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Tom Harrell: Senses and Sensibilities

Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell (photo: Michael Ian)

The sight of Tom Harrell shuffling down the street in the evening to get a quart of milk at the corner bodega can be quite unsettling. To the uninitiated in his Washington Heights neighborhood (a.k.a. Dominican Heights…so far Uptown in Manhattan that Harlem is Downtown), he’s an oddity, a tripped-out white dude who walks around like he’s in some kind of trance. Arms stiff at his sides, neck craning like a vulture, eyes fixed in a downward gaze, head a-wobble in tremors, Harrell cuts quite the anamolous figure on his nightly strolls. Little do gawking onlookers know that beneath this disturbing countenance (the side effects from psychotropic drugs he uses to manage a schizophrenic disorder) lurks a bona fide genius. He’s been called that by no less than Phil Woods. Colleagues like Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner and Ray Drummond stand in awe of Harrell’s composing and arranging talents.

“He’s one of the heaviest writers I know,” says saxophonist Greg Tardy, who plays a key role on The Art Of Rhythm, Harrell’s second release for RCA/Victor. “A misunderstood person but a really, really highly intelligent, beautiful human being; one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life.”

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