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  Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
 
Eugene Harris
Gene Harris
January 16, 2000
Age 66 
Kidney Failure 
  
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Editor's Pick: The Three Sounds: Standards  
  

 
 
 
 

OBITUARY 
       
 
 
     
                          BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Gene Harris, an internationally 
                          acclaimed jazz pianist, died Sunday of complications from 
                          kidney failure -- a month before he was to receive a kidney 
                          from one of his daughters. He was 66. 

                          Harris was a Grammy Award-nominated pianist who played on 
                          more than 80 recordings. He performed and recorded with 
                          artists such as Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, 
                          Oscar Peterson and Nancy Wilson. 

                          He oversaw the debut in 1998 of a Boise jazz festival that 
                          bears his name. 

                          Harris announced his semi-retirement by moving to Boise in 
                          1977. He settled into regular performances at a local hotel and 
                          became known to a wider audience in 1989, when he was up 
                          for a Grammy Award for Best Big Band Jazz Instrumental for 
                          his recording "Gene Harris All-Star Big Band Tribute to Count  
                          Basie.''

    
Famed Boise jazz pianist Gene Harris dies at 66
Artist’s health had been failing; transplant was a month away 

                By Marianne Flagg 
                The Idaho Statesman  
 

                Gene Harris, internationally acclaimed jazz pianist and a 
                beloved cultural figure in the Treasure Valley, died 
                Sunday of complications from kidney failure — a 
                month before he would have received a kidney 
                from one of his daughters.  He was 66. 

                Harris died at home about 1p.m. after suffering a 
                seizure. He had endured a series of health problems 
                for the past six years, including high blood pressure  
                and diabetes, which led to the kidney failure.  

                “He was the kindest, most giving, most generous 
                man,” said his wife of 21 years, Janie, surrounded by 
                family and friends at their Northwest Boise home. “He 
                loved life. He loved his music.” 

                Fans and friends were shocked by his sudden death. 

                “Idaho has lost one of its very best people,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, 
                an amateur clarinet player who had performed with Harris. “Not only 
                was Gene an immense talent, he was a genuinely wonderful person.” 

                Harris was a luminous figure in jazz and blues, a Grammy 
                Award-nominated pianist who had performed in the world’s most 
                famous clubs and festivals. He played on more than 80 recordings and 
                had shared the stage or recording studio with artists such as Joe 
                Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and Nancy 
                Wilson. His career spanned musical styles and trends for 40 years. 

                He oversaw the debut in 1998 of a Boise jazz festival that bears his 
                name. A former Golden Gloves boxer, Harris used the power of his 
                large hands to create a percussive, swinging blues style that also 
                could be delicate and sweet. 

                But for a man who spent much of his life in robust health, the past few 
                years were difficult. Janie Harris said her husband had grown weary of 
                being ill and often had to be prodded to take his medicine or to 
                exercise. 

                “When he turned 60, it was one thing after another,” Janie said. “He 
                had Bell’s palsy, congestive heart failure, which was reversed. He had 
                lost his eyesight. 

                “I don’t think he was comfortable living with the thought that someone 
                else’s organ would be in him — especially one from one of his 
                children,” she said. 

                At the time of his death, Harris had been preparing for a kidney 
                transplant that could have occurred within a month. 

                Harris’ daughter Beth Haire, who lives in Benton Harbor, Mich., was 
                given the green light by doctors to donate a kidney to her father. 
                Doctors at Swedish Hospital in Seattle cleared him for the transplant. 

                Harris had surgery Tuesday on his right eye to repair damage 
                resulting from diabetes. He came through the surgery in good 
                condition and had been recuperating at home, his wife said. 

                Harris had been walking out of the bathroom when he collapsed. “He 
                was shaking and sweating and he sat on a step,” Janie Harris said. “He 
                laid back and went into a seizure. I called his name and shook him. 
                After half a minute he came to. I said, ‘I’m going to get some help.’ He 
                said, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’ 

                “He went into another seizure, and his heart stopped.” She called for 
                emergency medical help and administered cardiopulmonary 
                resuscitation, but he was dead by the time paramedics arrived. 

