Eddie Harris - The In Sound

Eddie Harris The In Sound (Atlantic 1966)

Folk hero in his prime.

Eddie Harris - The In Sound


Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone), Ray Codrington (trumpet A1, B1, B2), Cedar Walton (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Higgins (drums)


on August 9 & 25 in New York City


as Atlantic 1448 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Love Theme From “The Sandpiper” (The Shadow Of Your Smile)
Born To Be Blue
Love For Sale
Side B:
Cryin’ Blues
‘S Wonderful
Freedom Jazz Dance

“El Cheapo.” That’s how Eddie Harris apparently called himself in the mid-1980’s. The tenor saxophonist was recording in the studio of engineer Max Bolleman in Monster in The Netherlands and Max was thinking that this was kind of weird. Harris introduced and continued to define himself as “El Cheapo.” His toying with various electronical devices, especially when broken down due to faulty wiring, was accompanied by self-deprecating remarks. “Oh yeah that figures, I’m ‘El Cheapo’”.

It is weird. Perhaps best ranked in the realm of irony? Chicago-born Eddie Harris started out with a big bang and enjoyed a major hit with his version of the theme song from the movie Exodus in 1960. A beautiful, breezy tune that showcased Harris’s upper register sounds of the tenor saxophone. He changed course in the mid-1960’s and followed his own path on the Atlantic label, recording a series of gritty avant-soul jazz records featuring amplified saxophone. Another unlikely hit was scored with the live Swiss Movement LP with pianist Les McCann in 1971. Okay, but to get back to irony, Harris subsequently released various surprising albums with r&b and vocals, among those the comedy album The Reason Why I’m Talking Shit. His best-known tune from the period is Eddie Who? Seriously funny tune. And ambiguous, mentioning various contributions of Harris to jazz. I remember when you used to play with Count Basie / That was Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis / My name is Eddie Harris / I’ve got one of your videos jack / That was Eddie Murphy / My name is Eddie Harris.

We haven’t forgotten you, Eddie. On the contrary. Which jazz musician has enjoyed two major hits in his career? He may have been under the radar in the latter part of his life. But various people have sung praise during his lifetime and since his death in 1996. Just a few examples, staying close to the premises of Flophouse Magazine. Tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander considered Harris’s solo on You’ll See on Jimmy Smith’s All The Way as the ‘best blues solo in F ever’. Swiss drummer Florian Arbenz recorded a different version of Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance on every issue of his twelve-LP saga Conversations. Finally, Dutch alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman praised Harris courageous crossover mentality, mentioning Mean Greens as one his favorite records.

Freedom Jazz Dance was featured on The In Sound, released in 1966. It was the first record after his mainstream period on VeeJay and Columbia that demonstrated a will to experiment, albeit not yet with ‘electric sax’ or various amplified instruments. It was the first album that put Harris’s thorough understanding of Coltrane’s playing in the limelight. The LP featured Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. Major-league company, in its prime.

Evidently, Freedom Jazz Dance is the album’s high-profile and lasting composition. It was famously covered by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles in 1967. It is still marvelous and fresh. If only for the tremendous groove, kickstarted by the gritty counter beats of Carter, Walton and Higgins, which is strengthened by the churchy pattern of the tambourine. Carter’s booming sound and long notes ring through the breaks like school bells. On top of all this is the playful, Ornette Coleman-ish melody. It’s hypnotic, it’s like being at a party that grows more cheerful and intense by the hour, like being among people with uncommonly good, uplifting vibes, merging in a trance in a dance in a buffalo stance.

Eddie blows a fuse. It’s the climax of a record that started with Harvey Mandel’s The Shadow Of Your Smile from The Sandpiper, Harris was asked to add another movie theme song and says in the liner notes that he said why not, making it his own with his typically punchy, no-nonsense tone and down-to-earth, well-paced phrasing. He blows a meaty ballad and a roaring blues and goes Gershwin, everything vivid and accessible. He’s pushing the envelope but giving people their money’s worth. A wild man, a kind of Rufus Thomas on sax.

