Jazz: In an Ellington mood

Jazz musician Tom Harrison
Jazz musician Tom Harrison
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A musical epiphany at a jazz club on Ecclesall Road led musician Tom Harrison to completely change musical direction.

The saxophone and flute player was born in Wales and lived in Fulwood from the ages of seven to 18.

Both his mum and his grandad are musicians.

Tom studied classical music as a child but didn’t enjoy it and preferred playing guitar in rock and blues in bands in his teenage years as that gave him a chance to improvise.

A chance trip to see a Sheffield Jazz concert at the Non-Political Club proved a revelation.

“I had never even heard jazz before. I went along, slightly under age.

“That’s where I first heard jazz and that was it for me.”

He started seeking out jazz teachers and left the city to go to music college. His dad still lives in Crosspool.

What is it about jazz that inspired him?

Tom said: “I suppose it’s the most expressive form of music. As an individual you can really try and find your own voice.

“It’s dance music, spiritual and playful music.”

Tom, who has also worked with Jazz Messenger star Jean Toussaint, thinks that finding your unique voice is a lifetime’s work

His current project explores the music of legendary jazz orchestra leader Duke Ellington.

He said: “For all jazz musicians it is really important to look back.

“Duke Ellington is one of the biggest known jazz musicians and the most prolific.

“His music has that timeless quality. They’re songs, even the ones that aren’t actually songs.

“His melodies speak to me and a lot of people.

“People are familiar with his music but haven’t always known it was written by him.”

He cites classic pieces such as Take the A Train and In a Sentimental Mood that appear on film soundtracks and have been covered by Rod Stewart on a recent album.

Tom added: “There’s just a ton of material out there. There’s just so much repertoire, it was a joy to do it.

“In the group we focused on the idea of music as songs.”

As Tom points out, with a singer as fantastic as 
Cleveland Watkiss on board, the songs don’t even need lyrics.

“Cleveland is the most amazing musician.

“He makes up his own lyrics sometimes.

“On the CD, he was making up his own lyrics, based on experiences that day getting to the gig.

“It’s been an incredible experience doing this with him.”

Tom was a fan and they met in 2014 when they appeared at the same gig and spoke afterwards about working together, which resulted in the current tour and the album, Unfolding in Tempo, looking at Ellington and his collaboration with Billy Strayhorn.

The Tom Harrison Quintet featuring Cleveland Watkiss appear at Sheffield Jazz, Crookes Social Club, Mulehouse Road next Friday, March 10, at 8pm.

The full line-up is Cleveland Watkiss on vocals, Tom Harrison on sax, Robert Mitchell on piano, Daniel Casimir on bass and David Lyttle on drums.

Tickets are available from Sheffield Jazz at the same net price as on the door.