Berklee Student

Thomas Harris

Berklee Student
Member since 2010

About Me

Born and raised in Bellingham WA, situated halfway between Seattle WA and Vancouver BC, I grew up listening to the greats of the big band era, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey, as well as crooners Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. Coming from a family of ballroom dancers, I’ve been instilled from an early age with an innate sense of swing, and of the rich history of jazz music. This background is I think evident in my sound today, both on tenor and voice, and combined with a modern grasp of harmony you have an end result that harkens the giants of hard bop, Sonny Stitt, Lucky Thompson, and Gene Ammons, and singers Billy Eckstine, Bing Crosby, and Johnny Hartman. After a childhood of dancing to swing music, my musical beginnings were in 5th grade, when I formed a jazz quartet with my friends. The problem that none of us played an instrument was quickly realized, and I was nominated to play alto sax. I started lessons and joined the Bellingham Youth Jazz Band, directed by Mark Kelly. By the end of middle school, I was making a substantial living busking in the park, complete with a backup track, suit, and fedora. By the start of high school I was playing professionally with a number of local groups, studying with Vancouver tenorman Mike Allen, and playing in the Western Washington University jazz ensembles under Chuck Israels, from whom I learned a great deal. I’m currently studying saxophone performance under full scholarship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston MA, where I’ve studied with George Garzone, Bill Thompson, Dino Govoni, Harry Skoler, Shannon LeClaire, Frank Tiberi, Jim Odgren, Phil Wilson and Ron Mahdi, performing with such groups as the Rainbow Big Band, Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra, and Berklee’s premier coed a cappella group, Pitch Slapped. I’ve had the privilege of playing with Wynton Marsalis, Ali Jackson, Anat Cohen, Kiril Gerstein, Chuck Israels, Willie Nelson, Annie Lennox, Maurice Hines, Marcus Printup, Livingston Taylor, Larry Watson, Julian Lage, Lonnie Knechtel, Simon Phillips, and many others.

I think music should either make you dance or cry, and if possible both at once. I try to capture in my playing the aura of a club after hours, or the feeling of dancing to a some sentimental tune played by a big band after the other couples have gone. My great interest is the history of jazz, and particularly that music from the 1950s, when so many different great things were going on with the continuation of the big bands, bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, jump blues, and also the great singers of that period, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Johnny Hartman, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday.

To me, the artist is one of the greatest contributors to a society. We are creators of the highest level, not merely manufacturers of goods but of that which identifies a society most, culture. In a global scenario that means reaching across geographical and cultural boundaries to create art that can appeal to anyone and everyone in the world. Part of what makes jazz so great is that it does that almost automatically; anyone can identify with jazz because it has roots and has spread to almost everywhere. Jazz is a global music and part of my job as a jazz musician is to take elements of other cultures, and in my own music expose them to people in my community that might not otherwise have experienced
them. As a musician I’m also well adapted to practical purposes; one of my great joys is the historical aspect of jazz, especially from the 30s and 40s, and that naturally lends itself to playing for dancers.

Experience & Education

Current

  • Leader/Saxophone/Vocals for Thomas Harris Quintet
    June 2011 to Present (over 6 years)

    The Thomas Harris Quintet is a classic jazz ensemble based in the Pacific Northwest, featuring my own original compositions and selections from the great composers of 1930s-1960s.

  • Saxophones/Vocals for Sonja Lee Band
    September 2009 to Present (over 8 years)

    Six piece jazz and blues band based in Bellingham, WA

Past

  • Sunday Jazz for Giuseppe's Al Porto
    July 2011 to September 2011 (2 months)

    Jazz on the patio

  • Thursday Jazz Shows for Blue Horse Gallery
    June 2011 to August 2011 (2 months)

    Weekly shows, including one memorable night when Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Printup, and Ali Jackson sat in.

Education

  • BM in Performance at Berklee College of Music
    2010 to 2013 (3 years)