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Billy Harper Biography
Tenor Saxophonist Billy Harper is a noteworthy Jazz personality with a career filled with inordinate accomplishments. Born in Texas, after a brief stint as a Church singer, Harper taught himself saxophone basics with help from his musician uncle who was a classmate of Bop trumpeter Kenny Dorham. While studying music at North Texas State University, he was the first African American invited to join the prestigious One O’clock Big Band. After graduating, Harper moved to New York City in 1966 where he immediately immersed himself in the Jazz community, gaining a stellar reputation playing with greats such as Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Randy Weston and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers.

Shortly thereafter, Harper formed his own group and was featured on an NBC special about up-and-coming talent entitled "The Big Apple." As the seventies emerged, Harper continued to prolifically perform, mostly as a leader, but also as an influential member of both the Gil Evans Orchestra and the Mel Lewis / Thad Jones Big Band. He released his first album as a leader, Black Saint, for the brand new European label of the same name in 1975, and in 1979, had the honor to again release the premiere album for another new record label, Soul Note.

Harper continued to pursue musical excellence in the years following, releasing numerous albums and extensively touring the globe. While still a consistent force on the music scene, Harper expanded his career into the field of music education, becoming a staff member at The New School University, Rutgers University and Livingston College. Harper has also been the recipient of three compositional grants, twice from the National Endowment of the Arts, and once from the Creative Arts Program. He also received the International Critics Award for Tenor Saxophone for two consecutive years.
Considered one of the premiere saxophonists of the post-Coltrane era, Harper possesses an expansive, genre deconstructing style that fluctuates effortlessly between the many Jazz genres from Bop to Free, and further embraces influences from Blues, Fusion and Rock music. While constantly evolving from the influential sound of previous Jazz generations, Harper has been careful to carve out his own sound rather then retrace that of the music’s past, and in the process has consciously and continuously pushed the bounds and momentum of music forward.