Donald Harrison and The Congo Square Nation w/ special guest Willie Pickens
New Orleans alto saxophonist Donald Harrison reached has reached the largest audience of his career by playing himself on the acclaimed HBO series Treme. As the Wall Street Journal wrote of one particular episode featuring him on the bandstand, “he could be seen and heard in brief scenes, leading his band through ‘Yard Bird Delight,’ a Charlie Parker-style bebop tune, ‘Iko Iko,’ a classic of New Orleans roots-driven pop and, finally, his composition ‘Quantum Leap.’ The slippery beats and skittering melody of the last tune amounted to the most complex 45 seconds of music likely ever presented within an American TV drama.” Few places embody the totality of American music like the Crescent City, and at 53 Harrison arguably represents that totality better than any living musician.
He inherited the mantle of Big Chief of Congo Square from his late father Donald Sr., a vaunted position in the ranks of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. He returned to his hometown in 1999 following a productive stint in New York where he played in one of the best late lineups of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with trumpeter Terence Blanchard—with whom he later co-led some bristling post-bop sessions—and launched his own career as a leader, making records that easily reconciled his R&B foundations with funk, hard bop, Latin jazz, and even hip-hop (during his Brooklyn days he was friends with Christopher Wallace, aka the Notorious B.I.G.). Harrison promises a rich gumbo that should touch on all of those ingredients, leading his own working band with guitarist and singer Detroit Brooks, bassist Max Moran, percussionist Darren James, drummer James Dyson, and pianist Zaccai Curtis, joined by three Mardi Gras Indians (spy chief Nelson Thompson and spy boys Anthonase Johnson and Nathaniel Cooper).The iconic Chicago pianist Willie Pickens, a regular collaborator of Harrison during the latter’s gigs at the Jazz Showcase, will also join in to close this year’s festival in Second Line style.