Do It! Barry Harris On Cherokee

| Updated on February 20, 2021

This Barry Harris’s solo on Cherokee is from the tenor saxophonist Steve Grossman’s Quartet recording “Do It”. It is a great example of a profound style, spontaneous creativity, versatility, melodic beauty and sparkling swing by the great jazz master musician Barry Harris.

“Do It” is a great album by a stellar tenor-sax man Steve Grossman in collaboration with Barry Harris on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass and Art Taylor on drums. It was recorded in France in April of 1991. The whole album feels as if the music was recorded in one take. 
As Mark Stryker writes in his article, the music on this album “ragged around the edges but fun”. It is true about most of the Grossman albums that sound more like a recorded jam-sessions.

Steve Grossman (1951 – 2020), R.I.P.

Steve Grossman, a tenor saxophonist with a huge stellar sound and energetic post-Coltrane – Sonny Rollins playing was an important voice in the contemporary tenor sax playing (some say, Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker, Bob Berg came after him). He started playing in the Miles Davis band in the ’70s (at the age of 18 only) and then continued with Elvin Jones Group had a very active career. “His versatility made him one of the busiest musicians in 1970s New York. In the 1980s, however, he left the jazz capital for Europe, building a strong career there over the next 30 years but falling into obscurity in the United States” (“Jazz Times” article). At the time I started writing this I heard the sad news, Steve Grossman passed away…

Watch Steve playing solo on “Like Someone in Love” – I am sure, you will be captivated:

Read more on Steve Grossman from the New York Times article by Julia Carmel.

“Do It”

A friend of mine in The Netherlands has introduced me to the record in the ’90s and I was swept by its sound at once. Barry Harris’s presence here is very strong, it inspires the choice of the tunes played as well as the whole musical atmosphere of this recorded session.

Steve Grossman’s album “Do It” was recorded on April 1991 in France and released on a Dreyfus Jazz, a French label. distributed on Sony Music France. Barry Harris who started his long term teaching as an artist-in-residence in Holland (his famous workshops there are documented on YouTube). Both the bassist Reggie Johnson and the drummer Art Taylor, well-known American musicians who had a great playing and recording history moved in Europe accordingly in the ’80s and in the ’60s and have been working with local groups and many coming jazz musicians.

Steve Grossman CD Do It (back cover)

Look at the choice of tunes! There are three compositions by Bud Powell: Oblivion, Dance of the Infidels and Bud’s beautiful ballad “I’ll Keep Loving You”, “Let’s Call This” – a tune by Thelonious Monk and a captivating and percussive “Let’s Monk” by Barry Harris which is based on “Sweet Georgia Brown”. There is also a beautiful ballad by Tadd Dameron called “Soultrane”, Charlie Parker’s outstanding blues line “Chi-Chi” and a popular song by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon “The More I See You”.
“Cherokee” by Ray Noble is a really nice choice for the opener. An up-tempo standard associated with Bird and Bud and often being played by jazz musicians on sessions as a “proof” of the craftmanship, maturity, if you will, and ability “to play”, – takes you there right away.


Cherokee is a jazz standard written by Ray Noble in 1998 that became hugely popular.
It was recorded by many bands, musicians and singers – Charlie Parker, the Count Basie Orchestra, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Dakota Staton, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Don Byas, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Harry James.

The song has a standard AABA form and mostly played in an up-tempo. It is a challenging tune (maybe because of the chord progression of its B-section) and it has been often a choice on jam sessions (well, at least it used to be 🙂 )

Charlie Parker and Bud Powell’s versions are really standing out. Parker had played that piece so many times that by the end he hated it, but he had mastered the chords perfectly in all 12 keys. He composed “Ko Ko” that has a partially improvised head and the chords are based on “Cherokee” (from the book Bird: The Legend Of Charlie Parker). Bud has made a beautiful arrangement of a tune full of movements and inner lines.

Barry Harris loves to play Cherokee and he is often using the song as a teaching tool.