He goes Porter with the hard-hitting Love For Sale, marked by an overwhelming tornado of notes, as if the sound of the heavy tread of the heavy feet from the lonesome cop that introduces the nocturnal endeavors of the tale’s world-wary prostitute in the red light district is washed away by the frenzied footsteps of a dozen violent gnomes.

Eventful transitional record by El Cheapo. Nothing cheap about it, mind you.

Very Vari!


There are worse things in life than hanging out with Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Eddie Harris and Rusty Bryant. All of them, with Stitt at the helm, played the electric Varitone saxophone and the Gibson Maestro Attachment in the late ‘60s, as a means to spice up their groove and experiment with sound.

Selmer introduced the Varitone extension on July 10, 1966 on a convention in Chicago. The Varitone is a control box for the attachment that fits on the bell of the saxophone, which is connected to a large amplifier. The player is enabled to achieve volume control, tone variations (allegedly 60 different sounds) and echo and tremelo effects. The octave effect – by pushing buttons the saxophonist can add a note an octave lower or silence the top note – is attractive, creating ways to experiment with timbre.

Stitt was fast. Merely two days after the convention, The Lone Wolf recorded his first album on Roulette with the use of the Varitone extension, What’s New!!!. Macabre ballad, lovely pun. Stitt used a killer band including trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet (who himself gave the Varitone a go on two rare occasions on the album) and the rhythm section of guitarist Les Spann, pianist Ellis Larkin, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Walter Perkins, who are present as well on follow-up I Keep Comin’ Back. Parallel-A-Stitt was a small ensemble session featuring organist Don Patterson.

In the Downbeat issue of October 6, 1966, Stitt says, “It’s a revelation. It enables you to probe and find. It projects your own tone – not a distorted tone. Your individual sound doesn’t change. The mind will never get lazy with that help. You’re thinking all the time what to do next. All this gives you is something more to work with. It doesn’t help you to think better. It sounds so pretty. I love it. It’s the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me.”

“Big bands, organs, electric guitars, loud drummers can be quite frustrating to a person who’s trying to think while playing. With this new saxophone, a fellow can hear himself above anybody. He can play in a big ballpark and still be heard.”

Indeed, Stitt’s style remains the same, and while his Varitone records are not essential Stitt, he plays fluently supported by killer line-ups while toying with octaves and different sounds, prominently a hard and hootin’ sound which features a slight distorted edge that, despite his comments, I do hear. Nothing wrong with that. Anyway, unfortunately you won’t find anything of these three records on YouTube except the balladeering of What’s New. While checkin’ tunes after my vinyl listening session, I did come across a live performance of “electrified” Stitt with one of his greatest regular groups of Don Patterson and Billy James, playing The Shadow Of Your Smile at the Left Bank in Baltimore. Nice!

By 1970, likely Stitt’s contract with Selmer had run out. On Turn It On!, Stitt uses the Gibson Maestro Attachment. Hear him blast away on the title track with Virgil Jones, Melvin Sparks and Idris Muhammad.

Eddie Harris wanted his penny’s worth. The saxophonist played the Chicago Maestro Attachment on Plug It In! and Silver Cycles. Harris added the Echoplex, which could provide multiple tape loops which played back the recorded sound at constant intervals. It was therefore possible to play new melodies over the basic motif. Harris used the attachments to the benefit of his hodgepodge of soul and avant-leaning jazz of that period, like Lovely Is Today, Free At Last and
Coltrane’s View. Anything goes with Eddie, lots of grease and lots of feverish vibes and arguably the most interesting electrified player of this bunch.

Lou Donaldson quickly latched on to the Varitone. He played it on some of his popular jazz funk records with organists Charles Earland and Lonnie Smith and drummer Idris Muhammad. Donaldson used it sparingly, focusing on his tone, all silk and velvet and satin. Listen to Turtle Walk from Hot Dog and Everything I Play Gonna Be Funky from Everything I Play Is Funky.

