Billy Harper celebrates 81st birthday at Smoke in NYC
Saxophonist Billy Harper celebrated his 81st birthday last weekend with ten mostly sold out shows at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, in NYC. Joining the legendary tenor man was a powerful group featuring Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), Francesca Tanksley (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass) and Aaron Scott (drums). I attended the tenth and final show and took some pictures of the celebration. In his long and productive career, Harper has played with an incredible roster of greats. This includes seemingly everyone from Louis Armstrong to Lee Morgan and all the way to his current involvement with The Cookers, an all-star ensemble.
Reflecting on some of his history, he told a funny story about first moving to NYC from Texas and trying to sit in with Elvin Jones and his group. Soon after he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, which he explained was for him a first-class education.
Now at 81, Harper is a respected elder, evidenced by the enthusiastic crowds that turned out and enjoyed every minute of his birthday weekend.