Q & A with Darryl Harper about His Career

Your Crystal Ball

—From approximately what age did you think: “I’m going to be a musician for my career”?
I think I wanted to be a musician when I was sixteen. I think I felt I actually could pull it off when I was in my early twenties.

—Has your career taken the path you had envisioned back then?
I didn’t really envision a path. For better or worse, I just jumped in and improvised.


Musical Impact

—Can you briefly describe a live performance you performed in that marked a turning point in your younger musical life (say, under age 25)?
I opened for Max Roach and Billy Taylor at a festival (in a band, coincidentally, with drummer and VCU alumnus Alvester Garnett).

—Can you briefly describe a live performance you observed as an audience member that marked a turning point in your younger musical life?
I was sixteen and was just being introduced to jazz by my teacher at the time, a trombonist named Anthony Hurdle. On the last day of school before Christmas break, the school concert band was scheduled for one of those Christmas performances in a local mall. It was our last commitment of the semester, a not-so-inspiring performance on our part; but afterward, Mr. Hurdle asked if I’d like to go check out some music. He took me to a spot called Slim Cooper’s, a neighborhood bar not too far from the mall. It was daytime when we entered, but you never would have known it from inside. The place was heavily adorned with Christmas decorations. It was filled with people, all laughing, celebrating. And a jazz quartet was on the bandstand having the best time I had ever seen musicians have. I wanted to do what they were doing.



—Do you feel as though your formal musical studies provided you an anchor for your current career?
Absolutely! You can’t learn everything in school; but you can’t learn everything on the road, either.

—Can you remember the one or two most surprising things about being in your career that no one told you, that you had to learn on your own?
My biggest mistakes had to do with using money inefficiently when I was starting out. I spent much more than I needed to spend starting up my first band.


Likes and Dislikes

—What’s the best part of your current, music-related career?
I love both performing and teaching. It is a privilege to be able to devote most of my time to making music, to travel all over the world giving concerts and working with students, to work with colleagues I admire and respect including some of the best musicians in the field.

—What’s the worst part?
The logistics of traveling can be grueling at times.


Ups and Downs

—Name up to five people who inspired and/or made a pronounced difference in achieving your musical goals—and in a brief phrase, tell why for each. (We’ll take for granted that you have to leave out many, many other deserving names.)
Anthony Hurdle is the person who really introduced me to jazz and was my first teacher of jazz improvisation. I never would have chosen this path had he not introduced me to it.
Andy Jaffe was an important teacher for me in college, a generous mentor who continues to watch out for me to this day.
Tony Haywood, the president of my record label, was instrumental in establishing my early career as a leader.
Regina Carter afforded me a precious opportunity to tour with her band for two years, definitely an important milestone.

—Don’t name—but loosely describe—how one or more persons discouraged you from being a musician (or from entering your current music-related career).
There have always been naysayers around, people who have discouraged me from pursuing performing as a career because of its financial risks, people who have discouraged me from pursuing teaching because it distracts from performing, people who have discouraged me from attending school, etc. Saxophonist Ralph Bowen gave me some advice when I was younger that I have always remembered: “No matter what you do, someone will think that it’s wrong and will tell you so. Don’t let those people deter you from what you want.”


Favorite Recordings

—Name up to three, single-CD recordings that you think everyone on earth should own. (Artist, Title, Label would be great….)

  • Duke Ellington, Koko (Victor/RCA)
  • Ornette Coleman, Lonely Woman (Atlantic)
  • Herbie Hancock, Chameleon (Columbia Jazz)

—Name up to three more that simply provide you great personal listening pleasure every time you hear them.

  • Nancy Wilson, Guess Who I Saw Today (Blue Note)
  • Joe Henderson, Inner Urge (Blue Note)
  • Uptown String Quartet, Song for Winnie (Polygram)


Parting Thoughts

—If you could give only one sentence of advice to a high school or college student considering a career in music, what would you say?
I would pass on the advice given to me by Ralph Bowen: “No matter what you do, someone will think that it’s wrong and will tell you so. Don’t let those people deter you from what you want.”

—And what’s the best way someone school-age could prepare to do what you currently do?
Start doing those things now. Start teaching and learn and improve the more you do it. Perform in front of an audience now as much as possible. Don’t wait for the end of school or for some magical, mystical time when you’ve learned everything.