Ratzo B. Harris is a 1995 Thelonious Monk Competition semi-finalist and past contributing columnist for Bass Player Magazine. He's considered an innovative bassist who has worked with some of the greatest musicians of our time. John Handy, Charles Lloyd, Joey Lovano, Jon Hendricks, Ted Curson, Tim Berne, Betty Carter, Helen Merrill, Les Paul, Joanne Brackeen, Joe Henderson, Jim Pepper and Betty Buckley are just a few of the artists who have collaborated with him. I've heard him repeatedly and his playing is muscular, a rebar of sonic foundation, yet sinuous and subtle. From the heartbeat of free jazz, to aural filigrees on jazz standards, he's at the top of his game. Ratzo Harris plays bass that's living root and steel girder. This is our conversation:
1. Which musicians influence your approach, set the bar? Who do you listen to for pleasure? How would you contrast your style with your contemporaries?
(a) People I’m performing with are my strongest influences. A global bar comes with the performance situation and is set by those organizing it or by stylistic considerations. A personal bar, what I call a job well done, is related to my most recent performances.
(b) I rarely listen to music for pleasure, although I take pleasure in listening to music. I like things I’ve never heard before, especially if extended techniques are involved.
(c) I express my ideas through sonic density.
2. Describe the influence of the Midwest on your playing. How have the Midwest and the music emerging from its roots influenced jazz?
(a) The term “Midwest” is too generic for describing geographical influence. The musical heritage of Indianapolis is distinct from that of Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, or Kansas City and so their musicians access different roots. I was born in Indianapolis and paid more attention to “Naptown” players when I was starting: Leroy Vinnegar, Freddie Hubbard, the Montgomery brothers, J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Benny Barth, Eugene Folks, John Bunch and Claude Sifferlin. But my most formative years were spent in San Francisco; so the influence is seminal, not primary.