Here’s an enviable yet daunting circumstance: warming up the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Downtown Manhattan before the Jack DeJohnette/Dave Holland/Jason Moran trio takes the stage. In late August, singer and guitarist Allan Harris faced that challenge and won over the crowd with apparent ease. Being personally mentored by Tony Bennett can have that effect (more about Bennett in a moment). Touring and recording steadily for over 20 years, even more so.
Harris, who had turned 60 in April, played material from his 2015 album Black Bar Jukebox and its 2016 follow-up, Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better: Black Bar Jukebox Redux. These releases, both produced by veteran jazz A&R man Brian Bacchus, have brought Harris’ artistry into sharp focus, painting a deeply personal portrait through originals, standards and unexpected detours into classic pop, rock and soul. There’s a strong “working band” identity as well—so strong that the rhythm section from Black Bar Jukebox became its own band, King Pony, featuring keyboardist/lead vocalist Pascal Le Boeuf, bassist Leon Boykins and drummer Jake Goldbas. (Harris sings as a guest on “One More,” from King Pony’s 2014 eponymous debut.)