Acclaimed composer and jazz pianist John Harmon is having a milestone birthday on Oct. 25 and Lawrence University is throwing a musical tribute to commemorate the 1957 graduate’s special occasion.
The 2005 Lawrence Jazz Alumni Showcase Concert will celebrate Harmon’s 70th birthday in style with a program featuring many of his original works performed by a cast of Wisconsin’s most notable jazz performers. The tribute concert, Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 510 E. College Ave., Appleton, is free and open to the public.
Harmon, who will perform a “classical” solo during the concert, will be joined on stage by many of his long-time friends and collaborators, among them singer Janet Planet, saxophonist Tom Washatka, trumpeter Bob Levy, guitarist Tom Theabo, trombonist Kurt Dietrich, bassist John Gibson and drummer Mike Hale. Harmon’s wife, Linda, and son, Noah, both pianists, also will perform during the musical celebration.
“John Hamon has literally touched the lives of thousands of artists, students, teachers and loyal fans,” said Fred Sturm, director of jazz studies and improvisational music at Lawrence and a former student of Harmon’s at Lawrence. “How fitting that his Lawrence legacy can be celebrated here where it all began nearly a half century ago.”
Harmon has established himself as one of America’s busiest composers and jazz pianists as well as an exceptional music educator. His extensive body of recordings include a solo piano album of his own compositions (“Rite of Passage”), works for symphony orchestra and wind ensemble, (“Bobby Shew: The Music of John Harmon”) and scorings of his original songs for voice and chamber orchestra (“Strings Attached”). Jazz standards and original compositions are featured on “An Evening of Jazz with the John Harmon Trio” and “More Beautiful than Planned” with Planet.
His music has been commissioned and performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, “The Orchestra” of Los Angeles, the Fox Valley Symphony, the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra, The Mirecourt Trio, jazz trumpeter Bobby Shew, Brazilian singer Flora Purim and the Either Orchestra. Harmon also co-founded the critically acclaimed contemporary nonet Matrix in 1974, which has recorded six albums, including 2002’s “Proud Flesh.”
An Oshkosh native and current Winneconne resident, Harmon has served as composer-in-residence for more than 40 elementary and secondary schools and has held a continuing role as composer-in-residence for the Red Lodge Music Festival in Montana since 1991.
His musical achievements and educational contributions have been widely recognized and include the Wisconsin Music Educators Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999 and the Fox Valley Arts Council’s Renaissance Award in 2000. Harmon also was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree last June by Lawrence and he was named a Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters in July, 2005.
After graduating from Lawrence in 1957 with a bachelor’s degree in music composition, Harmon studied with legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, worked as a pianist and arranger in New York City and fronted a jazz trio that toured Europe in 1963. On his return to the states, he recorded the album “Lost in Sound” with jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef. He also worked with Belgian composer Henri Pousseur while studying at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Harmon returned to his alma mater to serve as the first director of Lawrence’s jazz studies program (1971-74).