After a career on-stage with Madonna, Niki Haris steps into her own and headlines JAS Cafe
IF YOU GO …
Who: Niki Haris & the Mitch Forman Quartet
Where: JAS Café at the Cooking School of Aspen
When: Friday, March 15 & 16, 7 & 9:15 p.m.
How much: $55
More info: Haris will also give a “Listen Up!” talk at the Cooking School at 6:15 on Friday, included with a ticket for the 7 p.m. performance.
Singer Niki Haris honed her craft at the top of the pop music world, performing at Madonna’s side through her chameleon-like transformations from the mid-1980s through the start of the new millennium.
“I learned discipline about creating your own vision and sticking to it,” Haris told The Aspen Times during a 2017 swing through town to play the JAS Café, where she returns for four shows on March 15 and 16. “And making sure that you’re living your own narrative, not judging yourself through somebody else’s eyes.”
Harris was onstage singing and dancing on Madonna’s “Who’s That Girl” tour and the legendary “Blonde Ambition” run, she was in the film “Truth or Dare” and in the iconic “Vogue” music video, up through the “Ray of Light” era.
She left to focus on motherhood and on a solo career that brings Haris back to town for her Aspen shows with the Mitch Forman Quartet.
The woman she knows and performed with for so long, Haris said, is not the shrewd and trend-chasing Madonna in the popular imagination.
“People talk about how calculating she is, but I saw so many times when she would not do that and go with her gut,” Haris said. “I learned so much from her in the beginning. Good stuff that now I go, ‘Oh, this is what she meant by that!’”
With Madonna, Haris played in stadiums and to some of the largest concert crowds on Earth. But she relishes the intimacy of playing small jazz clubs like the JAS Cafe, which afford a personal connection with an audience.
“I think more people who do stadiums should make themselves go and do small venues in the intimate cafe and cabaret style,” she said. “When you play to over 100,000 people, there’s something lost in feeling that you can physically touch people. In a more intimate situation, you’re more vulnerable, which the audience picks up on.”
The daughter of legendary jazz pianist Gene Harris, the singer said an intimate jazz club feels like a childhood home to her.
“It reminds me of when I was growing up,” she said. “It feels a lot more like family.”
A regular at Vail Jazz events over the last decade, playing traditional jazz shows and hosting a popular gospel concert, she’s earned a loyal fan base in the mountains.
In September, she released the solo album “Lift Thine Eyes,” a collection of soulful, gospel songs (and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”)
Since 2016, Haris has been chipping away on a collaboration with fellow Madonna back-up singer and longtime friend Donna De Lory, which included the 2017 EP “Two Friends.”
“We’ve spent so much of our lives together that we’ve said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Haris explained. “We’re just having a good time and taking advantage of the fact that we have an incredible story to tell.”
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