                As word of Harris’ death spread, family and friends called his wife and 
                made visits to the house, where tears were shed and laughter shared. 

                “It’s like losing my brother,” said Cherie Buckner, a close friend for 25 
                years and a singer who had performed with Harris. “He was just 
                charming and wonderful. My relationship with Gene was like family. I 
                am so in awe of his talent and I’m so knocked out by him 
                professionally. I’ll always have his music.  

                “But I’m mourning a brother. And I’m mourning for Janie. The love affair 
                between those two is storybook and then some.” 

                Harris’ music also touched fans. 

                “The thing I have been so impressed with in working with the festival is 
                how many people have been impacted by Gene’s music,” said Esther 
                Neely, executive producer of the Boise State University Gene Harris 
                Jazz Festival. “On our Web site, we consistently get comments from 
                people who say I have been a fan of Gene’s since he began making 
                music many years ago.” 

                A native of Benton Harbor, Mich., Harris inspired fans and fellow 
                musicians since the late 1950s. He first reached acclaim with the jazz 
                group The Four Sounds, later pared to The Three Sounds. 

                Harris played a variety of music. He dabbled in electronic pop in the 
                ’70s, but it didn’t touch his soul. 

                Tired of touring, Harris announced his semi-retirement by moving to 
                Boise in 1977, having previously seen Boise while touring. He gigged 
                around town and settled into regular performances at Peter Schott’s 
                lounge in the Idanha Hotel, where he welcomed jams with local 
                musicians. 

                Always highly regarded in the jazz world, Harris became known to a 
                wider audience in 1989, when he was up for a Grammy Award for Best 
                Big Band Jazz Instrumental for his recording “Gene Harris All-Star Big 
                Band Tribute to Count Basie.” 

                A tireless performer, he toured Japan, Australia and other countries, 
                and performed at New York’s legendary Blue Note club. Despite his 
                heavy touring schedule, Harris always made time for Treasure Valley 
                events, playing at the late-summer block party on 8th Street and at 
                Ste. Chapelle Jazz at the Winery concerts . 

                His last performance was in October at a jazz festival in Hawaii. After 
                that performance, he came home to gain strength for the transplant. 

                Harris had four grown children. A daughter, Tammy, died of cancer. 
                His son, Gene Harris Jr., lives in Tacoma, Wash. Another daughter, 
                Niki, is a singer and dancer who came to fame performing with 
                Madonna. 

                Niki Harris is in India performing — on her own, not with Madonna. 
                Harris’ family is trying to reach her. 

                Services have not been set. Janie Harris said it was likely that a 
                memorial service would be held this weekend, to give family time to 
                arrive. 

                Contact Marianne at 377-6429 or mflagg@boise.gannett.com

 
‘You couldn’t help but love him’
 Fans will miss the magic that was Gene Harris

                By Tim Woodward 
                The Idaho Statesman  
 

                When he died Sunday, Gene Harris left grieving fans around Idaho and the world. 

                “The first time I heard him play, I thought he had another piano player 
                hidden in the background,” said former Gov. Phil Batt, a friend and 
                fellow musician. “I didn’t think one man could play that much music. It 
                inspired me to start playing the clarinet again. Gene was a world 
                class talent and a warm, wonderful person who went out of his way to 
                make people feel good. Idaho is a lesser place without him.” 

                In New York, Boise native and Harris protege Paul Tillotson took time out 
                from the club scene Sunday to spend the evening listening to Harris’ recordings. 

                “I’m having my own little Gene Harris tribute,” he said. “He was my mentor, 
                my friend and a huge impact on my life. If I hadn’t met Gene, I don’t know 
                that I’d be playing music today.” 

                Tillotson ranked Harris with the greats of the jazz world. 

                “He’d be up there in the top five, with Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, 
                Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.” 

