New Orleans born saxophonist Donald Harrison is a musician/composer who master musicians consider a master of every era of jazz, soul, funk, and a composer of orchestral classical music. He is also a genius, according to geniuses like Eddie Palmieri and Mike Clark. In the HBO drama Treme, Emmy winning director David Simon created two characters to portray how Harrison innovated new styles of music. Harrison has appeared as an actor/musician in 9 episodes of Treme, Oscar-winning director Johnathon Demme’s film Rachel Getting Married, Spike Lee’s When The Levee’s Broke documentary, and Marvel’s Luke Cage. This talented artist is the recognized Big Chief of Congo Square in Afro-New Orleans culture and was made a Chief in 2019 by Queen Diambi Kabatusuila in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa.
Harrison honed his experience playing with Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Eddie Palmieri, Dr. John, Lena Horne, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Chuck Loeb, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Digable Planets, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, The Headhunters, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and The Notorious BIG. He has performed with over 200 jazz masters and created three influential styles of jazz. At the age of nineteen, Harrison created a modern jazz take on the New Orleans second-line tradition and introduced his composition New York Second-Line to the jazz world in 1979. By the mid-’80s, he created Nouveau Swing, a distinctive sound that blended the swing beat of modern jazz with hip-hop, funk, and soul music. In the ’90s, Harrison recorded hits in the smooth jazz genre. He began exploring music through the lens of quantum physics in 2000. With quantum jazz, Harrison heard how to move music from a two-dimensional state into a four-dimensional state. Harrison has been a mentor to artist as diverse as The Notorious Big, Jonathon Batiste, Christian Scott, Trombone Shorty, and Esperanza Spaulding.
In 2022 Harrison received the prestigious NEA Jazz Master Award.