2022 NEA Jazz Master Big Chief Donald Harrison Jr. is a musician/composer dedicated to mastering every era of jazz, soul, and funk and composing orchestral classical music. He has been called a “One man music festival” because his performances cover the history of American music and show that is the basis for his innovations. According to geniuses Eddie Palmieri, Nicholas Payton, Carl Allen, and Mike Clark, he is a genius.
In 2021 Harrison received an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College. He appeared as an actor in nine episodes of “Treme,” where director David Simon created two characters to portray how Harrison innovated music. He was an actor and musician in director Johnathon Demme’s film “Rachel Getting Married and Marvel’s “Luke Cage.”He played himself in Spike Lee’s historic HBO documentary “When The Levees Broke,” and Netflix’s documentary “I Got A Story To Tell,” about The Notorious BIG.
Harrison is the recognized Big Chief of Congo Square in Afro-New Orleans culture, where he keeps alive one of the root contributors cultures to Traditional jazz. Harrison was made a Chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, and is the only major jazz artist who is Chief on two continents.
Harrison honed his craft by playing with Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Eddie Palmieri, Dr. John, Lena Horne, Dr. Eddie Henderson, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Chuck Loeb, The Headhunters, hip-hop greats Digable Planets, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, The Notorious BIG, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and over 200 jazz master innovators of every era and style.
He has also played with the master innovators of blues, funk, soul, hip-hop, classical, and New Orleans music. He has innovated three influential jazz styles. In 1979, at nineteen, Harrison brought a modern jazz twist to New Orlean’s second-line music. By the mid-80s, he created “Nouveau Swing,” a concept that blends classic jazz with hip-hop, funk, and soul music. In the ’90s, Harrison made smooth jazz hits and began exploring quantum music in 2000. He began composing and orchestrating classical music for symphonic orchestras in 2013. Harrison also mentored diverse artists Christian Scott, Johnathon Batiste, Esperanza Spaulding, Trombone Shorty, multiple Grammy-winning platinum hip-hop producer Deezle, and The Notorious Big. Jonathon Batiste say’s, “I consider Donald Harrison one of the greatest teachers of the last fifty years because he teaches all the music.”