                Rock musician Paul Revere, another Idahoan who made it big on the 
                keyboard, called Harris “one of the greats. On a scale of one to 10, 
                Gene was an eleven. … I’m in total shock. It seems like only yesterday 
                we played a concert together in the Grove. He was a cornerstone in 
                Boise. Everybody was so proud of him because he was known and 
                respected worldwide as a musician. And he was a totally sweet man. 
                You couldn’t help but love him.” 

                Pop singer and former Boise resident Curtis Stigers was shaken by 
                Harris’ death. 

                “I talked to Gene just about a week ago and he sounded like he was 
                struggling, but I don’t know. … He was just always so alive that it’s kind 
                of hard to imagine him not.” 

                Harris, 66, was well known in the jazz world when he moved to Boise in 
                1977. He spent the last third of his life here. The city and state 
                embraced him as an adopted son. 

                “He chose to live in Boise when he could have lived anywhere in the 
                world, and people there treated him right from day one,” Tillotson said. 
                “He loved Idaho, and in one way I don’t think Idaho has lost anything. 
                Idaho gained everything just by the fact that Gene chose to live there.” 

                Harris’ loss will be felt far beyond Idaho. 

                “It’s a loss to the whole world because he’s better known outside the 
                country than he is in the U.S.,” said Pug Ostling, a friend of Harris’ who 
                has hosted a regular jazz jam session at his Noodles restaurant in 
                downtown Boise. “But it’s especially tough in Idaho because the whole 
                state felt the effects of his magic.” 

                The magic lived between the piano keys. 

                “He was the kindest, most caring man I knew. We’d be in LA. or 
                somewhere and see a street person and Gene would always reach out 
                and hand him a $10 bill,” his wife, Janie Harris, said Sunday. 

                Billy Mitchell, a Boise musician who performed with Harris, said he felt 
                “like I’ve lost a son. In all the years I’ve known Gene, I never heard him 
                say a bad word about another person. He made everyone feel good. 

                “It’s like we’ve lost the crown jewel, not just in Idaho, but in the whole 
                jazz community. We were just lucky to have had him here in Boise as 
                long as we did.” 

                Jock Hewitt, Harris’ brother-in-law, said the “music that Gene played 
                came from a heart that was bigger than life. So many people were 
                touched by his music, and those that were fortunate enough to know 
                him knew someone a lot bigger than what came out of the piano.” 

                Musicians were awed by his talent, but at ease in his presence. 

                “I was amazed every day because he was an average guy and cared 
                about his audiences,” said Cherie Buckner, a Boise singer who 
                performed and recorded with Harris. “He was just folks and genuine.” 

                Many, like Tillotson, credited him with encouraging them when they 
                needed it most. 

                “When I was a kid, he used to play at the Idanha and let me sit in,” 
                Tillotson said. “I was scared to death, and I sucked on the piano. I only 
                knew two songs. But he was always complimentary, always supportive. 

                “The thing about Gene was that he took his music seriously, but he 
                didn’t take himself too seriously. He had a blast playing music. He had 
                fun and spread joy with it. 

                “One of his bits of wisdom that’s always stuck with me is that to Gene 
                every day was a holiday. He used to say that all the time. If you get 
                another day to live, you’ve been blessed and you might as well enjoy 
                it.” 

                Contact Tim at 377-6409 or twoodward@boise.gannett.com 

 
 
        
 Ailments plagued Harris’ last year
 

                The Idaho Statesman 
 

                Gene Harris’ last year became a turbulent voyage through hope and 
                dejection over his health. 

                Ill with kidney failure, he had been close to receiving a transplant on 
                Aug. 5. His daughter Beth Haire of Benton Harbor, Mich., had agreed 
                to give her father a kidney. Harris looked forward to the chance to 
                regain his strength and energy. 

                But doctors scrubbed her as a candidate when she became ill. Harris’ 
                son, Gene Harris Jr., who lives in Tacoma, Wash., then became the 
                main candidate.  

