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• BIOGRAPHY •



I’m pleased with the way my career has turned out...I have been able to maintain my national contacts and do as much as I want with the luxury of not leaving Pittsburgh.

- Walt Harper


When the city of Pittsburgh comes up in anyone’s conversation, certain things come to mind...for example, Heinz Ketchup or perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers and even the all famous Steel Mills. In jazz circles throughout the country the name WALT HARPER has an almost symbiotic relationship with the city of Pittsburgh.

From the major concert halls of New York—for example, Jazz@Lincoln Center—to jazz spots in Europe and elsewhere Harper’s reputation is stellar and foremost when one speaks of the jazz scene in Pittsburgh. HARPER has been as important to the growth, development and exposure of jazz in Pittsburgh, as steel has been to the industrial development of that city. For many years, HARPER has forged a national reputation as jazz pianist, night club owner, recording artist as well as businessman/producer while residing consistently in his hometown of Pittsburgh throughout his 60-year career. To quote Harper, “Pittsburgh has been good to me. I am one of the few who made it staying here.”

Harper successfully owned and operated two nationally recognized jazz clubs: Walt Harper’s Attic located in Market Square from 1969–1976 and Harper’s Jazz Club located in One Oxford Centre from 1982-1988.

Walt Harper’s Attic

Walt Harper in front of Harper's Jazz Club with pianist, Ramsey Lewis.

Both clubs featured the world’s top jazz stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Tormé, Max Roach, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, George Shearing, Carmen McCrae, Lionel Hampton and many others. On his own Birmingham recording label, Harper recorded four CD’s in collaboration with his lifelong friend and fellow Pittsburgher, master bassist the late Ray Brown, along with John Clayton as arranger/producer on two of the discs. Earlier in his career Harper recorded six albums, now reformatted and available on CD.

In his decades long career, Harper was the recipient of numerous awards including the 2006 Musician’s Union Man of the Year Award; a recipient of the 2004 Harry Schwab Excellence in the Arts Award honoring artists for taking risks and attaining excellence in their fields; in 2001, he received the Mellon Jazz Community Award for his contributions to the jazz community. Harper was nominated for a local Emmy award for his nationally televised PBS Special: WALT HARPER AT FALLING WATER filmed at the Kaufmann Home which was designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd-Wright. For over twenty years—until 2005—WALT HARPER AND ALL THAT JAZZ played all of the Pittsburgh Steeler’s hometown games.

"Walt Harper And All That Jazz at Falling Water" nationally televised special was nominated for a local Emmy award. The concert also produced an album: Walt Harper at Falling Water

MUSICAL BEGINNINGS


Walt Harper was born into a musical family of eight children and grew up in the “upper” Hill district or Schenley Heights area of Pittsburgh. Schenley Heights at that time was a distinctive part of the Hill District in that many families who resided there already had a foothold into home ownership and entrepreneurship. Harper’s father Charles Harper, Sr. owned his own contracting business and provided for his family by designing, building and constructing houses in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. His mother, Lucinda Harper was a homemaker and had her own beauty shop located in the home on Clarissa Street. So, both parents in a sense were entrepreneurs. Walt showed no interest in his father’s contracting business, however he did display an early interest and talent in music and was strongly encouraged by both of his parents to pursue music—the piano—as were two other brothers: Ernie Harper, also a pianist and Nate Harper a talented tenor saxophonist. Walt credits Ernie who was six years older than him (and would go on to become a jazz fixture on the Chicago scene) with being among his first and earliest musical influences on the piano.

MUSICAL FAMILY
Musical Brothers: Left: Walt Harper, piano/vocals; Middle: big brother Ernie Harper who was a popular Chicago based jazz pianist; Right: younger brother Nate Harper—a talented tenor saxophonist who played with Walt Harper And All That Jazz.

Walt's daughter, Sharynn Harper pursued a singing career in New York, but currently focuses her attention on production. management and writing.


When Walt was 12 and Ernie 18, Ernie was already playing piano around Pittsburgh with young drummer Art Blakey who would go on to superstar status. Walt’s brother, the tenor saxophonist, Nate Harper, 2 years younger than Walt, would eventually become a member of Walt’s quintet. Walt Harper attended Schenley High School and after graduating he studied at PMI—the Pittsburgh Musical Institute and for two years studied at the University of Pittsburgh. In his late teens Harper built a following by playing fraternity gigs and the tri-state area college circuit. Eventually, he would go on to become a mainstay and houseband at the famed Crawford’s Grill in the Hill district for over ten years. The same fraternity guys and college kids that he played for in his teens would follow him into the Crawford’s Grill. As a result, very early in his career, he had a very solid built-in integrated audience.

Simultaneously with the Crawford's Grill “phase” Harper began putting his business skills to good use by producing sold out "Walt Harper Jazz Workshops" at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel. In keeping with the Harper tradition, Walt focused on bringing in the biggest names of jazz into the city. By 1969, Harper was ready for his own jazz spot and opened Walt Harper’s Attic. By this time the word was out that if Walt Harper was involved, good music would follow. Jazz fans were lined up around the block to get into Walt Harper’s Attic. By this time not only the top talent in the world of jazz was performing in the club, but many Pittsburghers who had gone on to achieve superstar status—such as Billy Eckstine, Maxine Sullivan, Roy Eldridge, Ahmad Jamal, and of course his good friends Stanley Turrentine and Ray Brown returned to lend their immense talents to the Walt Harper’s Attic jazz scene, and in later years to HARPER’s Jazz Club.


HARPER KEEPS HIS EYE ON THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC AND RECORDING

A high point for Harper in a career that was already well established was his collaboration on a series of four CD’s with his life-long friends, Bassist Ray Brown and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Walt Harper West Coast On Line produced by Ray Brown with stellar arrangements by John Clayton; Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You, which Walt co-produced with Ray Brown and John Clayton and Clayton arrangements; In Very Good Company featuring Ray Brown, Stanley Turrentine and Cecil Brooks III and Be My Guest featuring Ray Brown and Stanley Turrentine. All 4 CD’s are available for purchase through this web site and excerpts can be heard throughout.

Walt Harper continued to perform extensively on the East Coast, receive awards, write and compose music up until his sudden passing in October of 2006.

The name of Walt Harper has symbolized progress, forward movement and continued excellence in the jazz field. By remaining on his own hometown turf of Pittsburgh, the sounds of his contributions to the world of jazz have reverberated far and wide. Harper always kept his eye on the next phase or better yet the next beat! His presence in the jazz field as an innovator and presenter of jazz music—especially in his home town of Pittsburgh—was unparalleled and elevated him to iconic status.

For Further Information Contact:

Sharynn Harper Marketing and Productions
459 Columbus Avenue, Suite 208
New York, NY 10024
(212) 479-7768

E-mail:
Contact@WaltHarperAndAllThatJazz.Com


©2016 Sharynn Harper

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