When I received Loston Harris's debut in the mail, I actually laughed out loud that the press release described his vocal quality as to that of a cigar. Being a cigar smoker myself, I was curious as to how that comparison would be drawn. I put the CD on and I soon began to understand why. This young man audibly had all the vocal facilities to be a star. I had an opportunity to sit down with the young Harris during his recent North American tour for his inaugural release on N2K, 'Comes Love'.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How did you come to play jazz?
LOSTON HARRIS: I think it was when I met Ellis Marsalis attending VCU, Virginia Commonwealth, in Richmond. Ellis was the director of jazz studies there. He basically turned me on and introduced me to the tradition of the music. He told me how to go back and check out the old masters, and that's when I fell in love with the music, I guess.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Who were your influences?
LOSTON HARRIS: Pianistically, Ahmad Jammal, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Earl Hines, Nat King Cole. His piano, his instrumental trio classics. Vocally, again, Nat Cole, Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. All of the masters have done so much. There's so much to learn.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What was it like playing with Wynton Marsalis?
LOSTON HARRIS: When I was with Wynton, I was with his quintet. I did a tour with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. That was a great experience. He opened up my whole approach to the piano and its functions in a group setting as well as in a trio setting. I had a chance to do trio spots with a group at the same time that we were on tour. That was instrumental and key to what a piano's function was in a group setting.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How important do you think as a young jazz musician to know about jazz history and to have knowledge about the jazz music that was before you?
LOSTON HARRIS: It's so imperative, it's so extremely important to know the history in order to take the music to the next level. It takes a while to understand that as being a young musician. You tend to listen to your role models or people that are your age, or people who have come up in this last decade. You hear a lot of people say that they'll either tend to listen to Herbie Hancock or Mulgrew Miller, or someone contemporary. But even those individuals will tell you to go back and check out Jelly Roll Morton, Errol Garner, and Bud Powell just to know where to take the music and how to perpetuate the art form, it's very important to know where it started and where it came from.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: You are just as proficient singing as you are playing the piano, which is more important to you?
LOSTON HARRIS: I would say that I don't want to separate the two. Both are very much a part of what I want to do musically. It's more or less an extension of an art form of trying to carry on the legacy of Nat King Cole. I believe he really mastered the art of piano playing and singing. Vocally, I try to choose material that I really believe in lyrically, and song quality-wise. It's opened up a whole new avenue of approaching music and trying to understand lyrics, and define songs that have a direct parallel to something that I am experiencing or have experienced, my own life and times. The singing is kind of an extension to the piano playing. It's all woven together, I guess.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: You played for Vice President Al Gore prior to all the scandals, what was it like playing for the Vice President and his family?
LOSTON HARRIS: They're very much music lovers. In particular, he's a fan of mine, being that he requested my playing at his home anytime. Say, if there's a special event that he's having.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do Al and Tipper Gore like jazz?
LOSTON HARRIS: Oh, yeah. Definitely. They love all types of music, especially jazz. He and his wife have been very supportive of me and my career.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Has he had any special requests for you?
LOSTON HARRIS: No. No special requests as of yet. Maybe that will come around one of these days.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: If you weren't playing jazz, what would you like to be doing?
LOSTON HARRIS: I would either be involved with the fashion industry, or something that deals with going behind the scenes of music, maybe production or something in a record company. So, it would have to be something dealing with the behind the scenes of the music or fashion world. One or the other.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What drives Loston Harris?
LOSTON HARRIS: What motivates me is every time I hear an old record. I am a big fan of old movies, forties classics. I could be watching a movie, and just be taken aback by the whole era. A lot of the songs that became standards came from some of those films. Any time I hear an old tune, or see an old film, it throws me back. It was such a great time. Just to keep this alive, to somehow try to preserve it. That's what I try to do with my music, carry on an art form.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you have a philosophy towards your music and your life?
LOSTON HARRIS: It's not so much a philosophy. I just want to stay true to myself. My approach to music is through honesty and sincerity. I always choose the best possible songs to perform and to sing that I can find. The only philosophy that I can find is to find good songs.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What are you listening to right now?
LOSTON HARRIS: I love all kinds of music. I listen to anything from Sting to Sade to Jimmy's Chicken Shack.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: If you weren't playing the piano, and you weren't singing, what other instrument would you like to play?
LOSTON HARRIS: Maybe saxophone. Personally, I think I would like to play the bass, the electric bass. I thought the bass really drives the pulp of the band.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you have any favorite standards?
LOSTON HARRIS: One of my favorite tunes was a rendition of 'Don't Worry About Me.' I heard it on an old Frank Sinatra recording, and I just fell in love with it. It's one of my favorites. That and 'What Kind of Fool Am I.'
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Let's talk about your debut album, 'Comes Love' on N2K.
LOSTON HARRIS: I was asked to come to New York to do a showcase for the label when it was first starting. Larry Rosen and Carl Griffin brought my trio to New York, and we did a showcase for them, and auditioned a few songs. It was from that that they gained some interest and they signed me to the label. Ever since then, they've been real supportive, things are moving quite well, and I was able to use the musicians that I wanted to on the record. Clarence Penn played drums, David Grossman on bass, and Mark Shim on the saxophone. So I put together a good group and we went through the song selection process, and I'm so pleased with the final product.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What was it like working with another young lion, Mark Shim?
LOSTON HARRIS: Mark Shim was great. His sound is just so old soul. He's like an old man in a kid's body. I first heard him when I was playing with Wynton's quintet. He did a couple of gigs with us on the road, and I just remember being blown away by this little kid having this big sound. It was a pleasure to have him available for this project.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: 'Comes Love' closes with 'Shall We Dance,' did you choose the tune before the success of the movie?
LOSTON HARRIS: No, I didn't! But it's funny that you asked, Fred. At one time, I had considered calling the record, 'Shall We Dance?' It was around that time that I looked up and this movie was out, called 'Shall We Dance?' It was just a fluke of an idea that we called it 'Comes Love.' That is one of my favorite old tunes. Really, really gorgeous. It was just kind of ironic, I guess.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you have touring plans for this album?
LOSTON HARRIS: Well, I just got back from Israel about a week ago. I plan to do the Newport Festival, the Kiwi Two this summer. I am I the process of looking for a booking agent to put a lot more gigs together. That's the next phase of my career. To get out there more.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: How was it like playing in Israel?
LOSTON HARRIS: Israel was beautiful. We were in Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. The weather was gorgeous, the people really loved the music. We were playing to sold-out audiences each night. It was a really great experience, I would really love to go back.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you have any plans to come out to the West Coast?
LOSTON HARRIS: Not immediately, but I hope to get out there and play, and do more stuff out there.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What is jazz to you?
LOSTON HARRIS: Jazz to me is like an expression of myself and my personality. The way I think, the way I dream, the way I feel, all this put to music. That, to me, is what I do. That's all I really know how to do. That, to me is jazz. Putting all of those elements together.
JAZZREVIEW.COM: What do you have planned for the future?
LOSTON HARRIS: I am constantly performing, so I'll coming across material. I always keep in mind something that I'd like to do in the future. One of my interests is to possibly get around to performing with big bands and orchestras, something at that level. I'm sure, that in the future, I'll get around to that.