                Beth recently received a clean bill of health and again became the 
                likely donor, Harris’ wife, Janie, said Sunday. 

                Harris needed a transplant because his kidney function had fallen 
                dramatically in the past year and a half. He went on peritoneal dialysis 
                in early September 1998. He hooked himself up to a portable machine 
                through a catheter implanted in his stomach. At night while he slept, a 
                solution was pumped into a space in the abdominal cavity to absorb 
                wastes. 

                ‘‘My first thing was, I was scared of this darn thing. I didn’t want to do it. 
                I felt very bad about my body losing its beauty,’’ he said at the time. 

                Harris managed to maintain a busy touring schedule while he waited 
                for doctors to give him the go-ahead for the transplant. 

                On Oct. 30, Harris entered the hospital so his doctor could monitor his 
                health and adjust his blood pressure medicine, which had been making 
                him faint when he stood up. 

                Harris underwent surgery last Tuesday to repair his right eye. He had 
                lost much of the vision in both eyes because of retinopathy, a 
                complication from diabetes. He already had had surgery on his left 
                eye. 

                Janie Harris said her husband’s vital signs were stable during the 
                surgery and that he had been recovering normally. 

                — Marianne Flagg

 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
All-Music Guide
 Born: Sept. 1, 1933 in Benton Harbor, MI
  Died: January 16, 2000 in Boise, Idaho 
 
One of the most accessible of all jazz pianists, Gene Harris's soulful style (influenced by Oscar Peterson and containing the bluesiness of a Junior Mance) is immediately likable and predictably excellent. After playing in an Army band (1951-54) he formed a trio with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy which was by 1956 known as The Three Sounds. The group was quite popular and recorded regularly during 1956-70 for Blue Note and Verve. Although the personnel changed and the music became more R&B-oriented in the early '70s, Harris retained the Three Sounds name for his later Blue Note sets. He retired to Boise, ID, in 1977 and was largely forgotten when Ray Brown persuaded him to return to the spotlight in the early-'80s. Harris worked for a time with the Ray Brown Trio and has led his own quartets ever since, recording regularly for Concord and heading the Phillip Morris Superband on a few tours. -- Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
The Three Sounds

The Three Sounds were one of the most popular artists on Blue Note Records during the late '50s and '60s, thanks to their nimble, swinging, blues-inflected mainstream jazz. Since their records sounded interchangeable and their warm, friendly jazz was instantly accessible, many critics dismissed the group at the time as lounge-jazz, but in the '90s, critical consensus agreed that the group's leader, pianist Gene Harris, was an accomplished, unique stylist whose very ease of playing disguised his technical skill. Similarly, his colleagues, bassist Andrew Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy, were a deft, capable rhythm section that kept the group in an appealing, bluesy groove.  That groove was so appealing that the Three Sounds maintained a large fan following into the late '60s. During the group's prime period -- from their 1958 debut for Blue Note to the departure of Dowdy in 1967 -- the Three Sounds cut an enormous number of records. Many records hit the shelves, while others stayed in the vaults, to be issued at a later date. Throughout it all, the trio's sound remained essentially the same, with no real dip in quality until the group began to splinter in the late '60s. 

Gene Harris was at the center of the Three Sounds throughout its entire existence. A native of Benton Harbor, Michigan, he began playing piano as a child, performing in public at the age of six. He soon became distracted by boxing and sports, but he continued to perform music, occasionally in a trio with drummer Bill Dowdy. After they graduated from high school in 1951, both Harris and Dowdy joined the Army and were assigned to different units. However, both men were discharged in 1954, and after they left the Army, they began pursuing different musical careers.   Harris played with a variety of bands throughout the South and Midwest, while Dowdy moved to Chicago and played with a number of blues and jazz bands. Two years later, both musicians happened to settle in South Bend, Indiana and decided to form a band called the Four Sounds with bassist Andrew Simpkins and a tenor saxophonist. After running through a number of tenor saxophonists unsuccessfully, the three musicians decided to jettison the horn from their group and become the Three Sounds. For the next two years, the group played regularly at Midwest venues, particularly in Ohio. They played as a trio, and they also supported such soloists as Lester Young and Sonny Stitt.  During this time, Horace Silver became a fan of the group and recommended them to Alfred Lion, the head of Blue Note. Despite the good word, the group remained unsigned. They toured with Stitt and relocated to Washington, D.C., where they worked as a trio and as a rhythm section for touring soloists; during this time, they played with such musicians as Miles Davis and Kenny Burrell. In the fall of 1958, they moved to New York to work with Stitt. Shortly after the moved to the city, the signed to Blue Note, in addition to supporting Nat Adderley on a Riverside session. 