On his only association with the Varitone attachment, Rusty Bryant pulled out all the stops on Night Train Now!, 1969 jazz funk affair with Jimmy Carter on organ, Boogaloo Joe Jones on guitar, Eddie Mathias on bass and Bernard Purdie on drums. Heavy artillery. Buzzing like a bee, howling like a bear, Bryant hits Cootie Boogaloo and John Patton’s Funky Mama right out of the ballpark.

Why did Stitt or the others did not extend their experiments with the Varitone and CMA in the ‘70s and beyond? Perhaps they eventually preferred the authenticity of acoustic sound over the ‘clumsy’ Varitone. Or maybe they felt constrained by the endorsements of the devices. I coincidentally heard just yesterday from my jazz friend Jean-Michel Reisser-Beethoven, who was friendly with Sonny Stitt, that Stitt hated the Varitone, which contrasts with his enthusiastic Downbeat comments.

Why did fusion artists did not pick up on the electric attachments? Most likely, before anyone cared to try, synthesizers provided all the sounds one could wish for. Or am I missing something?

Possibly. Immersed in the heavy sounds of these hot cats.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens

Eddie Harris Mean Greens (Atlantic 1966)

Eddie Harris, free bird. Doesn’t let anyone tell him what to play, tears his shirt off his tenor body and delivers Mean Greens. A bubbling mix of innovative Latin rhythm, inherently groovy, soft-hued modern jazz and spirited chitlin’ circuit r&b.

Eddie Harris' Mean Greens


Eddie Harris (tenor saxophone A1-4, B2, electric piano B1-3), Ray Codrington (trumpet, tambourine A1), Cedar Walton (piano A1-4), Sonny Philips (organ B1-3), Ron Carter (bass A1-4), Billy Higgins (drums A1-4), Melvin Jackson (bass B1-3), Bucky Taylor (drums B1-3), Ray Codrington, Ray Barretto & Bucky Taylor (percussion A1)


on March 8 & 9 and June 7, 1966 in NYC


as Atlantic 1453 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Mean Greens
It Was A Very Good Year
Without You
Yeah Yeah Yeah
Side B:
Listen Here
Blues In The Basement
Goin’ Home

It’s easily one of Harris’ best efforts. During his career, the tenor saxophonist’s albums met with a lot of suspicion that almost ran equal with their popularity. Albeit unfair, it was only human that ‘serious’ jazz buffs raised their eyebrows when the instant star Eddie Harris followed up his best-selling 1961 single Exodus To Jazz with a series of like-minded, smooth jazz albums on the VeeJay label. Who could blame Eddie? After playing for years in relative obscurity in his hometown Chicago, Harris finally made his (money) mark. Besides, even if the VeeJay (and subsequent Columbia-) albums leaned heavily on standards and popular concepts such as bossa nova and movie soundtracks, they were high caliber affairs and the style and tone of Harris was unmistakably individual. ‘Sell’ was appropriate, ‘out’ wasn’t.

That Eddie Harris was an upright musician who relished incorporating all sorts of influences into his modern jazz bag, became evident in his Atlantic years. Atlantic, where Harris recorded from 1965 till 1976, proved to be a well-suited canvas for the multi-instrumentalist’s bold strokes. Besides popular music, the label had been in the thick of avant-garde jazz since the late fifties and put a lot of weight into progressive rock in the late sixties, so it isn’t surprising that the label was happy to try for a successful mix of high and low brow. Yes, Harris’ strokes may have been too bold at times. Experimenting with the electric (Varitone) saxophone is a reasonable idea, toying with the ‘guitorgan’, the ‘saxobone’ and electric bongos indicates a lack of direction; his tongue-in-cheek r&b albums of the mid-seventies also were liable to scare off more than a few listeners. On the other hand, Harris’ wildly exciting r&b-drenched live cooperation with Les McCann in 1969, Swiss Movement and the follow-up, 1972’s Second Movement, proved to be two of the saxophonist’s most successful efforts.

