JT Track Premiere: Stefon Harris + Blackout’s “Gone Too Soon”

Tribute to Michael Jackson closes vibraphonist's first album in nine years, out Sept. 28

HALLWAY.SHARRIS 014 Deneka Peniston

Stefon Harris (photo: Deneka Peniston)

JazzTimes is pleased to premiere “Gone Too Soon,” the closing track of Stefon Harris + Blackout’s upcoming album, Sonic Creed, which will be released by Motéma Records on Sept. 28. This version of a song first recorded by Michael Jackson in 1991 is premiered here in memory of what would have been Jackson’s 60th birthday on Wednesday (Aug. 29).

Although Sonic Creed is Harris’ 11th album as a leader, his 10th—Urbanus, recorded for Blue Note—came out nine years ago. In the interim, he has played with numerous other artists, including Christian Scott, Kenny Barron, and David Sánchez, and concentrated on his burgeoning related career as an educator. He is currently the Manhattan School of Music’s Associate Dean and Director of Jazz Arts, as well as co-founder of the Melodic Progression Institute, a music software development company that released an ear-training app called Harmony Cloud in 2016. Earlier this year, he received a prestigious Artist Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

In addition to Harris on vibraphone and marimba, most of Sonic Creed features members of his band Blackout, reunited after a decade: saxophonist Casey Benjamin and drummer Terreon Gully, plus pianist James Francies, bassist Joshua Crumbly, and numerous special guests, including vocalist Jean Baylor, flutist Elena Pinderhughes, and violinist Regina Carter. But on “Gone Too Soon,” the lineup is pared down to a duo of Harris on vibraphone and Joseph Doubleday on marimba. Doubleday, the first vibraphonist accepted to the Jazz Studies program at Juilliard, is a coveted sideman with Chris Potter’s Underground Orchestra, the Kenny Barron Quintet, the Ralph Peterson Fo’tet, and others.

Written by Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman, “Gone Too Soon” was recorded by Michael Jackson for his Dangerous album in 1991. Jackson intended the song to honor teenage AIDS victim Ryan White, and released it as a single on World AIDS Day in 1993. Following Jackson’s own death in 2009, the song has become a tribute to him as well. Harris, like many others, was hurt when Jackson passed away. “His music was a perfect example of Black American life,” Harris says. “He wasn’t just a pop icon, but also a cultural and artistic icon, and very much part of the narrative of my people. His contributions were significant, to say the least, and it pained me to see how people characterized him, sometimes in a derogatory way, so I wanted to pay tribute to him here.”

Look for a roundtable interview with Stefon Harris and three other great jazz vibraphonists in the November issue of JazzTimes.