The Three Sounds cut their first album for Blue Note in September of 1958. That record, Introducing the Three Sounds, became an unexpected success among record buyers, and the group's live performances earned fans like Horace Silver, Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, even if critics tended to dismiss the group. In particular, a Down Beat reviewer panned the album, but that didn't stop the public from buying the record, which soon became one of the most popular jazz records of its years. Blue Note had the band re-enter the studio in February of 1959 to cut their second album, Bottoms Up. It was the third of a total of 17 sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's studio (Introducing had taken two sessions to complete). At one point, Harris estimated 
 that the group has released 35 albums worth of material, with many left in the vaults. During their first stint at Blue Note, they released the following, in addition to Introducing and Bottoms Up: Good Deal, Feelin' Good, Moods, Here We Come, It Just Got to Be, Hey There!, Out of This World, and Black Orchid. The Three Sounds also supported such Blue Note artists as Stanley Turrentine and Lou Donaldson on several recording dates.  

The Three Sounds continued successfully on Blue Note until 1962, when they switched labels shortly after recording Black Orchid. They cut one album, Blue Genes, for Verve, then moved to Mercury, where they made three records between December 1962 and 1964. Later in 1964, the trio signed to Limelight, where they made three records. In October of 1966, the group returned to Blue Note and recorded Vibrations. Shortly after the sessions, drummer Bill Dowdy left the group and was replaced by Donald Bailey, who made his first recorded appearance with the group on 1967's Live at the Lighthouse. That album was followed in 1968 by Coldwater Flat, an album that found the trio augmenting their sound with a string section. By the time the group returned to the studio in September 1968 to cut Elegant Soul, Bailey was replaced by Carl Burnett. Elegant Soul continued 
 the pattern of smooth, string-heavy productions, as did 1969's Soul Symphony. By the time the group made Soul Symphony, bassist Andrew Simpkins had left the trio and was replaced by Henry Franklin.  

Soul Symphony, for most intents and purposes, was the last record the Three Sounds made. They continued to perform live, and one of those concerts is documented on Live at the It Club, a 1970 date which was released in 1995. Later in 1970, Monk Montgomery replaced Franklin, but this version of the Three Sounds never recorded. Instead, Harris embarked on a solo career in 1971, releasing Gene Harris & the Three Sounds, which also featured Burnett and electric bassist Luther Hughes, along with a number of session men. From that point on, Harris concentrated on his solo career, recording for Blue Note over the next six years. Once his contract expired, Harris retired to Boise, Idaho, where he worked as a musical director at a hotel. Eventually, he returned to music after bassist Ray Brown convinced the pianist to play on an album for Pablo. Harris resumed his solo career in 1985, signing with Concord Jazz. His new albums, combined with CD reissues of classic Three Sounds dates, prompted a positive critical re-evluation of his music, and he maintained a strong reputation into the late '90s. -- Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

 
 
  
 
 

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    • It is possible to hear the following cd's/songs by choosing from the links listed below. 
    • You can also purchase discounted cd's, tapes, vynyl, and videos from the same secure site.
    -- Complete Gene Harris Discography 
    Including: 
    Other Recordings
            Gene Harris and the Philip Morris Superband Available discography 
         The Three Sounds Available discography 

Including: 

 
 
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