Arguably, the Harris synthesis comes full circle on his late sixties output. Interestingly enough, Harris’ debut on Atlantic, the sizzling hard bop album The In Crowd (boasting the classic Freedom Jazz Dance, which was recorded just half a year later by Miles Davis on Miles Smiles), is Harris’ best album. His group of the time, including Billy Higgins and Ron Carter is out of sight. Less coherent, Mean Greens takes the silver medal. But wasn’t that the point? Taking a little risk, seeing where it leads to. At least that’s what the cover, portraying a saxy Jekyll and organistic Mr. Hyde, suggests.

Higgins and Carter are present on Mean Greens as well, on side A. The versatility of these modern jazz monsters (At the time, Carter was part of the legendary Miles Davis quintet, Higgins recorded with about everybody, both ‘in’ and ‘out’, including Ornette Coleman) is amazing. They adapt beautifully to the basically groovy Eddie Harris norms. Not only that, Higgins created the unusual beat of the title track Mean Greens. It does the trick, just like the rhythm he invented for Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man was the major push for the artistic succes and commercial appeal of those classic tunes.

Mean Greens, the exotic blues. Cedar Walton hits percussive, staccato piano chords. Harris and trumpeter Ray Codrington blow a playful minor theme over the solid bottom of Higgins and Carter. Obviously, Harris was eagerly awaiting for an entrance, as he’s immediately going into a furious free bag with the Eddie Harris touch: whether Harris is playing advanced or soft-hued, like in It Was A Very Good Year (one part of the proof that Exodus To Jazz wasn’t a tune from a one-trick-pony), the upper register sounds that Harris gets from his tenor, if not for everybody’s ears, are remarkable. When Exodus To Jazz was released, people thought Harris played the soprano. Utter control, phenomenal range.

Then side B, which has been the cause of an occasional spontaneous (combustive) party. Thank you Eddie Harris, for a friggin’ wonderful Saturday night! Listen Here’s irresistible charme lies within the Latin/New Orleans, loose-jointed, slow-draggin’ rhythm and the effective counterpoint of bass and organ. Meanwhile the lines of Eddie Harris’ electric piano slither like snakes, weaving in and out of the percussion-heavy, basic song structure. It’s rough-hewn, speaks to the loins, the body, speaks of Eros. It’s the first version Harris recorded of Listen Here. The second – slightly cleaner – rendition, released on The Electrifying Eddie Harris the following year in 1967, reached nr.11 on the Billboard r&b charts.

Via Blues In The Basement, a big-sounding 12-bar blues in which Harris mixes powerful Arnett Cobb-like barks with quicksilver bop runs and witty, second line guffaws, Harris takes the album out the way he would in a club, with the wild and woolly shuffle of Goin’ Home. Not your usual basic blues theme. A nifty, tricky stop-time theme catapults the B3 of Sonny Philips and the electric piano of Harris into action. There you are, transported to the sawdust-covered floors of a juke joint, or the Chicago South Side, or the chitlin’ circuit’s burgeoning bar life of lore… Goin’ Home fades out with a drum thunderstorm.

What went on in the mind of Eddie Harris? Let’s just do it, let’s just put together the Hammond organ and the electric piano. Let’s just burn the place down with some fat-bottomed blues, why not, yes we can! They can, they do, tear the grooves out of the mono vinyl. However, for all Harris’ swagger, it would be preposterous to define Harris’ electric organ/B3 feast as primitive music. Eddie Harris has advanced, killer chops and years of severe studying reveal the influence of Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, yet reveal above all a fresh, individual take on jazz which is 100% Harris: the tireless enthusiast.

I don’t think there was very much thought behind the dual concept of Mean Greens. It seems it was just a matter of putting to wax different facets of Eddie Harris. Whatever the processes behind the release may be, Harris was definitely bringing it back home.