Barry has several recordings of it.

Live At Maybeck Recital Hall (1990) – a beautiful solo version from a solo piano recital.
Barry Harris Solo (1990) – another great solo version recorded in Holland
Lee Konitz ‎– Lullaby Of Birdland (1994) – this is a special Quartet date with the legendary Lee Konitz.
Live At “Dug” (1995) – live trio recording from a jazz club in Tokyo.

This particular version of Cherokee from the recording with Steve Grossman full of energy, swing lots of ideas and interaction between the musicians.
Barry Harris plays here a solo of only two choruses but there are so many interesting stuff here. It is another great example of great musical content in a short amount of time, a strong rhythmic feel, lyricism and spontaneity. It is very challenging to play fast and to be creative at the same time, but Barry, a true master of playing in fast tempos, has plenty of ideas and a great flow, you can’t take away a single note, – everything has its place and a meaning.

Barry Harris Solo

I did a transcription back in the ’90s but recently has revisited it and notated it adding the left-hand part. Notice the rhythms and voicings in the left-hand and interaction with the single note solo in the right hand:

Barry’s solo is only two choruses but it is full of interesting stuff.
I want to mention here just a few interesting moments that “caught me” right away.
The piano solo starts with a strong rhythmical statement in Parker’s manner. It gives the tone to the whole solo. The motif of two subsequent quarter notes comes from a common rhythm in jazz. Pianist Jeb Patton states that some common jazz rhythms some words assigned to them. This one is often called “Step Down”.
I love this idea of verbalizing the rhythms – it helps to internalize and use various rhythms in playing and playing becomes fun.

Look how Barry displaces the rhythm of this phrase on its repeat by starting it on a beat 4 instead of original beat 3:

It is interesting how Barry Harris resumes the first chorus of the solo with the same “Step Down” phrase, this brings to the integrity and logic. It is amazing how great improvisers do these kinds of logical things spontaneously, on-the-fly in their playing:

The use of chromatic passing notes (Barry calls them “half-steps”), approaching notes and enclosures is a very common stylistic “trade-mark” of the bebop solos. And Barry does it masterfully. It all comes from the music of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie.
Barry compares adding half steps to the melodic lines to enriching the main colors of the picture by adding sub-colors to it.
Here are a few examples:

Another interesting stylistic thing is an interpretation of triplet notes on the piano. Many times they are played like in the bar 37 (the fifth bar of the B part of the first chorus). The first note of the triplet becomes sustained. I call this “sticky triplet”. This can be often heard in Bud Powel Playing:

Barry Harris is a master of tritones. He often uses a tritone substitution in II-V-I bringing in the important minor (or relative II as they sometimes call it).
This example is from the end of a Bridge (part “B”) of the first chorus:

The melodic lines in the second chorus become to be much longer and it take the music to a higher level.

The most exciting moment to me is the phrase from the beginning of a second “A” part (bars 81-87). Barry starts with Parker’s line outlining the arpeggios of descending diminished chords which turns to a long triton substitution. This one is special:

Here is a full printable PDF chart of the transcription:

I am sure you will enjoy listening to the whole album ‘Do It’ by Steve Grossman Quartet with Barry Harris on piano, Reggie Johnson on bass and Art Taylor on drums. It is available on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music.

I hope you have enjoyed this one. Please feel free to share your thoughts down below in the comments section.

I will continue posting new stuff in my Jazz Piano Corner series so stay tuned. You can subscribe to my mailing list here for occasional news and updates here.

Also, check out my YouTube channel for more videos.

Alec is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator from Tel Aviv. He loves playing, writing, teaching and learning music. Alec has built his website and he loves sharing his knowledge, experience and musical ideas and content.

2 thoughts on “Do It! Barry Harris On Cherokee”

  1. Thanks for a great post. Lots to study here. You say ‘the late Bebop master…’ Isn’t Barry Harris still alive?!


Leave a Comment

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00