Wendell Harrison Receives SEMJA’s Ron Brooks Award following wonderful KCH concert

On February 25, the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, collaborating with SEMJA, presented a concert by Wendell Harrison, who brought along a first-call band with Pamela Wise on piano, Ingrid Racine on trumpet, Pathe Jassi on bass, and Louis Jones III on drums — some of his closest collaborators. The occasion was a special one: to present Harrison with SEMJA’s Ron Brooks Award, named for the founder of the organization, that honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the Detroit jazz community as performers and educators. The award is well deserved for Harrison, a mentor for scores of young Detroiters, and the almost filled to capacity KCH audience recognized this with their presence and enthusiastic applause.

Harrison’s concert at KCH was a wonderful celebration of one Detroit’s treasured jazzmen. For this performance, he brought his three main horns: tenor saxophone, as well as the soprano and bass clarinets. For much of his early career he was known as a saxophonist, but he eventually went back to his first instrument, the clarinet, and soon to became one of the finest players of an instrument that had once been central in jazz, but largely went out of fashion with the rise of bebop but has now come back, due to players such as Harrison. Indeed, he has championed the whole family of this instrument, successfully leading one of the few larger jazz clarinet ensembles.

The meticulously prepared repertoire for the afternoon included standards like “More Than You Know,” Cedar Walton’s “Eyes Are Red” (Ojos de Royo), Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sun­flower” with vocals by Pam and Wendell (lyrics by Al Jarraeu), and Detroiter Abe Woodley’s “Skippy.” Harrison was in stellar form, as were his bandmates, who were generously featured. His wife and closest collaborator pianist Wise soloed with grace but also demonstrated once again her stellar accompaniment skills. The leader provided much solo space to trumpeter Racine, who impressed with her surefooted melodically inventive statements. Jassi and Jones provided a powerful foundation and took full advantage when called upon to solo.

Once the music was over, SEMJA president Lars Bjorn came up and presented Wendell Harrison with his award. We should add that the presence in the audience of Ron Brooks (below) made this a special day for everyone.

photographs by Lars Bjorn and Barton Polot