Donald Harrison, Jr.

Saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. is both a modern jazz trendsetter and bearer of deep New Orleans cultural traditions. From his work with Art Blakey to his role as a Big Chief of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, Harrison is the personification of New Orleans past and present.

Harrison was born in 1960 amidst a musical family steeped in New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian traditions (his father was Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame) and the sounds of brass bands, jazz, and contemporary music of the times.

After attending Berklee College of Music he performed with Roy Haynes and Jack McDuff before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and Terence Blanchard. He struck out on his own with the 1990 debut CD, “Full Circle,” and has recorded some 20 albums since. The 1992 “Indian Blues,” with Dr. John, broke ground by incorporating Mardi Gras Indian rhythms and chants with jazz stylings, but Harrison really broke out with the 1997 “Nouveau Swing,” the jazz form Harrison created that incorporates elements of funk, rap, hip hop. R & B, Latin, and African dance.

Harrison tours the world and has performed with an impressive array of artists, including Eddie Palmieri, Billy Cobham, Joanne Brackeen, The Digable Planets, Lena Horne, Ron Carter, The Notorious B.I.G., the Louisiana Philharmonic, and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. He has earned numerous honors, including two French Grand Prix du Disques, awards from American, Swiss, and Japanese publications, and a 2012 Grammy nomination. In 2007, Jazziz magazine named him their Person of the Year.

Harrison was the inspiration for two characters on HBO’s hit show, “Treme,” and appeared in eleven episodes as himself. Spike Lee gave him a featured role in “When the Levees Broke,” and he can also be seen in the Jonathan Demme film, “Rachel’s Getting Married,” starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger (for which he also co-wrote the soundtrack).

While performing on the cutting edge of jazz, Harrison remains deeply rooted in the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, and is Big Chief of Congo Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group. He founded the Tipitina’s Foundation Internship Program to teach and mentor young New Orleans musicians, and he has mentored a number of young jazz lions, including his nephew Christian Scott, Mark Whitfield, Trombone Shorty, Cyrus Chestnut, Christian McBride, and Esperanza Spalding.

Harrison performs in several configurations, and often plays with guitarist Detroit Brooks, keyboardist Zaccai Curtis, bassist Max Moran, and drummer Joe Dyson.

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