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Before & After: A Listening Session With Allan Harris

Checking out Gregory Porter, Rene Marie and more

Carla Cook in performance at The Attucks Theater, Norfolk, Va on October 4, 2013
René Marie onstage at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Allan Harris

On his most recent album, Black Bar Jukebox (Love Productions), veteran vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris pays tribute to his upbringing in Harlem, where he used to eat at his aunt Kate Ingram’s luncheonette, Kate’s Home Cooking, a neighborhood fixture that was featured on the cover of organist Jimmy Smith’s Home Cookin’. The restaurant had a much-loved jukebox, and in an era before earbuds and Starbucks tastemaking, patrons programmed their background music for the cost of a Coke. This eclectic milieu informs Harris’ record, which covers Eddie Jefferson (“I Got the Blues”), Elton John (“Take Me to the Pilot”), Frank Sinatra (“You Make Me Feel So Young”) and John Mayer (“Daughters”). Harris, 59, has taken the album on tour through Europe and the U.S., and will return to the studio this summer for a follow-up with its producer, Brian Bacchus, who has taken part in fruitful collaborations with Gregory Porter and Norah Jones.

In New York in May, Harris played Reverend Gary Davis in Search: Paul Clayton, a new musical centering on the eponymous folksinger and his relationships within the 1960s Greenwich Village folk revival, especially Bob Dylan. Harris has appeared in several other productions, including Cross That River, a stage musical set in the 1860s that he developed from his 2006 album of the same name. The song cycle, which Harris currently plans to revive and restage, relates a fictional narrative about a runaway slave who becomes one of the first black cowboys.

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