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January/February 2006

Janie Harris and Bob Evancho
Elegant Soul: The Life and Music of Gene Harris

Janie Harris' loving, poignant memoir Elegant Soul doesn't ignore the considerable musical achievements of her late husband, Gene Harris. But Bob Evancho's participation ensures that Harris' talents are completely illuminated, from his flair for the blues and infusion of gospel licks to his underrated rhythmic and swinging qualities. While Evancho ably handles the keyboard-evaluation duties, Janie Harris provides the personality nuggets. As the longtime manager of both the Gene Harris quartet and Superband, she recalls incidents, concerts and events ranging from humorous asides to more troubling details of his battle against the physical ailments and illness that finally ended Harris' life in 2000.

Neither a straight biography nor a dry musical treatise, Elegant Soul traces the development of a master musician and his rise to stardom. Unfortunately, Harris was sometimes deemed a lesser player because he neither embraced the avant-garde nor specialized in hard bop. He was also a showman on stage, something that often riled those who insist jazz musicians maintain a detached attitude during performance. But Gene Harris didn't spend his life worrying over such issues. Instead, he just made memorable, delightful music, and this fine book revisits many of his triumphs while giving him the praise and comprehensive documentation that he so richly deserves.

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