movement: The Uphill Quest for Fragility, Courage, and Curiosity
The second movement strives to represent the listener’s struggle to wrestle with his or her ever changing reality. “When stretched” Harris asks, “what new shape can we develop/evolve into”? Harris wishes to remind the listener that just like water, we have the unquestionable ability to masterfully adapt to a society of different social classes, ethnicities, genders, and so forth.
Third movement: Horizon of an Unknown Star
The closing movement is an encouragement to embrace change, leverage one’s creativity and boldness, and go beyond one’s own limitations. Harris’ statement that “perhaps one of life’s greatest rewards is coming to embrace change after having resisted it for so long” is the source of inspiration for this final movement. His concluding thought is that collectively, we can improve our society in wondrous ways we have yet to know.
Photo by Robert Torres.