Allan Harris plays the ‘Jukebox’ at JAS Café
If You Go …
Who: Allan Harris
Where: JAS Café at the Little Nell
When: Friday Dec. 18 & Saturday Dec. 19, 7 & 9:15 p.m.
How much: $35
Tickets and more info: www.jazzaspensnowmass.org
You never know what to expect when Allan Harris puts his quarters in the jukebox. The acclaimed singer and guitarist filters jazz standards, R&B classics, country and Latin songs and modern pop hits through his bari-tenor and jazzy sensibility.
Harris’s most recent album, “Black Bar Jukebox,” was inspired by the mix of songs he’d hear in African-American bars, barbershops and diners growing up in Harlem in the early 1970s.
“I tried to put some eclectic tunes together from different genres that would represent what would be played on the jukebox when I was growing up,” Harris said from home in New York.
Harris, who opens the winter season at JAS Cafe this weekend, had about 30 songs in mind that would fit the criteria and pared the selections down to 13 for the record.
“The mood I try to create is one of abandonment,” he said. “There was a time on radio when a station didn’t just play just one genre. You’d hear Led Zeppelin, then you’d hear Earth, Wind & Fire and then you’d hear Miles Davis and Motown. … That got reflected on the jukeboxes — they were full of different kinds of songs.”
So, on his “Jukebox,” there are some jazzy R&B numbers and interpretations of songs such as Eddie Jefferson’s “I Got the Blues,” the Latin-tinged “Catfish,” a souful rendition of Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot,” a take on “My Funny Valentine,” original pieces like the ballad “Can It Be This is a Dream,” and Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
As the music world celebrates the centennial of Frank Sinatra’s birth, it’s hard not to think of Harris as an heir to The Voice. You can hear it in the way he rearranges other artists’ songs to make them swing in his own way, in his own inimitable voice, in how he thoughtfully curates his originals alongside classics on projects like “Black Bar Jukebox.”
At his JAS Cafe shows, an Aspen audience will hear selections from that album alongside Harris favorites, such as Nat King Cole songs, and most likely some material from his indelible 2006 album, “Cross That River,” which chronicled the travails of a runaway slave who makes his home as a cowboy in the American West.
“Black Bar Jukebox” also includes a few surprises — most notably a contemporary pop cover of John Meyer’s “Daughters.”
“I like the guitar on that,” he said. “I figured it would spice things up, just because I like where his head’s at and I like him as a guitar player.”
Harris’ relationship with Jazz Aspen Snowmass goes back just about to its founding 25 years ago. Harris began visiting Aspen regularly in 1989 for the hiking and skiing. He got to know Jazz Aspen founder Jim Horowitz through mutual friends in the music world, and began performing here soon thereafter. For years, Harris taught students at the now defunct JAS Academy. Last summer, Jazz Aspen brought him to town for a private test-run concert at the Aspen Art Museum, where the nonprofit hosted a portion of its summer JAS Cafe shows.
“It’s a good relationship,” Harris said. “It’s wonderful.”
Over the years, Harris also has played in local shows such as the “Lyrically Speaking” series at Belly Up and gotten involved beyond the jazz world, volunteering with organizations like the Aspen Youth Experience and Challenge Aspen.
He plays two shows per night today and Saturday at the JAS Cafe at the Little Nell.
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