The Kennedy Center

Winard Harper


Winard Harper, celebrated jazz drummer and leader of his own groups for most of his professional life, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1962. He was encouraged to play the drums by his father who noticed him beating on cans as a toddler. By the age of five, Mr. Harper was developing his skills and making guest appearances with his older brother Danny's rock and roll band. At the age of 11 his fate was sealed when he heard Clifford Brown and Max Roach playing "Jordu," a jazz piece that had Roach working with a huge array of percussive instruments in an astounding solo.

Mr. Harper had his first major gig with Dexter Gordon in 1982 and shortly thereafter with Johnny Griffin. Soon Mr. Harper's drumming skills captured the attention of Betty Carter, and he spent four years in her band, honing his jazz-as-entertainment sense of showmanship. During the years that he worked as a sideman to some of the greatest jazz artists, including Ray Bryant, Carmen McRae, Jimmy Heath, and Joe Williams, he also laid down the foundation for a band that would eventually be known as the Harper Brothers.

From 1988–1993 he and his brother Philip blazed a brilliant trail, both on the charts and on the international touring circuit. Introduced at Catalina's in Los Angeles, the band inspired rave reviews from critics. Remembrance, the band's second album recorded live at New York City's legendary Village Vanguard, went to number one on Billboard's jazz chart in 1991 and remained there for two months. The follow-up album, Artistry, was equally popular.

As a performer, Mr. Harper is dedicated to the jazz idiom and has a personal style that reaches everybody, young and old. He performs with the stated intent of paying tribute to past masters while at the same time adding his own innovative touch. He has opened doors to a new level of jazz music with the spiritual sounds of African drums. Of Mr. Harper's albums as a leader, recorded for Savant Records, the first, Trap Dancer (1997), reached number two on the Gavin Radio charts, and the second was the eponymously titled Winard (1998). His next CD, Faith (2000), featured the great jazz and blues singer Carrie Smith with Mr. Harper on drums and leading a band including trumpeter Patrick Rickman, tenor sax man Brian Horton, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, pianists George Cables and Nick Rolf, bassist Brandon Owens, percussionist Abdou Mboup, and Alioune Faye on the djembe. His recent Savant recordings featuring the Winard Harper Sextet include A Time for the Soul (2003) and Come into the Light (2004).

Mr. Harper is a frequent residency leader for the Kennedy Center's Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead program for emerging young jazz musicians.  He has appeared at the Kennedy Center many times as a member of the Billy Taylor Trio, on the nationally broadcast NPR program Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center, and with the trio in engagements across the United States. Mr. Harper appeared at the KC Jazz Club with his own sextet on September 20, 2004, with the Billy Taylor Trio and special guest Jon Faddis in the Terrace Theater on March 31, 2005, and on September 22, 2006 with the Billy Taylor Trio and special guest Christian Sands.  Performed last with the Barber Brothers at their February 2007 Jazz Club performance.

Last updated: March 1, 2007
Winard Harper