The lobby of the historic Arcade Building on Gay Street was the perfect setting last night for a reception honoring patrons of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and welcoming guest artist Stefon Harris, who will perform with the KJO tonight.
With noshes provided by Bistro by the Tracks and stunning flower arrangements by Jazz Orchestra board chair Jan Bechtel, the atmosphere was convivial and celebratory as guests and jazz musicians mingled.
Vance Thompson, the leader of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, introduced Stefon Harris as “one of our most innovative educators in music.” Harris, the associate dean and director of jazz arts at the Manhattan School of Music, also teaches at universities all over the world.
In brief remarks, Harris said he taught himself how to read music and play the piano beginning at age 6 when his parents moved into an apartment that contained a piano with music books in the piano bench. And there was church. “My earliest experience of music was in the black church,” he said. “Our job was to amplify the voice of the people.”
Harris said he developed a passion for music education and started out intent on a career in classical music, but things changed once he got to the prestigious Eastman School of Music. “I heard Charlie Parker — and that was a problem,” he chuckled. “It changed everything. I’ve never experienced an art form so intellectually engaging as jazz.”
Harris said jazz also changed him as a person. “As a man, I learned through jazz how to treat other human beings,” he said. “In jazz, you learn to listen to other people. I’m incredibly grateful to this art form.”
Harris and the Jazz Orchestra will perform tonight at the Bijou Theatre at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door.